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Midrash Esther II: ‘Hu” Achashveirosh: Off Balance

Rabbi Nehemiah points out that although it was Achashveirosh’s careful wording of his decree that allowed his son, Darius, to permit the completion of the second Temple, it was not inconsistent with his decree to stop the construction. Both this stop order and the vague wording were intended to serve a single purpose: I hold power over the Jews. I will determine the future of Jerusalem.

It is not just that Achashveirosh was concerned only with himself, he planned ahead, and was metculous with everything he did so that it would not lock him into a bind. Not only did Achashveirosh refuse to accept responsibility for any of his decisions, he formulated his decrees in such a way that he could always change his mind without seeming to change his mind.

People had no idea what to expect from the King. They would read his decrees from beginning to end, inside and out, trying to figure out what was there and why, what were his ultimate goals. They had no idea. This was the king’s way of keeping all opposition off balance.

Rabbi Nehemiah wants us to understand how people reacted to his letters that were sent throughout his kingdom. No one took them at face value.

Therefore we must read the entire story as a strategy to keep people off balance. This would imply that even the decree to massacre the Jews was intended not for the massacre, but to keep the Jews off balance. Achashveirosh’s decision to promote Haman so high in the palace was not to give Haman power, but to throw Mordechai, who already had great power, off his balance. When Achashveirosh announced a second contest of women, his intent was to throw Esther off balance. He did not want anyone around him to feel secure. He wanted them to understand that their only security lay in him.

Even Achashveirosh’s eventual support of Esther and Mordechai was intended to keep everyone, including Esther and Mordechai, off balance.

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