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Midrash Esther II: ‘Hu” Achashveirosh: Perfectly Consistent

“This is, ‘Hu,’ Achashveirosh.” Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Nehemiah explained differently. Once said: Achashveirosh who put his wife to death on account of his friend, this is the same Achashveirosh,’ Hu,’ who put his friend to death on account of his wife.

Rabbi Nehemiah said: Achashveirosh who stopped the building of the Temple, “this is the same,’ Hu,’ of Achashveirosh,” who ordered that it should be built. But did he order this? Was it not Cyrus the great who ordered this, as it is written, “in the first year of Cyrus the King, Cyrus the king made a decree concerning the house of God; let the house be built.” (Ezra 6:3 But the fact is that at that time all his counselors came before Darius and said: “Your father (Achashveirosh) decreed that it should not be built, and you will order it to be built? Can a King annul another king’s decree?” He said to them: “Bring me the copies of the state archives.” Forthwith they brought them to him; thus it is written, “Then there was found at Ahmetha, in the palace, a scroll.” What was written therein? “Make you now a decree to cause these men to cease.” He said to them: “Is it written forever? It says only, “until a decree shall be made by me.” Who can say that if my father had been alive he would not have built it? Hence the Scripture mentions him, Achashveirosh, along with the prophets, as it says, “and the elders of the Jews built and prospered, through the prophesying of Haggai.” In other words, the fact that Achashveirosh never decreed that the construction of the temple should be permanently stopped allows him to be credited with being one of the kings, among Cyrus and Darius, who contributed to the temples construction.

Both Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Nehemiah point out that although the King’s actions seem to contradict each other, for example one day he’ll kill his wife on account of his friend and the next day he’ll kill his friend on account of his new wife, or one day he stops the construction of the temple at eventually plants the seed that allows for its completion, Achashveirosh was the same person from beginning to end. Don’t look at the specific decisions which certainly seem inconsistent. Look at the man and you will discover perfect consistency.

Rabbi Judah saw Achashveirosh as the type of person who will easily and willingly kill one person for the sake of whomever he prefers at the moment. One day the king will execute his wife for the sake of a friend, and another day he will execute a friend for the sake of a wife. As far as  Achashveirosh is concerned there is no wife and there is no friend; there is only Achashveirosh. The King was perfectly consistent in being concerned only with himself. We must study the Book of Esther from this perspective. All his dealings with Mordechai, Esther, and Haman, were for his sake. Haman’s appointment was not for anyone but Achashveirosh. His listening to Esther was for his sake, not Esther’s.  Even when he allows the Jews to fight, Haman’s followers for an additional day, it is only to benefit himself and no one else.

This may be why the Jews were so careful not to take anything from the spoils of their enemies so as not to disturb the King’s sense of self benefit.

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