Midrash Esther VI: One More Than Half
“One hundred, and twenty, and seven provinces.” Rabbi Elazar said in the name of Rabbi Chanina: Are there not 252 governorships in the world? Now David ruled over all of them, Solomon also ruled over them, Ahab ruled over them as well. Where were the rest?
Nebuchadnezar ruled over all the countries, Darius the Great ruled over them, but Achashveirosh ruled only over half. Why only half?
Rabbi Huna gave different explanations in the name of Rabbi Acha and the Rabbis. Rabbi Huna said in the name of Rabbi Acha: God said to Achashveirosh: “you have halved My kingdom, in saying, “He is the Lord who is in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:3).” As you live, I will halve the your kingdom.”
The Rabbis say: God said to him: “you did halve the size of My house, saying, “the height thereof was threescore cubits (Ezra 6:3)” as you live, I will halve your kingdom.
Then let it say in the text, “126 provinces? Why does it say, “one hundred and 27?
In truth God said to him: “you did add one ascent to my house, saying, “Whosoever there is among you of all His people; let him go up (Ezra 1:3).” I too will grant you an ascent, an addition from Myself; and so God gave him an additional province over the half, as it says, 127 provinces.”
According to this Midrash, the story of the Book of Esther begins with a king who has already lost half the kingdom of his predecessor. This would mean that we have to take a much different look at his six month conference of all the political and military leaders of his provinces. We probably should also reconsider the massive seven day party for the bureaucracy of Shushan.
We may also add one more ingredient, namely that Achashveirosh was successful in adding one more province, one more than half.
We know that the idea of half is one that haunts of Achashveirosh: there are two times when, desperate to find out what his wife Esther wants, he offers her anything, “up to half his kingdom.” It’s as if, as he is saying up to half is not considered a serious loss.
Perhaps the cause of the great celebration at the beginning of our story was the addition of that one province. It is meant that the King was on the ascent. He was expanding his kingdom back to where it should be. He was not only celebrating the addition of the province, he was sending a message that he was going to expand. He would need the economic and military support of all his provinces. He probably was also promising than the benefits of any future successful battles.
I would imagine that any public scorn from his wife Vashti, the would send a far more damaging than usual message. If the King cannot manage his own queen, how will he manage his extensive kingdom? Will he truly be able to expand?
This would also explain the almost insane gathering of all the young women to Shushan: Achashveirosh had the local authorities of every city and village knock on the door of every home and take one of their daughters for the King’s contest. Achashveirosh was asserting his power not only over the people; he placed all government authorities in a delicate situation. They would either have too face the wrath of their people or the wrath of the King. They chose to support the King. Achashveirosh could now be sure of his hold over the people and their leaders.
Does Achashveirosh associate his ascension with the fact that he originally allowed some Jews to ascend to Jerusalem? Was he aware that God blessed him in response to his original permission to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem? I think not. Had Achashveirosh understood why he was granted this additional province, one more than half, he probably would not have allowed Haman’s decree.