Midrash Esther VIII: To Crush or Absorb
Another explanation of “A hundred, and Twenty, and seven provinces.” Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Nehemiah debated. Rabbi Judah said: he’s subdued seven which were as formidable as twenty, and twenty which were as formidable as a hundred.
Rabbi Nehemiah said: he took troops from seven and conquered twenty and then he took troops from twenty and conquered a hundred more.
How did he conquer them? Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Nehemiah gave different answers. Rabbi Judah said: they lay in the shape of a semi circle, so that when those on the circumference were conquered, the rest were conquered ipso facto. Rabbi Judah does not take the number 127 literally, but descriptively.
Rabbi Nehemiah said: they were like a narrow stream of water between two high banks; if you conquer those on the outside, those within are conquered automatically.
I believe that Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Nehemiah are debating how Achashveirosh went about expanding his kingdom. Rabbi Judah describes a king who was able to fight the most difficult and challenging battles; seven countries as formidable as 20. 20 countries which were as formidable as 100. Achashveirosh used tremendous military might.
Rabbi Nehemiah describes a king who conquers a few countries and then expands his troops by recruiting new soldiers from his conquered countries and then going on to conquer even more. Rabbi Nehemiah describes a king who is taking a slow and deliberate approach to expanding his kingdom.
Rabbi Judah is describing a King who is seen as a great warrior by his nation. Therefore his six-month conference and the seven day party that followed were a celebration of his great military might.
Rabbi Nehemiah describes a king who is rather slow and deliberate. He secures what he has already conquered and uses those countries as resources to conquer even more. Therefore, the party and the conference were both intended to solidify his rule over those countries he had already conquered.
Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Nehemiah now debate off Achashveirosh’s strategies in conquering more countries: Rabbi Judah speaks of the semi circle, with a focal point. He, who describes Achashveirosh as a formidable warrior, a hero, describes a king who serves as the focal point of his kingdom and is able to absorb all the countries he conquers. They are absorbed not only into his kingdom, but into him.
Rabbi Nehemiah who focused on Achashveirosh’s slow and deliberate approach, sees a king who slowly crushes his opponents until they submit to him.
Rabbi Judah reads the entire Book of Esther is the story of the King who is desperate for his people to focus on him as their leader, as their King, as their hero. Rabbi Nehemiah describes a King who wants only to crush his opponents.
Would there be a difference in the reactions of subjects who see their King as a legendary warrior and those who sense his need for their approval to his “Letter Regarding Women?” To his decree against the Jews? To Mordechai’s letter allowing the Jews to fight back?
How would each of these Rabbis understand Achashveirosh’s allowing Esther to tease him with her parties? How would they approach his allowing Haman to a order the deaths of Mordechai’s supporters? Was it the “Crush” approach, or the “Absorb”?
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