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Midrash Esther XVI: Suspect

“In the third year of his reign, he made a feast.” Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Nehemiah gave different explanations. Rabbi Judah said: it means, in the third year of the making of the throne. When he finished making the throne, “He made a feast for all his princes and his servants.”

Rabbi Nehemiah said: in the third year after he stopped the building of the Temple. When three years had passed after he stopped the building of the Temple, “He made a feast for all his princes and his servants.”

Rabbi Samuel the son of Imi said: there were four good points in Achashveirosh. He allowed three years to elapse before he assumed the crown or ascended the throne, he waited four years before he found a suitable wife, and he did nothing without taking counsel.

Rabbi Pinchas said: moreover, if anyone did him a good turn, he recorded in writing; and so it says, “and it was found written that Mordecai had told (Esther 6:2).”

I can understand why Achashveirosh would wait three years after stopping the construction on the Temple, because he wanted to see if there would be any repercussions from the Jewish God. But why would he wait three years after making his throne?

Rabbi Samuel seems to have a much different from all the previous rabbis when he praisees Achashveirosh’s slow and deliberate decision-making. Rabbi Samuel is describing a king who waits after every major decision to observe its long term effects. At least, on the surface.

However, when we pay careful attention to Rabbi Samuel’s list, we soon notice that the king who waited three years before ascending the throne, and before assuming the crown, waited four years before he found a suitable wife. He waited longer to find a wife for himself then he did the to assume the crown? Perhaps there is some implied criticism in Rabbi Samuel’s list.

“He did nothing without taking counsel,” nothing, that is, in terms of dealing with his wife. We do not find him seeking counsel about assuming the crown or choosing his next wife.

How good is it to “record all good turns in writing,” if he soon forgot the good turn that was recorded? It seems clear that these rabbis are teaching us that even his good qualities were suspect.

It may be that people were impressed by Achashveirosh’s deliberate approach to ascending the throne and assuming the crown. They saw good qualities in the new King. The Rabbis were warning the people to not be fooled. Achashveirosh was not quite the man he wanted people to believe.

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