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Midrash Esther XVIII: Persia & Medea

Another comment on “The Army of Persia and Medea.” Sometimes the text of the Book of Esther mentions Persia before Medea, and sometimes, Medea before Persia. When the sovereignty was from Persia, Medea was secondary, and when the sovereignty was from Medea, Persia was secondary (Compare to Megillah 12a).

Why is it called Persia? Because it obtained sovereignty in segments (prusot) –one segment in the time of Tarda (Mithridates), one in the time of Adrachion, King of Parthia, and one in the time to come, as it says, “And this shall be peace, when the Assyrians (a name frequently given by the rabbis to the Persians), shall come into our land (Micah 5:4).”

“Medea”: why is it called Medea? Because it bows (modya) to the will of the Holy One, Blessed is He.

Rabbi Chiya the son of Abba said: the Kings of Medea were blameless, and God had no complaint against them save on the ground of their idolatry, which was transmitted to them from their ancestors.

While I appreciate the history lesson offered by this Midrash, I have to wonder why they need to explain that when this sovereignty was from Persia, Medea was secondary, and vice versa: could we not assume that whichever kingdom produced the King was primary?

The Midrash is teaching us that these two kingdoms were in a constant struggle with each other for supremacy. Achashveirosh, an astute politician, was taking advantage of the tension between the two, and manipulated that. Study the text that describes the discussions with the King regarding Vashti’s crime. You will find that few people actually knew about Vashti’s refusal. Yet, the King through minimal con, suggests the possibility that the word of Vashti’s rebellion would soon spread through Persia and Medea. He was putting the two on the line. Their only response could be absolute support of the King. Neither one could allow the other to show more support than did they.

The Midrash then compares the two and offers some background: Persia was a kingdom, similar to Achashveirosh, in that it spread in segments, one at a time. It was a kingdom that constantly looked forward to the future, as the Midrash adds, “and one unit in the time to come.” This to was very similar to the King who harbored visions of greatness. No wonder the Talmud describes Achashveirosh as a Persian.

The Medeans, on the other hand, are described as people who bowed to the will of God. “They were blameless.” They worshipped idols only because it was a tradition transmitted to them from their ancestors. They were not personally invested in their idol worship. Perhaps the Midrash sees the Medeans as a counterbalance to the destructive influence of Achashveirosh, the Persian.

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