Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus–this is Ahasuerus who reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia, over a hundred and seven and twenty provinces…” (Esther 1:1).

While academic scholars struggle to identify Achashverosh (perhaps Ataxerxes II), the sages focused on who Achashverosh was as a person. Accordingly, he is described as a stupid man: “His stupidity made him the laughingstock of the world” (Esther Rabbah 4:12). But how could a stupid man control an empire that spanned 127 provinces? Some sages interpret the term who reigned (1:1) “as a slur, because it implies that he was not really fit to be king, but that he paid a great deal of money, and thereby rose to power” (Megillah 11b).

To consolidate his royal position, Achashverosh married Vashti, the daughter of the previous king, who, according to the Midrash, did not hesitate to belittle her husband and send him a message saying “You stable boy of my father [Belshazzar, the son of Nebuchadnezzer]. My father could drink as much as a thousand men and not get intoxicated, as you did, after just a little wine!” As soon as he [Achashverosh] heard this, his rage burned in him” (Megillah 12b).

Achashverosh’s foolishness, however, is best described by a statement from Pesikta Esther Rabbah 9: “He was arbitrary. He put his wife to death because of his friend and put his friend to death because of his wife.” The subtle understanding that one gets of Achashverosh from the text is that Achashverosh believed that every suggestion made to him was a good one. A good ruler listens to his advisors, assesses their opinions and makes a decision based on logic and fact. Achashverosh, on the other hand, immediately acted upon advice without considering the consequences.

This Treat was last posted on March 10, 2011.

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