Observations on Esther Perek 1 by Aryeh Kirscher and Zvi Kaminetzky


At its most basic level, Perek 1 of Megillat Esther serves the function of the first chapter of most good stories. It sets the stage for the story, gives at least a basic understanding of the time and place in which the Megillah will occur, and introduces a few of the major players. Obviously, we meet Achashveirosh. While not the main character, he is an overarching figure. Seeing as he is the king, everything is happening “on his watch,” as it were.

In terms of time and place, as well as setting the stage, Perek 1 does this quite well. It begins, “VaYehi BiYmei Achashveirosh,” “It came to pass in the days of Achashveirosh” (Esther 1:1), establishing the time and place. Through the repeated displays of wealth and wine, Perek 1 also establishes the context in which the story is occurring. The Megillah takes places in a land obsessed with physicality run by a king all too eager to flaunt his wealth and his wife (the displays at the garden party were quite magnificent), much like the world we live in today. It is interesting to see how the rest of Megillat Esther plays out as a result of the struggle between the forces of physicality and those of Judaism (which traditionally refrains from excessive displays of physicality). The Megillah also goes out of its way to mention the political advisers of Achashveirosh, indicating that politics may be a major theme as the Megillah progresses (interestingly, these top advisers, “HaMeshartim Et Penei HaMelech Achashveirosh,” “who attend the presence of the king” (1:10), are sent on the seemingly petty task of recovering Vashti. How this relationship will further play out is something to watch for as the Megillah progresses). There is certainly much insight to be gained by looking deeply into the Pesukim, but much of it deals with expounding on some of these overarching points. Esther begins with Perek 1 because it provides important background as well as some of the major themes that will be addressed.
Another major point of interest in Perek 1 is the character of Achashveirosh. Some say that he was a Tipeish, a somewhat oblivious, easily fickle and weak king. While a Tipeish may be an intelligent person, he is one who does not foresee consequences (out of laziness or stupidity) and is content to lie governed by his whims and those who manipulate him. Others swear by his brilliance, claiming that he was a Chacham, someone who calculates and weighs his options, recognizing the consequences of his and others’ actions.

In Perek 1, Achashveirosh seems to better fit the definition of a Tipeish. First of all, Achashveirosh seems to throw the parties largely for personal enjoyment. In Pasuk 4, describing the party, the Megillah states, “BeHar’oto Et Osher Kevod Malchuto,” “When the king was displaying his wealth.” What need does Achasheverosh have to throw around his wealth to his own people? Likewise, at the smaller, seven day party, the Megillah makes a point of telling us, “KeTov Leiv HaMelech BaYayin…” “When the king's heart was merry with wine…” (1:10). Again Achashveirosh seems to be indulging himself. A Chacham knows enough to avoid getting himself into an irrational state, of which drunkenness certainly qualifies. Finally, Mehuman’s proposed law (which clarified the domestic relationship between husband and wife) is “VaYetav BeEinei HaMelech,” “Good in the eyes of the king” (1:21). But does the queen having one incident at one party with only the women of Shushan watching really stand as a model for the entire realm? Perhaps, but if Achashveirosh was really a Chacham, the kind of Chacham who works well with court intrigue, there is no logical explanation why he would not come up with Mehuman's logic if he thought that logic were valid. And he clearly does think that, as he finds Mehuman's logic favorable.

Achashveirosh seems to be a Tipeish because he cares largely for vice and doesn't seem to have a head for the intrigue a Chacham, by his intelligent, foreseeing nature, should have. On the other hand, the very fact that Achashveirosh consults his advisers could be seen as a sign of Chochmah, as most foolish kings act with impunity or delegate responsibility and don't want to hear about it. If Achashveirosh is, in fact, a Tipeish, the rest of the Megillah must be looked at as others manipulating him, rather than him manipulating everyone else.

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