Esther finally acquiesces to Mordechai’s order that she appear before Achashveirosh to plead on behalf of her people. After three days of fasting and preparing Esther appears before Achashveirosh and invites him and Haman to a party. Why didn’t Esther do as she was told and plead on behalf of the Jews? Why did she make a party? Moreover, at the party when Achashveirosh asks her what she wants Esther responds that she wants a second party. Esther’s behavior seems inexplicable. Was she simply scared and delaying the inevitable?
Esther Was Not Scared
Esther was definitely not scared. Indeed, if we read the Pesukim carefully we notice that the party was prepared before the appearance before the king (5:4). Clearly, Esther had a plan. Part of the plan was inviting Achashveirosh to the party. In this way she assumes control of the situation and brings Achashveirosh to her “turf”. She also may be subtly habituating Achashveirosh to doing her bidding. Most intriguing, though, is her request to invite Haman to this party. If she wishes to make a request of her husband why does she invite Haman – two is company, three is a crowd.
Why does Esther invite Haman?
The Gemara (Megillah 15b) offers no less than twelve solutions to this problem and we shall present eight of them. Interestingly, the Gemara concludes that Eliyahu Hanavi was asked by Rabbah bar Avuha which explanation is correct. He responded that each suggestion is correct. In other words, Esther’s inviting Haman had many and varied objectives.
Esther had five targets in mind when she invited Haman – Hashem, the Jewish People, Achashveirosh, the ministers other than Haman and Haman. The invitation is a form of a plea to Hashem to make a miracle to save our people. She displays to Hashem (as explained by Rashi ad. loc. s.v. Yargish) the utter desperation of the situation that she is forced to ingratiate herself to the despicable Haman.
The signal to the Jewish People was that they must intensify their Tefillot to Hashem. Despite the dreadful decree, we were not desperately disturbed since we thought that our well-connected “sister” in the palace would manage to save the day. When we found out, though, that Esther invited Haman to her party we thought that Esther became an ally of Haman and abandoned her Jewish identity to spare herself from the decree.
This left us with the attitude that only Hashem can save us from annihilation which in turn led us to intensify our Tefillot to Hashem, which turned out to be quite effective. Indeed, the finest Tefillah is when we recognize our total dependence on Hashem such as when we state “Va’anachnu Lo Neida Mah Na’aseh Ki Eilecha Eineinu”, we do not know what to do because our eyes are cast to you.
Esther also had in mind Achashveirosh in her plan. Her goal was to stir feelings of jealousy and suspicion of Haman in the eyes of Achashveirosh. It could be that at the party Esther deliberately lavished much attention on Haman in order to make Achashveirosh think that Esther was interested in Haman. It is evident from Megillat Esther that Achashveirosh is a very suspicious individual and indeed he had good reason to worry about plots as is evidenced by the Bigtan and Teresh conspiracy (2:21-23).
This is especially compelling if we accept the Da’at Mikra’s identification of Achashveirosh with Xerxes who in the seventh year of his kingdom had just suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Greeks. If so, many were angry at Achashveirosh and he had to zealously guard against rebellions since the time was ripe for one.
Esther sought to make Achashveirosh think that Haman was plotting against him and that Esther is a partner in this plot. Of course, Esther is playing an exceedingly dangerous game and is greatly risking her life as Achashveirosh will likely kill Esther along with Haman if she succeeds in her scheme. This is yet another example of the sacrifices that Esther was willing to make for her people.
In addition, Esther recognizes Achashveirosh as a “flip-flop”; he acts impulsively and easily changes his mind. She invites Haman so that if she succeeds in convincing Achashveirosh to kill Haman he will be present for execution before Achashveirosh changes his mind. She also wants Haman to be available for immediate execution so that he will not have an opportunity to organize a rebellion. Persia was ripe for rebellion, given the recent great defeat at the hands of the Greeks.
Another side to Esther’s strategy was to inflate the ego of Haman. Mishlei (16:18) teaches that haughtiness proceeds one’s fall, meaning that when people become overconfident they “let down their guard” and are vulnerable to a big fall. Esther invited Haman to inflate his ego by inviting him and none of the other royal advisors. Serving a meal to an enemy is a shrewd tactic to build the enemies trust, which can later be exploited to his disadvantage.
It is evident from the Megillah that Haman’s ego is quite delicate and easily bruised (by Mordechai not bowing to him) or inflated (by Esther’s invitation). Thus, his emotions can be readily manipulated.
Finally Esther sought to stir jealousy of Haman among the other advisors of Achashveirosh, as they would be upset that Haman was invited and not them. Achashveirosh’s court, like many other royal courts throughout history, was filled with intrigue and jealousy with each advisor struggling to advance himself at the expense of others. Esther deftly played on this courtly intrigue.
Hashem Executes the Plan
We may ask, though, why did Esther invite Achashveirosh to a second party instead of simply making her plea at the first party. The answer is that Esther was planting seeds of redemption with the invitation and the first party. The seeds had not yet blossomed at that point so she needed to wait and continue with her scheme by inviting Achashveirosh to a second party, explains Ibn Ezra.
The Tefillot were obviously effective as Hashem helped Esther’s plan proceed exactly as planned. Achashveirosh became quite jealous and suspicious as evidenced by his inability to sleep (6:1). He wondered why no one emerged to warn him of the impending plot and he searched his records to see if in the past someone foiled a plot and was not rewarded, thereby discouraging individuals from coming forward and sounding a warning. When he indeed discovered that Mordechai was not rewarded for saving Achashveirosh from Bigtan and Teresh, Achashveirosh began to think of an appropriate reward.
Haman was elated at his being the only minister invited by Esther (5:12) and he let his guard down. He was emboldened to try to kill Mordechai immediately, something he feared beforehand. He carelessly visited Achashveirosh’s palace at night (6:4) deepening Achashveirosh’s suspicion of Haman, as Haman seems to be lurking in his courtyard at night in order to kill him. Haman does not exercise caution when Achashveirosh tests him by asking him how he should pay tribute to one he wishes to honor. Haman’s response that he should dress him in the king’s clothes, have him ride the king’s horse and the crown be placed on his head, betrayed his ambitions to become the king and served to confirm the suspicion.
The Second Party
Esther did not ask for a third party as all was in place for her opportunity to make the plea for her people. Achashveirosh was suspicious and Haman’s ego was inflated and subsequently dealt a severe blow by having to honor Mordechai in a very public manner (6:11) and by his wife’s painfully discouraging words (6:13). Esther makes her plea and points at Haman and labels him an evil man (7:4-6). Achashveirosh steps outside for a moment and Achashveirosh returns to find Haman on Ester’s bed, which further adds to Achashveirosh’s suspicion of Haman (7:8).
Finally, a minister named Charvonah, motivated by jealousy of Haman and eagerness to advance his standing in the court, shows Achashveirosh the fifty cubit high pole that Haman wishes to hang Mordechai (7:9) which clinches the decision to execute Haman. He is readily available for immediate hanging before Achashveirosh changes his mind and Haman has an opportunity to organize a rebellion.
Achashveirosh does not kill Haman out of the love for the Jews, Mordechai or even Esther. Indeed, he did not cancel the decree to slaughter the Jews at this point. Rather, he acts out of pure self-interest, as he perceives Haman as an imminent threat that must be eliminated with haste (see Megillah 16a). Achashveirosh thinks that Haman wants to kill Mordechai because of the latter’s loyalty to the king. Achashveirosh saves Mordechai since he serves his interest.
The Purim miracle is a prime example of the delicate interplay between human effort (Hishtadlut) and divine intervention (Hashgachah Pratit). Esther’s inviting Haman to the parties was a stroke of genius that set the stage for our deliverance from the evil decree. Nonetheless, without Hashgachah Pratit facilitating Esther’s rise to queen, Mordechai saving Achasveirosh from Bigtan and Teresh and Haman entering the courtyard to ask permission to hang Mordechai just at the time that Achashveirosh was reminded of Mordechai foiling the plot, the Jews would not have been saved.
The lesson for us is that despite all of our efforts and dazzling brilliance, success is impossible without assistance from Hashem. This is why Tefillah is an essential ingredient in any success. “Unless Hashem builds the house, they who built it labor in vain” (Tehillim 127:1).