Monday, March 3, 2014

MEGILAT ESTHER Chapter 1. Ostentation unlimited

On the third year of his kingdom, King Ahashverosh threw a party (=mishte, a drinking party). Ahashverosh party lasted for 187 days.  His empire was so big that he had to set different times to properly entertain all his guests. Each week Ahashverosh would honor guests from different regions of his Empire (me'am lo'ez). The last seven days were dedicated to the people of Shushan, those who live close to his palace.

Why did Ahashverosh throw such a party? Some speculate that it was done to celebrate his conquest of Egypt or his victory over the Babylonians, who tried to rebel against him.  The Megila is very explicit about the inner psychological motives of Ahashverosh to throw the biggest party ever: behar-oto, (1:4) "to display the wealth of his royal glory and the magnificence of his greatness". In other words: to show off.  Ahashverosh was not the first, and for sure not the last, rich or powerful man who throws a lavish party to show-off his wealth. Rabbi Moshe Almosnino in his commentary to Megilat Esther yede moshe explains that for Ahashverosh money was very important, but honor was more important than money. Usually, when a person seeks honor obsessively, he does that to compensate for his low self-esteem or his inferiority complexes. In the case of Ahashverosh it is very clear that the man was terribly insecure, hesitant and doubtful (1:15, 7:7, etc).

The Megila also shows the unlimited nature of showing-off. The text uses this term "lehar-ot", (to display, to show off) one more time (1:11). On the very last day of the 187 days party, Ahashverosh "merry with wine" summoned up his wife. She had to be escorted to his presence dressed only with her crown "to show the commoners and the officers her beauty".

The message is loud, clear and horrendous: this rich but miserable man, cannot control his urge to show-off, and once he was done exhibiting all his riches, he found one more thing to show-off: his trophy wife, Queen Vashty!

Ostentation is self destructive. And not unexpectedly, the end of the party is tragic.  Vashty was executed for refusing to follow the Royal order. And Ahashverosh, who invested so much in a party meant to boost his ego, ended-up disgraced and humiliated by all (היה אחשורוש שחוק לכל העולם. חז"ל).