Parshat Zachor(Deuteronomy 25:17-19)
He is Achashverosh
(This week's sedra is Vayikra. I ask your indulgence to allow me to put up a Rashi from Megillat Esther, since we are so near to Purim. It is taken from the new volume of "What's Bothering Rashi?" on Megillat Esther, which is now in the bookstores.)
"And it was in the days of Achashveirosh , he is Achashveirosh, who ruled from Hodu unto Kush, 127 states."
He is Achashveirosh - Rashi: He is, [the same] in his evilness from his beginning until his end.
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?
Rashi tells us that King Achashveirosh was evil from the beginning of his reign until the end of his reign. What would you ask here?
A Question: What in this verse prompted Rashi to comment? What is bothering him?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: The phrase "he is Achashveirosh" is redundant. The verse would make the same sense without these two words. Rashi is implicitly asking: What do these words add to our understanding? How does his comment answer this question?
An Answer: The word "He is" conveys an existential reality, an essence. It tells us something about the essence of this man. The word "hu" ("he" in Hebrew) is related to the word "hoveh" - "being." So the words "he is Achashveirosh" tell us that Achashveirosh "is," was, and will be, what he essentially is. He is what he is. And that is "evil."
The basis for the drash is now clear, it is the apparently unnecessary word "he is," but we can still ask a question.
A Question: Granted that these words tell us that Achashveirosh is, was, and will be what he is essentially. But why do we conclude that this essence is "evil"?
You must be familiar with "Nach" ("The Prophets") to answer this. Are you?
An Answer: In the Book of Ezra (4:6) we find the following verse:
"And in the reign of Achashveirosh, at the beginning of his reign, they wrote hatred against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem."
Some sixty years after the destruction of the first Temple by Babylon, Darius, the king of Persia, granted the Jews permission to rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem. But soon afterwards, during Achashveirosh's reign, who took power after Darius, there were hostile rumors promulgated against the Jews. The king accepted these rumors which claimed that the Jews planned a rebellion. As a consequence, the king rescinded the order to rebuild the Temple. This is what our verse refers to.
This verifies that Aschashveirosh was evil towards the Jews from the beginning of his reign.
That he was evil towards them at the end of his reign, is clear from the Megillah, when he supported Haman's plan to destroy the Jews.
A DEEPER LOOK
One could make the point that Achashveirosh was really inconsistent in his attitude and not so much evil. He was capricious in everything he did as well as in his attitude toward the Jews. Because we must acknowledge that he was also helpful to the Jews. His evilness takes on a different tenor than straightforward aggression. In Achashveirosh's case it consisted of his having no inner compass, no personal ethic. The Sages sized up Achashveirosh brilliantly when they said of him "He killed his wife (Vashti) because of his friend (Haman) and killed his friend (Haman) because of this wife (Esther)." The fact that he could so easily be manipulated is indicative of man with no inner moral compass, no internalized sense of right and wrong. He was easily influenced to stop the building of the Temple, and later he was just as easily influenced to continue with its construction; first he gave Haman the OK to destroy the Jews, then he agreed with Esther to save the Jews and destroy Haman, This vacillation, this capacity for capriciousness, was itself the root of his evilness. A ruler without a clear vision of right and wrong is vulnerable to the manipulative designs of his advisors and as such is a danger to his subjects.
It has been pointed out that there is a gematriac connection between the words (in Hebrew, of course – since I cannot write the Hebrew on this program, please look up the words in the Megillah).
"In the days of Achashveirosh, he is Achashveirosh."
And Rashi's words:
"He [remained] in his evilness from his beginning to his end."
Both phrases add up to 1716! (Rav Elazar of Worms)