Who was Achashverosh?
GUEST CONTRIBUTOR:Rabbi Yehudah Steinberg
1. It happened in the days of Achashverosh - he is [the same] Achashverosh
who ruled over a hundred and twenty-seven countries from Hodu to Kush.
IT HAPPENED IN THE DAYS OF ACHASHVEROSH - HE IS [THE SAME] ACHASHVEROSH.
The verse is seemingly repetitive. Isn’t obvious that Achashverosh is
Achashverosh? Rashi answers that the verse is telling us that Achashverosh
remained the same wicked Achashverosh from the beginning of this story until
the end. 1 Therefore, the verse says, “It is the same
Achashverosh from beginning to end.” These few words contain one of the most
important keys to understanding the story of the Megillah.
While reading the Megillah, we seem to see two completely different
Achashveroshes. The first Achashverosh agrees - without even the smallest
justification or provocation - to have the entire Klal Yisrael annihilated.
He even refuses remuneration for this because he is overjoyed with the
proposition. Toward the end of the Megillah, however, a second kind of
Achashverosh surfaces. This one sends official letters to help save Klal
Yisrael and gives them permission to retaliate against their enemies. He
appoints Mordechai his deputy and has Haman and his sons hung. One may
mistakenly conclude that Achashverosh really changed and that it was as if
there were two Achashveroshes - that is, he started out as an evil king and
later repented and became righteous. Even though it is very rare that such a
wicked king would repent, it is not impossible. Would this idea of “two”
kings be true, it would actually minimize the marvel of the miracle, for
then the entire story hinges upon the repentance of one wicked king. The
Megillah therefore tells us - in the very first verse - that Achashverosh is
the same Achashverosh from beginning to the end - an evil king and Jew-hater
he started out, and so he remained. The channel for Klal Yisrael’s salvation
was far more complicated and far more wondrous. A chain of what originally
seemed random events, but later became clear as the hand of HaShem, forced
this extremely powerful and evil king into becoming a protector of a nation
he truly hated. This is both the depth and beauty of this miracle. It must
be clear that since the Megillah was written during Achashverosh’s reign,
while he was pretending to love Klal Yisrael, his wickedness could not be
stated clearly. Chazal, who came much later and were able to tell us the
unvarnished truth about Achashverosh, relate that he hated Klal Yisrael as
much as Haman did and was just as happy to annihilate them. The Megillah’s
subtle wording made the facts accessible to Klal Yisrael without
Achashverosh’s own name bespeaks his wickedness, explain Chazal.
Achashverosh (אחשוורוש) means “the brother of the one referred to as rosh,”
2 i.e., Nevuchadnetzar. Both were equally wicked. 3
Nevuchadnetzar destroyed the Beis HaMikdash and Achashverosh stopped the
rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash (as explained later on this verse);
Nevuchadnetzar killed a large part of Klal Yisrael and Achashverosh wished
to exterminate the entire nation. Chazal, who knew the truth, saw that
Achashverosh was as evil and wicked as the evil Nevuchadnetzar.
Rabbi Shlomo Brevda zt”l explains, based on the Vilna Gaon’s commentary,
that this is the meaning of the verse,4 “Atzas HaShem hi sokum
- The scheme of HaShem will prevail.” When HaShem synchronizes events so
that a person - of his own volition - should act against his own will
without even realizing what he is doing, this is the greatness of HaShem’s
plan. Indeed, only HaShem’s plans prevail, while all human beings’ plans are
constantly undergoing changes - due to their own actions - and they remain
utterly unaware of their part in the changes.5
1. Based on the Gemara in Megillah 11a.
The Mishkanos Yaakov explains that Achashverosh first invites the Jewish
nation to a banquet and then orders their annihilation. As explained later
(1:5), the purpose of the banquet was to cause the Jewish nation to sin. The
verse teaches us that he remained as wicked from the beginning until the
end. Meaning, we should view his initial friendliness, his invitation to the
banquet — which was his way of prompting us to sin — with the same horror
and shock as we view his desire to annihilate us. The danger of those who
cause us to sin should be no less horrifying than the threat of those who
desire our annihilation. The two are equally terrible evils.
2.The word Achashverosh (אחשוורוש) can be read אח brother [of], ראש
head. In Nevuchadnetzar’s famous dream, he saw an idol being smashed into
pieces. (See Daniel, Chapter 2.) Daniel explained to him that the idol
represented many nations that Klal Yisrael would ultimately conquer. The
idol’s head represented Nevuchadnetzar’s kingdom of Bavel. This is why
Nevuchadnetzar is referred to as ראש, the head.
3. Megillah 11a.
4. Yeshayahu 5:19.
5. An interesting example of this happened in recent history. About 70
years ago, the notorious Stalin ym”sh was the evil ruler of the Soviet
Union. He despised the Jewish people and sent many of them to Siberia at the
beginning of World War II. Had these Jews been “spared” the Siberian exile,
they would have likely been killed by the Nazis ym”sh. The Germans’
methodical extermination of our Jewish brethren killed many more than those
who perished in the Siberian camps. And so, many of the Jews that Stalin
sent to Siberia at the beginning of World War II were saved from the Nazis
through his evil schemes. An example of this salvation can be found in the
wonderful book Behind the Ice Curtain by Dina Gabel. It is interesting that
HaShem effected a salvation for some Jews even through the actions of such a
See Rabbi Yehuda Steinberg's new book on Purim by Feldheim Glimpses of Light
Text Copyright © 2014 by Rabbi Yehudah Steinbergand Torah.org.