by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Coming up next week is Purim Katan. In deference to that harbinger of the actual Purim which we will celebrate IY"H, in a month's time, I present the following Rashi-comment from Megillas Esther. (Taken from the new book "What's Bothering Rashi? on Megillas Esther")
Esther pleaded with the King to save her people. King Achashveirosh allowed her to write a new decree.
And as for you, write concerning the Jews as is good in your eyes, in the name of the King and seal it with the signet of the King; for a that which is written in the name of the King and sealed with the signet of the King, may not be revoked.
May not be revoked: Rashi: It is not seemly to revoke it and render the King's document as a forgery.
WHAT IS THE VERSE SAYING?
Before we get to Rashi's comment, let us understand what the verse itself is saying.
What does the King mean when says "for that which is written in the name of the King and sealed with signet of the King may not be revoked."?
What does this refer to? Which statement of the king cannot be revoked?
Some think this refers to what Esther is asking for right now. She wants a new decree to nullify the previous decree thereby revoking Haman's plan to annihilate the Jews. This would mean that the King is telling Esther, write a new decree and it will be irrevocable because whatever is written by the King and sealed by the King can never be revoked.
But that can't be its meaning.
An Answer: This cannot be the meaning of these words because if it were they would be self-contradictory. For if the King's decree can never be revoked and he is assuring Esther that this new decree will never be revoked, how can he make a decree which annuls Haman's previous decree to annihilate the Jews, which was sealed with the King's signet ring?
But the correct meaning of the King's words is that he cannot grant Esther's wish to have the king revoke Haman's decree. This, she is told, cannot be done. For it was sealed with the King's signet and therefore can never be abrogated. But Achashveirosh figures out a way to satisfy Esther's request without breaking his own rule about irrevocable decrees. He will make a new decree - not nullifying the old one, but amending it. On the day the Jews were to be attacked and pilloried, the new decree declared that they may take up arms to defend themselves against their attackers. We can imagine that the fact that the King was siding with the Jews infused them much courage, while at the same time critically dampened the enemy's bloodthirsty enthusiasm.
But we must ask our classic question.
What is it? And why do you think it should be asked.
A Question: What has Rashi's comment added to our knowledge? Doesn't he say what the verse says only in different words?
Can you see what he adds and why he does so?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: How can the King say that a decree cannot be revoked? He's the King and his fiefdom is not a democracy. It is a monarchy - and an autocratic one at that. So just as he could say "off with her head" and "off with his head" without resorting to judge or jury, so too could he cancel any of his decrees that he chooses to.
So the verse cannot be taken to mean "it cannot be revoked."
How does Rashi's comment deal with this?
An Answer: Rashi adds the words "it is not seemly" . It is possible to revoke the decree, but it will not look nice if I revoke my own decree, especially if I do so within such a short period time. Achashveirosh wasn't forced to let the old decree remain on the law books, he choose to do so on his own.
It is interesting to think why he didn't want to revoke it, he was King after all.
I think we can understand his actions when we consider Achashveirosh's personality and his hang-ups. He was a capricious, fickle and indecisive individual. As was said 'He could kill his wife (Vashti) because friend (Haman) said to and he could kill his friend (Haman) because his wife (Esther) said to.' He was unpredictable. As with many people who have a weakness, they are likely to over react and go to the other extreme just to prove that they are "not like that." So too, Achashveirosh, knew his own weakness and overcompensated for it. This found expression in his not wanting to revoke his previous decree, which, if he did, might be interpreted by people as a weakness of character.
A DEEPER LOOK
We must take cognizance of the profound message that the Megillah has portrayed here. Let us briefly review what has happened. Haman persuaded the King to declare all out war against the Jews. Esther asked the King to revoke this decree. He refused, but he allowed the Jews to defend themselves ."to avenge themselves of their enemies."
THE TURNABOUT THEME
Imagine for a moment, if the King had revoked his earlier decree, the one ordering the annihilation of the Jews. If he revoked it, then the Jews would not have been given the opportunity to take revenge of their enemies. Peace would have been purchased at the price of security. Everything would have reverted to square one. There would be no slaughter of the Jews but like wise there would be no defense and counterattack against the enemies, for there would be no need to defeat a warring enemy. But these enemies would continue to be enemies in their hearts, just waiting for the day when they could openly attack their Jewish neighbors. Only the King's refusal to annul his first decree made it possible for the Jews to have their magnificent victory over all their avowed enemies.
This is an excellent example of the Turnabout theme which runs through the length of the Megillah like a crimson thread. The enemies' preparations for war which presaged a thorough annihilation of the Jewish nation, was the essential element that enabled the Jews to wipe out their enemies once and for all. It became the basis for the victory celebration which is commemorated for eternity on Purim.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."
The Institute has published a new volume on Megillas Esther. It is titled:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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