וְהַמֶּלֶךְ שָׁב מִגִּנַּת הַבִּיתָן אֶל-בֵּית מִשְׁתֵּה הַיַּיִן, וְהָמָן נֹפֵל עַל-הַמִּטָּה אֲשֶׁר אֶסְתֵּר עָלֶיהָ, וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ, הֲגַם לִכְבּוֹשׁ אֶת-הַמַּלְכָּה עִמִּי בַּבָּיִת
Consider what follows one man’s imagining of the story of the megillah: what really happened. (All translations of psukim are from Mechon Mamre.)
Long-time readers of this blog might remember this line from my Purim Post of 2006. It was a throwaway line (part of a post I still really like in terms of understanding the text of the megillah) that I want to expand on.
Finally, if Achashverosh was such a Jew lover, then why was Esther’s relationship with Mordechai and her “Moledet” so important to be kept secret? Two reasons. First of all, Mordechai was a descendant of the Royal house of Shaul. His Royal blood would be seen as a threat to the king, as a possible usurper. If that was found out, it would be the end of Mordechai’s time as an advisor. Esther, by being Mordechai’s cousin, shared that royal blood.
This entire exercise starts with a non-sequitur: Esther 7:8 Then said the king: ‘Will he even force the queen before me in the house?’ Esther just told the King that Haman intends to kill her. Why is the straw that breaks his proverbial back about killing Haman that he would want to rape her? Isn’t killing her worse? And besides, was he really concerned about rape? After being infuriated with the prospect of murder? What if there’s something else going on? Further, if Achashverosh’s anger is a response to Esther’s reveal that the Jews are being threatened, why does Achashverosh’s anger subside immediately after Haman is killed, but before anything is done to save the Jews?
A very interesting point about the characters in the megillah: of all of the “major” players, only Achashverosh wasn’t descended from a royal line. And the megillah takes great care to let us know about this. The megillah frequently refers to Haman as “The Aggagite,” ie: a descendant of Agag, king of Amalek. Mordechai, we are told, is descended from a man named Kish, an “Ish Yemini.” Parallel that to Shmuel I 9:1 where Kish is called an “Ish Yemini,” where he is introduced as the father of Shaul, first King of Israel. Something is going on here. Why track the language? Kish the father of Shaul can’t be the grandfather of Mordechai, the generations don’t line up. I say that Kish is mentioned here specifically to reveal Mordechai’s royal blood, and is not mentioned as a great-grandfather specifically, but as progenetor of the line.
So what we have here is a usurper of the throne with no royal blood (Achashverosh) who is actually king, married initally to the royal queen (Vashti) then married to another royal (Esther) being advised by a royal (Haman) and stalked outside his door (possibly also already an advisor) by another royal (Mordechai). So what’s going on here? The story of the megillah is a power play about royal families and an attempt on the throne in Shushan.
Vashti is deposed because she is the first and foremost threat to Achashverosh’s kingdom. She is the royal, he is the usurper. He’s paranoid, and will do anything to protect his kingdom. So he eliminated Vashti, and plans to replace her with a common woman.
Now, perhaps, we see why it was important for Esther to conceal her nationality. It can’t (imho) simply mean her jewishness. There’s a double language there: “amah v’moladta” her nation (the Jews) and her moledet: her kinship; ie: her royal line. Why keep her royalty from Achashverosh? Because he just eliminated Vashti for being royal, and might not look kindly on Esther being royal. Also, if you accept my proposition that Mordechai was already an advisor in the royal court, he would also want to keep his royal lineage secret.
We can look at Haman’s play to kill the Jews in this light as well. How does he persuade the King to kill the Jews? By playing to his paranoia: they don’t listen to you, they don’t respect you, they do not accept your kingdom: they are a threat and must be eliminated.
And what’s Haman trying to accomplish? He wants to be King. The more power he can accumulate, the better his position to ultimately make a run at the throne. If you accept the gemara’s position that Haman is Memuchan, it is his idea to get rid of Vashti. When Achashverosh asks him about what to do to honor Mordechai (which he thinks is for him), he responds by asking to wear the King’s clothes and ride the King’s horse. Haman has his eyes on the throne. Forcing everyone to bow to him is another example of his desire to be royal. And eliminating Mordechai, another royal threat and advisor to the King is part of this plan.
But Haman can’t just ask to kill Mordechai. The King won’t have it. Mordechai is a trusted advisor, who in the past has saved the King’s life. So Haman needs a cover: genocide.
Genocide further’s another goal as well. Why was Haman so eager to personally finance the work? Haman needed to raise an army to make a play for the throne. And he wanted that army to be loyal to him, so he wanted to personally finance it (and select the people in charge). Achashverosh will have nothing of personal armies, likely as a paranois policy matter, so he tells Haman that there’s no need for his money. But he trusts him, so he lets him run the operation.
Finally, we come to Esther’s parties. Esther is telling the King that this plan to kill her and Jews is really a play for the throne. She outs Haman as having royal blood, and tells Achashverosh of Haman’s plan to be king. Paranoid Achashverosh is furious. He steps out to mull it over, think through what he knows, and decides that Esther might be right. He comes back into the room and sees Haman pleading with Esther/falling on her bed. He exclaims: He does want to usurp my throne; he even wants to take my queen!!
Now it’s not a non-sequitur at all, it’s the confirmation to Achashverosh that Haman does ineed have usurpation on his mind, and must therefore be eliminated, post-haste (not waiting to hang him with his sons, he gets killed right away). And that’s why his anger subsides immediately afterward: the threat to his kingdom is over, the usurper has been revealed and dealt with. Achashverosh doesn’t really care about the fate of the Jews, he cares that he’s safe.
But what about Esther and Mordechai? They’ve now been revealed as royals as well. How do they escape unscathed? Perhaps by reaffirming their loyalty to Achasverosh and assuaging his paranoia with their loyalty? Or maybe something different: maybe Esther and Mordechai tell Achashverosh that they come from a deposed royal line. They are from the House of Saul, whose royalty is stripped in favor of the House of David. No Jews would recognize their claim to the throne, as at this point in history, only Davidic descendants can be King. They have no claim to any thrown, and so, no designs on Achasverosh’s.
Finally, Esther and Mordechai do one more thing to assuage Achashverosh: they remind him that the decree against the Jews that Haman sent out is still in effect, and the army that he raised loyal to him is still around, and a possible threat. What better way to prove their loyalty than to pledge an army of Jews to fight on the King’s behalf? And the Jews do fight, and they win. Why does the megillah take care to mention that many people converted, because they were afraid of the Jews? What does it matter? The Jews weren’t the attackers, and as long as these people weren’t threatening the Jews on that day, they were safe. So why convert? Because maybe “convert” in this context means changing loyalties. The Haman backers realized that the game was up, Achashverosh knew about Haman, killed him and was going to “liquidate” his entire family and fortune, and maintaining their loyalties against the King and Jews was a bad idea. So they “converted” and pledged their loyalties to the King and the Jewish Army.
Mordechai, now proven to be a loyal advisor and no threat to the King, is elevated in station, and allowed to be a governor of sorts to his people and a senior advisor to the King.
Like I said, this is just one possible understanding of the story (and certainly not a textual analysis like my work from two Purims ago). Think of this as Midrash D’Noyam al HaMegillah.