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Steinsaltz

“For we are bondmen; yet our God has not forsaken us in our bondage, but has extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia” (Ezra 9:9). When did this occur? In the time of Haman.

Rabbi Ḥanina bar Pappa introduced this passage with an introduction from here: The verse states: “You have caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; but You brought us out into abundance” (Psalms 66:12). “Through fire”; this was in the days of the wicked Nebuchadnezzar, who cast the righteous into the furnace. “And through water”; this was in the days of Pharaoh, who decreed that all newborn males be cast into the water. “But You brought us out into abundance”; this was in the days of Haman, where abundant feasts played a pivotal role in their peril and salvation.

Rabbi Yoḥanan introduced this passage with an introduction from here: The verse states: “He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness toward the house of Israel: All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God” (Psalms 98:3). When did all the ends of the earth see the salvation of our God? In the days of Mordecai and Esther, for their peril and salvation became known through the letters sent throughout the empire.

Reish Lakish introduced this passage with an introduction from here: “As a roaring lion, and a ravenous bear, so is a wicked ruler over a poor people” (Proverbs 28:15). “A roaring lion”; this is the wicked Nebuchadnezzar, as it is written about him: “The lion has come up from his thicket” (Jeremiah 4:7). “A hungry bear”; this is Ahasuerus, as it is written about him: “And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear” (Daniel 7:5). And Rav Yosef taught that these who are referred to as a bear in the verse are the Persians. They are compared to a bear, as they eat and drink in large quantities like a bear; and they are coated with flesh like a bear; and they grow their hair long like a bear; and they never rest like a bear, whose manner it is to move about from place to place.

“A wicked ruler”; this is Haman. “Over a poor people”; this is the Jewish people, who are referred to in this manner because they are poor in their observance of the mitzvot.

Rabbi Elazar introduced this passage with an introduction from here: “Through laziness the rafters [hamekare] sink in [yimakh]; and through idleness of the hands the house leaks” (Ecclesiastes 10:18). Rabbi Elazar interprets the verse homiletically: Through the laziness of the Jewish people, who did not occupy themselves with Torah study, the enemy of the Holy One, Blessed be He, a euphemism for God Himself, became poor [makh], so that, as it were, He was unable to help them, as makh is nothing other than poor, as it is stated: “But if he be too poor [makh] for the valuation” (Leviticus 27:8). And the word mekare in the verse is referring to no one other than the Holy One, Blessed be He, as it is stated: “Who lays the beams [hamekare] of His chambers in the waters” (Psalms 104:3).

Rav Naḥman bar Yitzḥak introduced this passage with an introduction from here: “A song of ascents of David. If not for the Lord Who was with us, let Israel now say; if not for the Lord who was with us, when a man rose up against us” (Psalms 124:1–2). The verse speaks of “a man” who rose up against us and not a king. This occurred in the days of Haman, as he, and not King Ahasuerus, was the chief enemy of the Jewish people.

Rava introduced this passage with an introduction from here: “When the righteous are on the increase, the people rejoice; but when the wicked man rules, the people mourn” (Proverbs 29:2). “When the righteous are on the increase, the people rejoice”; this is Mordecai and Esther, as it is written: “And the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad” (Esther 8:15). “But when the wicked man rules, the people mourn”; this is Haman, as it is written: “But the city of Shushan was perplexed” (Esther 3:15).

Rav Mattana said his introduction from here: “For what nation is there so great, that has God so near to them” (Deuteronomy 4:7), as to witness the great miracles in the days of Mordecai and Esther? Rav Ashi said his introduction from here: The verse states: “Or has God ventured to go and take Him a nation from the midst of another nation?” (Deuteronomy 4:34), as in the times of Esther, God saved the Jewish people who were scattered throughout the Persian Empire.

§ The Gemara returns to its interpretation of the book of Esther. The verse states: “And it came to pass [vayhi] in the days of Ahasuerus” (Esther 1:1). Rav said: The word vayhi may be understood as if it said vai and hi, meaning woe and mourning. This is as it is written: “And there you shall sell yourselves to your enemies for bondsmen and bondswomen, and no man shall buy you” (Deuteronomy 28:68). The repetitive nature of the verse, indicating that no one will be willing to buy you for servitude, but they will purchase you in order to murder you, indicates a doubly horrific situation, which is symbolized by the dual term vayhi, meaning woe and mourning.

And Shmuel said his introduction from here: “And yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God” (Leviticus 26:44). Shmuel explains: “I will not reject them”; this was in the days of the Greeks. “Nor will I abhor them”; this was in the days of Vespasian. “To destroy them utterly”; this was in the days of Haman. “To break My covenant with them”; this was in the days of the Persians. “For I am the Lord their God”; this is in the days of Gog and Magog.

An alternative understanding was taught in a baraita: “I will not reject them”; this was in the days of the Chaldeans, when I appointed for them Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah to pray on their behalf. “Nor will I abhor them”; this was in the days of the Greeks, when I appointed Shimon HaTzaddik for them, and the Hasmonean and his sons, and Mattithiah the High Priest. “To destroy them utterly”; this was in the days of Haman, when I appointed for them the righteous leaders Mordecai and Esther. “To break My covenant with them”; this was in the days of the Romans, when I appointed for them the Sages of the house of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and the Sages of other generations. “For I am the Lord their God”; this will be in the future, when no nation or people of a foreign tongue will be able to subjugate them further.

Rabbi Levi said his introduction from here: “But if you will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall come to pass, that those whom you allow to remain of them shall be as thorns in your eyes” (Numbers 33:55). King Saul’s failure to completely annihilate Amalek allowed for the existence of his descendant Haman, who acted as a thorn in the eyes of Israel during the Purim episode.

Rabbi Ḥiyya said his introduction from here, the continuation of the previously cited verse: “And it shall come to pass, that as I thought to do unto them, so I shall do unto you” (Numbers 33:56). Prior to the miracle of Purim, the Jewish people were subject to the punishment that the Torah designated for its enemies, because they did not fulfill God’s commandments.

The Gemara continues with its explanation of the book of Esther, beginning with a discussion of the name Ahasuerus. Rav said: The name should be viewed as a contraction: The brother of the head [aḥiv shel rosh] and of the same character as the head [ben gilo shel rosh]. Rav explains: The brother of the head, i.e., the brother of the wicked Nebuchadnezzar, who is called “head,” as it is stated: “You are the head of gold” (Daniel 2:38). Of the same character as the head, for he, Nebuchadnezzar, killed the Jews, and he, Ahasuerus, sought to kill them. He destroyed the Temple, and he sought to destroy the foundations for the Temple laid by Zerubbabel, as it is stated: “And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote to him an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem” (Ezra 4:6), and he ordered that the construction of the Temple cease.

And Shmuel said: The name Ahasuerus should be understood in the sense of black [shaḥor], as the face of the Jewish people was blackened in his days like the bottom of a pot. And Rabbi Yoḥanan said a different explanation: Everyone who recalled him said: “Woe upon his head” [aḥ lerosho]. And Rabbi Ḥanina said: The name alludes to the fact that everyone became poor [rash] in his days, as it is stated: “And the king Ahasuerus laid a tribute upon the land” (Esther 10:1).

The Gemara continues: “This is [hu] Ahasuerus” (Esther 1:1); the term hu, this is, comes to teach that he remained as he was in his wickedness from beginning to end. Similarly, wherever the words “this is” appear in this manner, the verse indicates that the individual under discussion remained the same from beginning to end, for example: “This is [hu] Esau” (Genesis 36:43); he remained in his wickedness from beginning to end. “This is [hu] Dathan and Abiram” (Numbers 26:9); they remained in their wickedness from beginning to end. “This is [hu] the king Ahaz” (II Chronicles 28:22); he remained in his wickedness from beginning to end.

The Gemara continues: The word hu is also used to recognize sustained righteousness. “Abram, this is [hu] Abraham” (I Chronicles 1:27); this indicates that Abraham didn’t change, as he remained in his righteousness from beginning to end. Similarly, “This is [hu] Aaron and Moses” (Exodus 6:26); they remained in their righteousness from the beginning of their life to the end of their life. Similarly, with respect to David: “And David, this was [hu] the youngest” (I Samuel 17:14), indicates that he remained in his humility from beginning to end. Just as in his youth, when he was still an ordinary individual, he humbled himself before anyone who was greater than him in Torah, so too, in his kingship, he humbled himself before anyone who was greater than him in wisdom.

The next term in the opening verse: “Who reigned” (Esther 1:1), is now interpreted. Rav said: This comes to teach that he reigned on his own, without having inherited the throne. Some say this to his credit, and some say it to his disgrace. The Gemara explains: Some say this to his credit, that there was no other man as fit as him to be king. And some say it to his disgrace, that he was not fit to be king, but he distributed large amounts of money, and in that way rose to the throne.

The opening verse continues that Ahasuerus reigned “from Hodu to Cush.” Rav and Shmuel disagreed about its meaning. One said: Hodu is a country at one end of the world, and Cush is a country at the other end of the world. And one said: Hodu and Cush are situated next to each other, and the verse means to say as follows: Just as Ahasuerus reigned with ease over the adjacent countries of Hodu and Cush, so too, he reigned with ease from one end of the world to the other.

On a similar note, you say with regard to Solomon: “For he had dominion over all the region on this side of the river, from Tiphsah even to Gaza” (I Kings 5:4), and also with regard to this Rav and Shmuel disagreed. One said: Tiphsah is at one end of the world, whereas Gaza is at the other end of the world. And one said: Tiphsah and Gaza are situated next to each other, and the verse means to say as follows: Just as Solomon reigned with ease over the adjacent Tiphsah and Gaza, so too, he reigned with ease over the entire world.

The opening verse continues, stating that Ahasuerus reigned “over seven and twenty and a hundred provinces” (Esther 1:1). Rav Ḥisda said: This verse should be understood as follows: At first he reigned over seven provinces; and then he reigned over twenty more; and finally he reigned over another hundred. The Gemara asks: However, if that is so, with regard to the similarly worded verse: “And the years of the life of Amram were seven and thirty and a hundred years” (Exodus 6:20), what would you expound from it? The Gemara answers: It is different here, in the book of Esther, as this part of the verse is entirely superfluous. Since it is already written: “From Hodu to Cush,” why then do I need “Seven and twenty and a hundred provinces”? Rather, learn from here that these words come for this exposition, to teach that Ahasuerus did not begin to reign over all of them at the same time.

§ Apropos the discussion of the kingdoms of Ahasuerus and Solomon, the Gemara cites a baraita in which the Sages taught: Three men ruled over the entire world, and they were Ahab, and Ahasuerus, and Nebuchadnezzar. The Gemara explains: Ahab, as it is written in the words of Obadiah, servant of Ahab, to Elijah: “As the Lord your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my master has not sent to seek you, and they said: He is not there; and he made the kingdom and nation swear, that they had not found you” (I Kings 18:10). And if he did not reign over them, how could he have made them swear? Apparently, then, he reigned over the entire world.

Nebuchadnezzar also ruled over the whole world, as it is written: “And it shall come to pass, that the nation and the kingdom that not serve this same Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylonia, and that will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylonia, that nation will I visit, says the Lord, with the sword, and with the famine, and with the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand” (Jeremiah 27:8). Ahasuerus also ruled the world, as we have said above.

Talmud - Bavli - The William Davidson digital edition of the Koren No=C3=A9 Talmud
with commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz Even-Israel (CC-BY-NC 4.0)
אדם סלומון
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