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Ignoring the Messages: A Purim Lesson

Tzav (Leviticus 6-8 )

by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

Megillat Esther, 1:1: “And it was in the days of Achashverosh: he is Achashverosh who ruled from Hodu to Cush over a hundred and twenty-seven provinces.”
Rashi, 1:1: sv. He is Achashverosh: He [remained] in his evil from the beginning until the end.

In the first verse in the Scroll of Esther, Rashi reveals an allusion to the nature of King Achashverosh, one of the main characters in the story. He teaches us that Achashverosh was an evil person at the beginning of the story and remained evil till the very end.1 Two questions arise: Firstly, every detail in the Megilla teaches us a message that is connected to the theme of Purim – in what way is the fact that Achashverosh remained evil relevant to the lessons of Purim?

Secondly, why, of all the many wicked people featured in the Bible, is Achashverosh one of the only ones to be singled out for this particular criticism?2

By answering the second question we can then understand the first as well. It seems that there are two very significant factors that can cause a wayward person to change his ways; the first is exposure to righteous people. The Torah instructs us to cleave to Torah scholars and spend as much time as possible with great people because one can learn from their righteous behavior and see first-hand the results of living a spiritual life.

A second possible catalyst for repentance is the events surrounding us; when a person is involved in events that seem to be guided by the Divine Hand, he has the opportunity to respond to the Divine message and change his ways.

Achashverosh merited both opportunities; He married the righteous Esther, whose greatness could not have been hidden from him despite her secretive nature. Moreover, his main advisor towards the end of his life was Mordechai, one of the greatest Sages of the time. Achashverosh also had the good fortune to be one of the players in the remarkable Purim story – the account of how the very existence of the Jewish people was threatened, and yet everything was miraculously turned on its head.3

It would be difficult to not be positively affected by such great people and by being part of such a miraculous story. Yet Achashverosh remained the same, greedy, selfish person at the end of the story and indeed the end of his life.

One proof of this is mentioned by the Talmud is found in one of the very last verses in the Megilla: “And King Achashverosh placed a tax on the land and the islands.”4 The commentaries explain that when he married Esther, he reduced the taxes on his kingdom so that her home nation might reveal itself to him in order to benefit further from its new connection to the King.5 At the end of the story, he knew her identity, therefore he raised the taxes again. This demonstrates that at the climax of the Purim story, all Achashverosh could think about was money.

Another indication that he remained evil is that he never committed to rebuilding the second Temple despite the great benefits he derived from Mordechai and Esther.

We can now understand the connection between Achashverosh’s flaw and the Purim story. The lesson of Purim is to see the Divine Providence even in a time when God’s Presence is hidden, and to increase our awareness of God in our own lives. Yet it is insufficient if that newfound recognition remains in the realm of the mind and heart. It must bring about an enhancement in one’s relationship with God. The example of Achashverosh teaches us how not to respond to Divine Providence – remaining oblivious to God’s messages and engulfed in base lusts and desires.

  1. Rashi is based on the Gemara in Megilla, 11a.
  2. The Gemara criticizes four other wicked people in the same way: Esav, Dattan, Aviram, and Achaz, one of the Kings of Yehuda.
  3. It is true that the numerous miracles in the Megilla were hidden miracles in that they did not openly defy the laws of nature, yet anyone who cared to notice would surely have been affected in some way by the miraculous salvation of the Jewish people.
  4. Megilla Esther, 10:1.
  5. Megilla Esther, 2:18, see Malbim.


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