Thursday, Apr 18, 2024

Esther and Achashveirosh: A Clash of Opposites

 

A Timely Purim Message

 

A big component of Purim is money. Of course, mishteh v’simcha is huge. We lain the Megillah twice. We give loads of mishloach manos. But like it or hate it, money is everywhere on Purim. From little kids collecting at every opportunity (and on every street corner!) to the major matanos la’evyonim campaigns, from groups running around collecting to the competition of who can raise more and reach a higher goal, money is everywhere on Purim, usually for good things – helping the poor, helping yeshivos, etc. It is amazing. This is not only the case on Purim, but even in the run-up to Purim. The corporate giving, the elaborate mishloach manos, and the commercialization of so many aspects of the day almost seem to wave money and its importance throughout Purim. This is not a complaint, but a statement of fact.

I was wondering: Where do we see in the Megillah anything about the importance of money or money playing a big part in the Purim story?

Upon contemplation, I realized that the early pesukim of the Megillah offer a blow-by-blow description elaborating on the fabulous wealth of Achashveirosh. He had beds fashioned from gold and silver, keilim shonim, chur, karpas and techeiles

The bottom line? Every one of the senses was pampered at the party of Achashveirosh. Everything was displayed out in the open. His wealth, his fabulous wealth, was on display, and it was wow. Any drink you wanted! Any food you wanted! The most luxurious fabrics! You name it. All you had to do was ask and it was given to you.

“I Am Way Richer Than Achashveirosh!”

Now, I am going to say something that might have some readers scratching their heads: I am way richer than Achashveirosh. Way, way richer.

“Huh?” you might be thinking. “You?”

Yes, me. I, the regular person who drives an old Camry, shops at Walmart and Costco, and makes weddings in Bais Faiga, am way richer than Achashveirosh. In gashmiyus.

Really?

Yes. Absolutely!

Let me give you an example. I have central air conditioning in my house. Yep, it can be 90 degrees outside and I am as cool as a cucumber inside. What was Achashveirosh doing during the summer in Persia when temperatures hovered around one hundred and ten degrees? He was shvitzing away. He was very uncomfortable. Not only didn’t he have an air conditioner, but he didn’t even have a fan! At most, he had a bunch of people waving fans at him. Yep, that will do a lot for you when it is 110 degrees with 100% humidity outside…

Here is another thing. What did Achashveirosh do at night when he needed to see something? Of course, his servants lit candles for him. Wonderful. His wattage from all those candles must have been somewhere between five and twenty watts. When I want to see at night, with one flip of a switch, I get hundreds of kilowatts and the room is bathed in daylight. I have daylight at night, while Achashveirosh, the richest man in the world, was treated to a somewhat upgraded version of a bedikas chometz light. The simplest bar mitzvah today has more light than Achashveirosh’s party.

Let’s continue. What did Achashveirosh do when he needed to travel? He took a wagon with white stallions that bumped him along the road at high speeds. Hmm. My old yeshivishe car with all its dents and part of the bumper falling off can go three times as fast as his horses, with a ten times smoother ride.

What did Achashveirosh do when he had to circulate an urgent message? He had a whole army of hundreds of couriers running around all 127 medinos, and amazingly, in 35 days they were able to spread the news to all 127 provinces. And me? With one email, I can spread news across the entire world! Yes, in under five minutes, the entire world knew the neis of an 88-year-old rosh yeshiva being bentched with his first child.

So, tell me: Who is richer? Who lives a more luxurious life, me or Achashveirosh? The question then is: Why is Achashveirosh the symbol of fabulous wealth and not me or you?

To Show or Not to Show…That is The Difference

The answer is found in one word in the Megillah. One word says it all. The Megillah tells us, “Behaaroso es osher kevod malchuso.” Achashveirosh was able to show off his fabulous wealth. Wealth means almost nothing if you can’t show it to others. In other words, “I have and you don’t.”

That is the fundamental difference between you, me, and Achashveirosh. Yes, we have much, much more than Achashveirosh. But we don’t have anything to show anyone else. Everyone else has what we have. In that sense, Achashveirosh was the billionaire and we are not. So, lacking wealth means that we are missing something in comparison to someone else. He has the nice car, the nice house, and the fancy party and I don’t…and therefore I am not rich?

The truth is that this definition of ashirus is really the diametric opposite of the true, Jewish ideal of wealth.

Let us think for a second. What made Bilam Harasha lose it? What made him go crazy? He so deeply wanted to curse the Bnei Yisroel. He hated them with a passion. Then, suddenly, he saw their tents and the closed doors that were not lined up. No one could see into the home of another, and he just lost it. Instead of cursing them, he gave them the greatest brachos possible. In that second, he saw something so unique. No one was looking to show anyone else what they had. All they wanted was to live their own lives. As long as they had their own needs, they had no reason to show others.

That is the Jewish definition of ashirus. “I have what I need. I have such a wealthy, wonderful inner world that I don’t need or want to show it to others. I am so content with my own life that there is no need to go public in any way.”

That is what Bilam meant when he said, “Hein am levodod yishkon – They are a nation that dwells alone.” Only the Yidden can demonstrate this precious middah of being totally content with what they have that they have no need or desire to show it to others.

This is the exact opposite of “Behaaroso es osher kevod malchuso v’es yekor tiferes gedulaso – When he showed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the splendor of the beauty of his majesty.”

The “Wealth” that Divided Esther and Achashveirosh

In truth, this concept that was so diametrically opposed to Achashveirosh’s lifestyle defined Esther perfectly. This was the lesson that she taught us and taught Achashveirosh. He was busy with “behaaroso,” with showing off all his possessions, and not only his wealth, but even his wife. He davka wanted to show off Vashti, because he wanted everyone to see how worthwhile it is to be the wife of a fabulously wealthy person like him.

What was Esther’s response? The Megillah says, “Lo biksha dovor,” she asked for nothing. Esther didn’t seek to look good or find favor in the eyes of others. Why? Because she had such a rich inner world that she saw absolutely no need to show off what she viewed as a purely outer world, a purely superficial manifestation of bounty. Her message to Achashveirosh was, “I don’t need anything from you, because I have everything!”

There was no need to take or even to say who she was. “Lo hegidah.” Esther didn’t say a word about who she was and about her illustrious yichus, because she had no need to show anything. She was so fulfilled, so full of inner wealth and inner self-worth, that she did not need any sort of validation from others.

This was something Achashveirosh had never encountered. This was something that he takeh didn’t have. Esther was the first person to show Achashveirosh that there was something he didn’t have and couldn’t get. In contrast to the profound inner strength and power exuded by Esther, he must have actually felt like a poor, destitute, impotent person.

Achashveirosh never encountered wealth that you don’t have to show off.

(By the way, this is a true definition of the Yiddishe middah of tzniyus. Tzniyus is not and should not be just inches or styles, but rather the power to say, “I have such a beautiful inner world that I wouldn’t lower myself to project it with a superficial, foolish, outer manifestation of myself. I am so much more than that!”)

Our Secret

That type of wealth is our secret, the true secret of the Jewish nation. A Yid doesn’t need validation from the outside, from the street. When a person shows that even though he can go anywhere and the entire world is open to him with the click of a button in his pocket, and yet he doesn’t need it and doesn’t want it, that is true wealth. Why? Because he truly has the entire world. His inner world is so rich that he has no need for all the tinsel accessible in the outer world. When we are so full from within, when we are so satisfied with our inner lives, then superficial manifestations of “success” mean nothing. They are actually, in some ways, so low and disdainful.

This is the lesson that Esther is teaching us. We learn from Esther the power of what we are, the real wealth that we have, that real wealth is when it doesn’t need to find validation with “behaaroso,” showing it off. On the contrary, showing off proves more than anything just how poor you really are.

Partially based on a thought in Kuntrus Az Nidberu.

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