We will learn in Chapter 2 that the story of this book probably began some 100 years after the fall of Jerusalem, around 482 B.C.E. We do not know when this scroll was written. It is, however, one of the most popular in the bible. The feast of Purim, a festive, fun-filled holiday, but which is not one of the Torah-prescribed holidays, is an annual celebration of this story, during which the scroll of Esther is read aloud in synagogues throughout the world.
An interesting and intriguing note: The name of God is not mentioned at all in this entire book. I can guess why, although my theory would be considered the grossest of heresies. The Jews of Babylon, after four generations, would have been assimilated into the myriad of Babylonian cultures. They probably maintained a “modernized” Hebrew among themselves, but were fully versed in the various languages and customs of the people among whom they lived. They probably also maintained the belief of many of the original exiles that God, Whose spirit was believed to have resided in the Temple, was no longer with them. The only times they mentioned God might have been during their (infrequent?) religious rituals. In Chapter 9 we will learn that Mordecai and Esther prescribed three additional customs that were to be practiced on the 14th and 15th of the month of Adar every year from that time forward. They apparently knew how Jewish customs and rituals had been forgotten in 100 years, and wanted to ensure that the events of this occurrence lived on (that may also be why this book was incorporated into the Hebrew Scriptures).
וַיְהִי בִּימֵי אֲחַשְׁוֵרֹושׁ הוּא אֲחַשְׁוֵרֹושׁ הַמֹּלֵךְ מֵהֹדּוּ וְעַד־כּוּשׁ שֶׁבַע וְעֶשְׂרִים וּמֵאָה מְדִינָה׃ 1:1
Esth. 1:1 Now it was in the days of Ahasuerus -- he was the Ahasuerus who reigned from India and as far as Ethiopia, one hundred twenty-seven provinces.
King Ahasuerus is understood by most biblical scholars and historians to have been the Persian ruler the Greeks called Xerxes I (485-464 B.C.E.). In his reign’s fifth year (480 B.C.E.) he departed for Greece. So the events of this chapter took place some time starting in those five years, as stated below in v. 1:3.
בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם כְּשֶׁבֶת הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרֹושׁ עַל כִּסֵּא מַלְכוּתֹו אֲשֶׁר בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה׃ 1:2
Esth. 1:2 In those days when the king Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the castle,
בִּשְׁנַת שָׁלֹושׁ לְמָלְכֹו עָשָׂה מִשְׁתֶּה לְכָל־שָׂרָיו וַעֲבָדָיו חֵיל פָּרַס וּמָדַי הַפַּרְתְּמִים וְשָׂרֵי הַמְּדִינֹות לְפָנָיו׃ 1:3
Esth. 1:3 in his reign's third year he made a feast for all his princes and his servants. The wealth of Persia and Media, the nobles and princes of the provinces were before him,
בְּהַרְאֹתֹו אֶת־עֹשֶׁר כְּבֹוד מַלְכוּתֹו וְאֶת־יְקָר תִּפְאֶרֶת גְּדוּלָּתֹו יָמִים רַבִּים שְׁמֹונִים וּמְאַת יֹום׃ 1:4
Esth. 1:4 with his showing the wealth of the glory of his kingdom, and the invaluable splendor of his high rank, many days, one hundred eighty days.
Many Jewish scholars believe that much of that wealth included the utensils and other items form the Temple. I have to express some doubt about this belief. I ask, wouldn’t Cyrus have allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem with at least some, if not all of the treasures of the Temple? Ahasuerus, ruler of 127 provinces, most of which were themselves entire countries, would have been unbelievably rich without the Temple gold.
וּבִמְלֹואת הַיָּמִים הָאֵלֶּה עָשָׂה הַמֶּלֶךְ לְכָל־הָעָם הַנִּמְצְאִים בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה לְמִגָּדֹול וְעַד־קָטָן מִשְׁתֶּה 1:5
שִׁבְעַת יָמִים בַּחֲצַר גִּנַּת בִּיתַן הַמֶּלֶךְ׃
Esth. 1:5 And on the fulfillment of these days the king made for all the people present in Shushan the castle, both great and small, a feast of seven days in the court of the garden of the palace of the king.
חוּר כַּרְפַּס וּתְכֵלֶת אָחוּז בְּחַבְלֵי־בוּץ וְאַרְגָּמָן עַל־גְּלִילֵי כֶסֶף וְעַמּוּדֵי שֵׁשׁ מִטֹּות זָהָב וָכֶסֶף עַל רִצְפַת 1:6
בַּהַט־וָשֵׁשׁ וְדַר וְסֹחָרֶת׃
Esth. 1:6 Fine linen of white and blue was banded in fine white linen and purple on rods of silver and columns of marble; couches of gold and silver were on a pavement of alabaster and marble and mother of pearl and red marble.
וְהַשְׁקֹות בִּכְלֵי זָהָב וְכֵלִים מִכֵּלִים שֹׁונִים וְיֵין מַלְכוּת רָב כְּיַד הַמֶּלֶךְ׃ 1:7
Esth. 1:7 And the drinks were in vessels of gold, with the vessels being different from each other, and royal wine was abundant, as befitting the portion of the king.
וְהַשְּׁתִיָּה כַדָּת אֵין אֹנֵס כִּי־כֵן יִסַּד הַמֶּלֶךְ עַל כָּל־רַב בֵּיתֹו לַעֲשֹׂות כִּרְצֹון אִישׁ־וָאִישׁ׃ 1:8
Esth. 1:8 And the drinking was according to law; there was no constraint, for so had ordained the king, regarding all the abundance of his house, to do according to the pleasure of each and everyone.
גַּם וַשְׁתִּי הַמַּלְכָּה עָשְׂתָה מִשְׁתֵּה נָשִׁים בֵּית הַמַּלְכוּת אֲשֶׁר לַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרֹושׁ׃ 1:9
Esth. 1:9 Also Vashti, the queen, fashioned a banquet of the women of the royal house that belonged to king Ahasuerus.
בַּיֹּום הַשְּׁבִיעִי כְּטֹוב לֵב־הַמֶּלֶךְ בַּיָּיִן אָמַר לִמְהוּמָן בִּזְּתָא חַרְבֹונָא בִּגְתָא וַאֲבַגְתָא זֵתַר וְכַרְכַּס 1:10
שִׁבְעַת הַסָּרִיסִים הַמְשָׁרְתִים אֶת־פְּנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרֹושׁ׃
Esth. 1:10 On the seventh day when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he said to Mehuman, Bizzetha, Harbona, Bigtha, and Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, seven of the officials ministering near the person of the king, Ahasuerus,
לְהָבִיא אֶת־וַשְׁתִּי הַמַּלְכָּה לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ בְּכֶתֶר מַלְכוּת לְהַרְאֹות הָעַמִּים וְהַשָּׂרִים אֶת־יָפְיָהּ 1:11
כִּי־טֹובַת מַרְאֶה הִיא׃
Esth. 1:11 to bring Vashti, the queen, before the king with [only] the royal crown to show the people and the princes her beauty, for excellent of appearance she was.
The Hebrew for the word only is not present in this verse. But Jewish scholars seem to agree that the queen was meant to appear in the nude, that being the reason she refused (see the next verse). No bible seems to have included that word in their version of this verse, but some of the commentaries mention it. An important aspect of this event is the fact that the king and all his guests, including his closest advisors, had been drinking without constraint for a while, and were likely pretty drunk. Since Vashti was also hosting a banquet, she may have been tipsy as well.
וַתְּמָאֵן הַמַּלְכָּה וַשְׁתִּי לָבֹוא בִּדְבַר הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר בְּיַד הַסָּרִיסִים וַיִּקְצֹף הַמֶּלֶךְ מְאֹד וַחֲמָתֹו בָּעֲרָה בֹו׃ 1:12
Esth. 1:12 But the queen, Vashti, refused to come at the word of the king that was by the hand of the officials, so the king was very displeased, and his anger burned in him.
וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ לַחֲכָמִים יֹדְעֵי הָעִתִּים כִּי־כֵן דְּבַר הַמֶּלֶךְ לִפְנֵי כָּל־יֹדְעֵי דָּת וָדִין׃ 1:13
Esth. 1:13 And the king said to the wise men, perceivers of the times, as such a matter of the king was before all perceivers of law and judgment,
וְהַקָּרֹב אֵלָיו כַּרְשְׁנָא שֵׁתָר אַדְמָתָא תַרְשִׁישׁ מֶרֶס מַרְסְנָא מְמוּכָן שִׁבְעַת שָׂרֵי פָּרַס וּמָדַי רֹאֵי פְּנֵי 1:14
הַמֶּלֶךְ הַיֹּשְׁבִים רִאשֹׁנָה בַּמַּלְכוּת׃
Esth. 1:14 and those near to him, Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, Memucan, seven princes of Persia and Media, beholders of the face of the king, those inhabiting the highest rank of the kingdom,
כְּדָת מַה־לַּעֲשֹׂות בַּמַּלְכָּה וַשְׁתִּי עַל אֲשֶׁר לֹא־עָשְׂתָה אֶת־מַאֲמַר הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרֹושׁ בְּיַד הַסָּרִיסִים׃ 1:15
Esth. 1:15 “According to law, what is to be done with the queen, Vashti, because she had not done the bidding of the king, Ahasuerus, by the hand of the officials?”
וַיֹּאמֶר (מוּמְכָן) [מְמוּכָן] לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהַשָּׂרִים לֹא עַל־הַמֶּלֶךְ לְבַדֹּו עָוְתָה וַשְׁתִּי הַמַּלְכָּה כִּי 1:16
עַל־כָּל־הַשָּׂרִים וְעַל־כָּל־הָעַמִּים אֲשֶׁר בְּכָל־מְדִינֹות הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרֹושׁ׃
Esth. 1:16 And Memucan said before the king and the princes, “Not against the king alone has Vashti, the queen, done wrong, but against all the princes and against all the peoples who were in all the provinces of king Ahasuerus.”
The word in the parentheses, which is the name Memucan, is misspelled here. However, it is spelled correctly in vss. 1:14 and 21. The correct spelling is in the brackets.
כִּי־יֵצֵא דְבַר־הַמַּלְכָּה עַל־כָּל־הַנָּשִׁים לְהַבְזֹות בַּעְלֵיהֶן בְּעֵינֵיהֶן בְּאָמְרָם הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרֹושׁ אָמַר 1:17
לְהָבִיא אֶת־וַשְׁתִּי הַמַּלְכָּה לְפָנָיו וְלֹא־בָאָה׃
Esth. 1:17 “For should the deed of the queen get out to all the wives to make their husbands contemptible in their eyes with it being said, ‘The king, Ahasuerus, commanded Vashti, the queen, to be brought before him, and she did not come.’”
וְהַיֹּום הַזֶּה תֹּאמַרְנָה שָׂרֹות פָּרַס־וּמָדַי אֲשֶׁר שָׁמְעוּ אֶת־דְּבַר הַמַּלְכָּה לְכֹל שָׂרֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וּכְדַי בִּזָּיֹון 1:18
Esth. 1:18 “And the princesses of Persia and Media who hear will say the word of the queen to all the princes of the king this day and with the same contempt and anger.”
אִם־עַל־הַמֶּלֶךְ טֹוב יֵצֵא דְבַר־מַלְכוּת מִלְּפָנָיו וְיִכָּתֵב בְּדָתֵי פָרַס־וּמָדַי וְלֹא יַעֲבֹור אֲשֶׁר לֹא־תָבֹוא 1:19
וַשְׁתִּי לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרֹושׁ וּמַלְכוּתָהּ יִתֵּן הַמֶּלֶךְ לִרְעוּתָהּ הַטֹּובָה מִמֶּנָּה׃
Esth. 1:19 “If it is according to the good king, the royal word should go forth from before him that it be written into the laws of Persia and Media so it cannot be ignored that Vashti cannot come before the king, Ahasuerus, and the king will give her royal power to another more agreeable than she.”
וְנִשְׁמַע פִּתְגָם הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר־יַעֲשֶׂה בְּכָל־מַלְכוּתֹו כִּי רַבָּה הִיא וְכָל־הַנָּשִׁים יִתְּנוּ יְקָר לְבַעְלֵיהֶן 1:20
Esth. 1:20 “Then the decree of the king that he would have made will be heard throughout all his kingdom, though great it is, and all the wives will give honor to their husbands, from the greatest to the least.”
וַיִּיטַב הַדָּבָר בְּעֵינֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהַשָּׂרִים וַיַּעַשׂ הַמֶּלֶךְ כִּדְבַר מְמוּכָן׃ 1:21
Esth. 1:21 And the word was pleasing to the eyes of the king and the princes, and the king did according to the word of Memucan.
The phrase the word was pleasing to the eyes seems to be a peculiarity of the times or place when or where this book was written. Speech is pleasing to the ears elsewhere in the bible. Another possibility is that this was the author’s attempt to depict the state of mind of Ahasuerus: He was too drunk to hear, but could imagine in his mind’s eye.
וַיִּשְׁלַח סְפָרִים אֶל־כָּל־מְדִינֹות הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶל־מְדִינָה וּמְדִינָה כִּכְתָבָהּ וְאֶל־עַם וָעָם כִּלְשֹׁונֹו לִהְיֹות 1:22
כָּל־אִישׁ שֹׂרֵר בְּבֵיתֹו וּמְדַבֵּר כִּלְשֹׁון עַמֹּו׃
Esth. 1:22 So he sent scrolls to each of the provinces of the king, to province and province according to its character, and to people and people in accordance with its own language, every man is to be ruler in his own house and speaking after the language of his own people.
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