The City of Shushan and the Rise and Fall of Haman
By: Rav Moshe Stav
“And the city of Shushan was dumbfounded” (Esther 3:15) – “And the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad” (ibid. 8:15). These pesukim seem to imply that the mood of the entire city of Shushan was dependent on the situation of the Jews! Where were the non-Jews of Shushan?
The gemara in Megilla (11a) seems to be addressing our question:
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” (Mishlei 29:2). “When the righteous are on the increase, the people rejoice” – this is Mordechai and Esther, as it is written: “And the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad.” “But when the wicked man rules, the people mourn” – this is Haman, as it is written: “But the city of Shushan was dumbfounded.”
The gemara appears to be teaching that the city’s state of joy as well as its state of confusion was, in fact, the mood of everyone in it. But this too demands some explanation. After all, it would seem that Haman’s supporters were happy with his edict, and, conversely, that they mourned with his downfall.
The rule of Achashverosh was part of the exile of Paras and Maday, but Achashverosh the Persian himself was inactive. The entire episode regarding the Jews took place surrounding Haman, Mordechai, and Esther. This differs from the situation in other exiles, when the oppressor was from the nation of the exile.
Both the Rama and the Gra explained the Megilla as a mashal to a person involved in the struggle between good and evil. This is appropriately represented by the kingdom of Persia, whose values revolved around pleasure and desire. This type of people is usually drawn after outside influences, and the yetzer hara finds them easy to pull toward evil. But when these people recognize the mistake that they made, they are repulsed, and they transfer the decision making into the hands of the yetzer hatov. This is reflected in the behavior of Achashverosh, who is influenced first by Haman and then by his wife, who symbolizes the positive force of physicality. Achashverosh is disengaged from the evil Haman, the source of unfiltered desire, and pulled toward to the positive scent of proper actions and character. (Indeed, Chazal find a hint to Haman in the Torah in the pasuk, “Hamin ha’etz,” referring to the tree from which Adam sinned and was then punished, whereas Mordechai is hinted to in the words “Mor deror,” one of the fragrant spices, which is translated in Aramaic as “Mor dachia.”)
Just as the personal behavior of the pleasure-lover is bad for both himself and for others, a kingdom built on pleasure has no stability. It is built entirely on the draw to fleeting pleasure, ultimately leading to poverty. (This is the meaning of the name “Achashverosh” – his subjects became “rashim,” impoverished.) In such a kingdom, evildoers indeed rise, but since they only care about their own advancement, even their friends – who cooperated with them in order to benefit themselves – are not pleased with their rise. They would prefer a reign of justice.
Imagine a classroom in which the teacher is giving out candies. If the teacher has control of the class and gives out the treats in an organized manner, even the strong children in the class are pleased, because they are confident that they will receive some treats. If, however, there is no order and everyone has to grab in order to get a candy, the strong children will get – but they will be unhappy. The rise of Mordechai, who represents the rule of righteousness, thus gladdens all of Shushan, as everyone can now be confident that he will have his needs met.
Shiur ID: 7508