Why are we being told about the king’s tax policy?
(10,1) “And King Achashverosh imposed a tax on the land and on the isles of the sea.”
We can explain what relevance this seemingly superfluous piece of information has to the miracle of Purim with the dispute between Rav and Shmuel in the gemora Megillah 12a concerning Achashverosh: one of them said that he was a wise king, and the other said he was a foolish king. The one who said that he was foolish is diminishing the miracle because then his irrational behaviour cannot be clearly ascribed to the miraculous intervention of Hashem, because “anger lies in the bosom of fools” (Koheles 7,9). But the one who said that he was a wise king is magnifying the miracle because then it is clear that everything was planned by Hashem.
And it seems to me that now, at the end of the Megillah, this posuk is coming to demonstrate that he was a wise person from the way he implemented his desire to free the Jews from paying taxes, this desire stemming from the fact that his wife Esther was a Jewess and the importance of Mordechai the Jew in his eyes. Because he was afraid that if it was obvious that he was freeing them from paying taxes, the other people of his countries would rebel against him. Therefore, he acted very cleverly and changed the tax system. Until now the tax was on each individual - a head tax, as it says in Ezra (7,24) “the king’s due, the head tax and the meal tax”, and Yisrael and the nations had been equal in paying this tax. But now he cancelled the head tax, and instead they had to pay tax from the land - from the fields, the villages and the cities. And since Yisrael were in exile and thus did not own any land, they did not need to pay this tax. With this clever move, the nations did not realize that there was any blatant difference between them and Yisrael.
This is what the posuk is saying: until now the tax was imposed on the individual, but now, “the King Achashverosh imposed a tax upon the land and upon the isles of the sea (on the ships)”. From this clever move we see that he was a wise person and thus the miracle of Purim is magnified, and for this reason this information is written here.
Why are there two vavs missing from Achashverosh in this posuk?
(10,1) “And King Achashverosh imposed a tax on the land and on the isles of the sea.”
Behold, the word Achashverosh is always written in the Megillah in full, with two vavs, except here where it is written without any vavs at all. It seems to me that we can learn the reason for this from the Midrash on parshas Chayei Sarah, which comments on the posuk in Bereishis (23,16) “Avrohom weighed out to Ephron” (the exorbitant amount that Ephron demanded for the cave of Machpelah) - this (that the word Ephron is written here without a vav) can be explained with the posuk in Mishlei (28,22): “He who hastens after wealth is a man with an evil eye” - this refers to Ephron, “and he does not know that a deficiency will come to him” - that because he hastened after wealth Hashem left out a vav from his name.
And the same is true with Achashverosh, because the sefer Monos HaLevi explained that the tax that he originally removed after making Esther his queen - “and he granted a release to the provinces” (2,18), not only did he restore it, but he even demanded that it be paid retroactively. So we see that he was also someone who hastened after wealth, like Ephron. But he hastened after wealth twofold, by also claiming interest on this unpaid tax. Therefore it says that he “imposed a tax”, which implies that he made a new tax, because if he was merely claiming that which he had originally imposed this would not be new. So the implication is that he added a new, twofold payment, of the tax that they had not paid.
Therefore it says “And King Achashverosh imposed a tax” - he made a new tax, and since he hastened after wealth twofold this resulted in his missing two vavs from his name.
Why did the rest of the Sanhedrin separate themselves from Mordechai?
(10,3) “For Mordechai the Jew was second to King Achashverosh, and great among the Jews and accepted by most of his brethren; seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to their offspring.”
Chazal commented on this posuk that Mordechai was “accepted by most of his brethren” - but not by all his brethren, and this teaches that some of the Sanhedrin separated themselves from him. But why did they do this?
We see from the previous chapter that Mordechai commanded Yisrael to make the day of Purim into a Yom Tov, but Yisrael did not accept this. And we can assume that the rest of the Sanhedrin also did not agree to this, because if they had agreed then certainly Yisrael would not have refused to obey the command of the Sanhedrin. But what was the reason why the Sanhedrin did not agree with Mordechai on this point?
It seems to me that the correct explanation is because Yom Tov is half for Hashem and half for Yisrael. That is, the prohibition to do work and the day being a holy convocation, this is Hashem’s portion; and the eating and drinking and pleasure of the body is Yisrael’s portion. And the reason for this is because Yomim Tovim were fixed because of the miracles that were done for Yisrael, and in the enactment of the miracles there were two intentions - glory for Hashem, because through it was publicized His existence and His ability, and also the good that resulted for Yisrael. Therefore, the Yom Tov is a celebration both for Hashem and for Yisrael.
Now, Chazal taught that although Moshe described Hashem as ‘the great, the mighty and the awesome’, and that these praises were fixed in our prayers, Yirmeyohu did not say ‘the awesome’ and Daniel did not say ‘the mighty’, because they said: Where is the display of His awesomeness, and where is the display of His might? The nations are celebrating with abandon in His temple, and He keeps quiet. But the Men of the Great Assembly returned the crown to its former state, and they said: This itself is a display of His awesomeness and might - the fact that the nations are celebrating in His temple and yet He keeps quiet! I wrote elsewhere, that from the language that Chazal use here it is evident that they are not just saying that that His keeping quiet is also a mighty deed, but rather that His keeping quiet and suppressing His anger are more outstanding than His performing wonders and miracles, because these are not so unusual - after all, He is the Creator and the all powerful - but keeping quiet is more remarkable, and therefore Chazal said that this really shows Hashem’s might.
This was the reasoning of the Men of the Great Assembly; that granted the Yomim Tovim of Pesach and Succos, both of which celebrate the exodus from Egypt, and before which Hashem’s existence and ability were not recognised by the world at all - only afterwards were His glory and ability recognised, as it is written in parshas Vaeira, Bo and Beshalach - for these it was appropriate to make a Yom Tov celebrating this new knowledge, and this is an honour for Hashem. But after this, since it is already known that Hashem is the cause of all causes and so there is no new knowledge in this area, it is no longer appropriate to make a Yom Tov for His honour, and on the contrary, His seeing and keeping quiet is more of an honour. Therefore, it is only appropriate to commemorate that good which happened to us, and for this it is sufficient to make a feast and rejoice, which is all for us, but not a Yom Tov which is partly for Hashem.
But Yirmeyohu and Daniel who did not want to say the awesome and the mighty held that His performing of miracles is always an honour for Hashem, and keeping quiet is not an honour for Hashem, and Mordechai also held this opinion. If so, the miracle of Purim was also an honour for Hashem, and so it was appropriate to make the day also a Yom Tov, so that part of it is for Hashem. But the Sanhedrin, they who returned the crown to its former state and said that keeping quiet is a display of His might and awesomeness, they therefore held that the miracle of Purim is not an honour for Him, and thus it is not pertinent to have half of the celebration for Hashem. Therefore, they did not agree to make the day a Yom Tov.
It follows therefore, in accordance with these opinions, that Mordechai also did not want to say the mighty and the awesome in the prayers, but the rest of the Sanhedrin agreed that one should say these phrases, and this is what it means that part of the Sanhedrin separated themselves from him. May our words be acceptable before the Master of all things.
What does it mean, that Mordechai spoke peace to his offspring?
(10,3) “For Mordechai the Jew was…great among the Jews…seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all his offspring.”
It seems to me the meaning is in accordance with what Chazal explained on the posuk (Yeshayohu 32,17) “And the deed of tzedakah shall be peace” - that through the tzedakah that one gives to a poor person, one makes peace between Hashem and the poor person - the pauper does not quarrel with his Maker, and does not complain about His conduct.
Similarly, such exemplary conduct is clear from what the gemora writes about Hillel, that once he was going on his way and heard an outcry in the city, and he said: I am sure that this is not coming from my house. The Maharsha explains that Hillel did not think of himself as a Tzaddik and for this reason he was certain that there would not be any outcry in his house. What he meant was that he had taught his household that even if, G-d forbid, a mishap occurred to them, they should not cry out, but instead keep quiet and accept everything with joy, and bless Hashem for the bad in the same way one blesses Hashem for the good.
One who teaches like Hillel did is called one who makes peace between Hashem and the one to whom the mishap occurred, G-d forbid, by teaching them that they should not complain about Hashem’s conduct and cry out, because then they would be making a quarrel between themselves and Hashem, but rather they should accept everything with joy and understand that the ways of Hashem are straight and everything that He does is for the good. Thus, with this he is making peace between them and Hashem.
This is what the posuk is saying, that Mordechai had this good character trait, that he would seek good for all his people - whoever he may be, he would seek his good with utmost effort, “and speak peace to all his offspring” - to his offspring he would command that whatever happened to them, whether good or bad, they should remain peaceful with Hashem, and not complain.
You can’t satisfy everyone!
(10,3) “For Mordechai the Jew was second to King Achashverosh, and great among the Jews and accepted by most of his brethren; seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all his offspring.”
Chazal asked why was he accepted by most of his brethren, but not by all his brethren? Also, we want to understand that which is written, “For Mordechai the Jew was second to the king” - why was he called here second to the king, and yet we don’t find that Haman, who had also been the viceroy, was thus called?
It seems that the meaning is according to what is written in the Midrash on the posuk (1,8), “to do according to every man’s wish” - said Hashem: I, Myself, am not able to satisfy My creatures, and yet you want to satisfy my creatures. By your life, there will come before you two men and you will not be able to satisfy them both, but rather, this one you will hang, and this one you will elevate. We see from this, that Achashverosh’s desire to fulfil everybody’s wish was nonsense, and therefore he was punished that even two of them he was not able to satisfy.
Because really it is fitting that the way of a person should be only to satisfy the majority, and not all of them. This is what the posuk says, that Mordechai was “משנה to the king”, which can be translated that he was double the king - double the intellect of Achashverosh - because he wanted only to satisfy the majority, and paid attention to be acceptable to the majority of his brethren and not all of them. And so he was successful, and he remained as one who sought good for his people.