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Thursday, March 24

The Weekly Shtikle - Purim

For this year's Purim shtikle, I offer a very simple observation which ties in interestingly with the wild and wacky political season in which we find ourselves here in the United States. Please see my Purim archives for some more insightful (not inciteful) thoughts on Purim.


I have always had in my mind a picture of what Achashveirosh might have been like – a goofy, flabby and clumsy fellow. Some of that visualization is based on certain passages and exchanges in the megillah and accompanying gemara but there is certainly a large influence from various publications and productions over the years. There is a discussion in the gemara which seems, for just a moment, to be addressing that characterization. (Megillah 12a) Rav and Shmuel argue – one says Achashveirosh was a melech tipesh, a foolish king, and the other argues he was quite wise. But what indeed is the reasoning behind these two opinions? The gemara explains that in arranging his great feast, Achashveirosh first summoned the nobles and princes of all of the vast lands over which he reigned (1:3.) Only after this "short-lived," 180-day party, (1:5) did he continue to wine and dine the locals of Shushan.


One opinion is that this was a wise move because the subjects who live in the outlying areas are harder to appease and entertaining them first ensured that he would be favourable in their eyes. He didn't have to worry about the locals because they could easily be appeased. The other opinion is that this was a foolish move because it is more important to have the local subjects firmly on your side. For if the outliers were to rebel, you would need to be able to rely on your local subjects for support.


Indeed, this dispute is not at all addressing Achashveirosh's mental state as much as it is a dispute in political strategy. I find it interesting that this very dispute seems to exist to this very day in its own form – not from a geographical perspective as much as an ideological one.  Political thinking is often broken down simply to left and right. And then there is the centre. Those who lean to one side or the other are often faced with a quandary in their quest to win over as much of the populous as possible. Do you soften your tone to appeal more to those in the middle? After all, those whose politics are staunchly on your side of the spectrum need not be convinced and you can always rely on their support? Or, is it more critical to "galvanize the base" and present a message your supporters will rally behind and perhaps influence those who are on the fence. It seems this modern day predicament is closely related to the dispute Rav and Shmuel had centuries ago.


Have a Purim Samei'ach!

Eliezer Bulka

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