February 24, 2024
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Achashverosh Levies a Tax: But Who Cares?

It is axiomatic that Tanach only records information needed for all generations (Megillah 14a). If so, why does the end of Megillat Esther (10:1) mention that Achashverosh issued a tax on his entire kingdom?

 

Ibn Ezra and Malbim

Ibn Ezra and Malbim explain that Mordechai brought stability to the Persian empire to the extent he could levy a tax without backlash. Before Mordechai became the mishneh lamelech, Achashverosh’s administration lurched from crisis-to-crisis. However, Mordechai changed the narrative with his wise leadership.

The pasuk attributes the tax to Achashverosh—the Malbim explains—out of respect for the Persian emperor. Shifting honor to Achashverosh likely reflects a broader approach Mordechai adopted. Mordechai is a public servant interested in serving the government and the people, not himself. Melachim I, 12:7 and Horiyot 10a teach that a leader’s task is to help the people. Mordechai heeds this teaching and does not seek to increase his standing. Instead, he recognizes his limitations and acts accordingly.

Another possibility is that Mordechai attributes the tax charge to Achashverosh and not to himself, lest the people be angry at the Jews. Mordechai took care in his role to not harm his nation. Most importantly, Mordechai teaches that one can be a faithful public servant while simultaneously being “doresh tov l’amo—seeking his people’s welfare,” (10:3). There is no contradiction between the two.

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik writes that Avraham Avinu (Bereishit 23:4) teaches the balance of being a ger and toshav in a non-Jewish community. A Jewish person is a ger, a stranger, and thus different and interested in advancing his people’s causes. Still, he is a toshav, resident, and keen to contribute to the general society. Mordechai masterfully balances these two values. Similarly, when lobbying American government officials to enhance the American-Israeli alliance, one must simultaneously serve the United States’ best interest and be doresh tov l’amo.

 

Paying for the Parties

Perhaps the tax was necessary to cover the enormous expenditures incurred by Achashverosh’s lavish and extremely long parties, described in perek 1. The Megillah concludes, “chatimah me’ein petichah—the end paralleling the beginning,” that Achashverosh eventually raised taxes to pay for these extravagances.

One may enjoy a lavish party or government handouts in the moment, but it will return to haunt him if expenditures are beyond budget. One may enjoy indulging in unhealthy food in the moment, but there is a steep price paid later. The same applies to injudicious indulgence in forbidden pleasures, which might feel good temporarily but come back to bite in the long term. Kohelet 11:9 sounds a similar warning: “Rejoice O youth in your young years and follow your hearts’ desires; but know that for all this, Hashem will judge you.”

 

Compensating for Lost Tax Base

Congregation Shaarei Orah’s Jack Varon thinks it was necessary to raise taxes to compensate for the lost tax revenue after the war. Over seventy-five thousand antisemites were killed when the Jews defended themselves on the designated day for their extermination, leaving a large void.

However, Binyamin Jachter thinks that Achashverosh did not incur a financial loss from these evil people’s demise, for the government seized their property. This assertion is debatable since Megillat Esther notes three times that we did not take from the booty of battle. Binyamin, however, thinks that while we did not grab from our enemies’ property, the Persian government did. Perhaps this is why Achashverosh’s second decree warned that those who harmed the Jews would have their property seized.

 

Conclusion

Some are tempted to be concerned only with internal Jewish matters and ignore the broader society. Esther 10:1 rejects such thinking. The fact that Mordechai was sitting in the king’s gate and was involved in Persian government affairs, ultimately, saved our people from a horrifying disaster. Although a minority of sages objected to Mordechai’s political activities (see Rashi on Esther 10:3), the majority supported him. Our history proves the wisdom of following Mordechai’s example. Unfortunately, during the Holocaust years, the Jewish people paid a steep price for American Jews’ overall disengagement from the political process—a failure that Rav Soloveitchik often bemoaned. Today, American Jews must not remain silent when Israel’s vital needs are at stake.


Rabbi Jachter serves as the rav of Congregation Shaarei Orah, rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County, and a get administrator with the Beth Din of Elizabeth. Rabbi Jachter’s 18 books, including a brand new one, entitled, “In the King’s Court: Exploring Megillat Esther — Our Most Subtle Victory,” may be purchased at Amazon and Judaica House.

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