ESTHER 1:11: Ahashverosh: money or ego?

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להראות העמים והשרים את יופיה
Yesterday, we began to analyze the dysfunctional character of King Ahashverosh and how his psychological problems affected the decisions, that almost lead to the annihilation of the Jewish people.
King Ahashverosh’s emotional insecurity made him needy of the applause of others. And since his material resources were unlimited, the King decided to invest a fortune in throwing a mega-party that lasts 187 days.
It is very interesting that when the Megillah explains why King Ahashverosh made this party, it says literally: “to show (בהראותו, to display, exhibit or show off) his wealth and the glory of his kingdom.” In other words, this party was not an act of charity for the poor. The King did not distribute bread, but crazy amounts of alcohol. This was a feast that he made for himself. To show off and exhibit his greatness and wealth.
Rabbi Almosnino, an expert in musar (Jewish psychology of human behavior) explains that there are two elements that might drive the behavior of a dysfunctional ruler or leader: money and image (ego). For some politicians, money is priority. These people will try to get to power only to accumulate money, and they would be willing even to sacrifice their image in order to get more money. For other leaders, image and ego are above money. These people, unlike the first, will be willing to sacrifice all their money in order to achieve a positive image that would make them feeling good about themselves. Ahashverosh, says Rabbi Almosnino, belonged to this second category. He squandered an enormous fortune with a single purpose in mind: to improve his image in the eyes of all his subjects, and thus, boosting his own ego.
Why is it important to know that for Ahashverosh his ego was more important than his money? Rabbi Almosnino said that when the reader reaches the most dramatic part of the Purim story, when King Ahashverosh approves Haman’s plan to eliminate the Jewish people, one would think that perhaps it would be possible to bribe the King, offering him more money than what Haman offered him in order to cancel this terrible edict. However, once we know that for this King his ego is more important than his money, we realize that there was not an option to bribe the King. Not because this king is very honest and incorruptible. But because this king is so insecure that he cannot backtrack on something he already decreed.
Arrogant people, explains Rabbi Abraham Twersky, suffer from low self-esteem. This emotional insecurity leads to arrogance, an unconscious compensatory attitude. Arrogance prevents a person from saying, “I was wrong”. Admitting a mistake is virtually impossible for an arrogant person, because the insecurity of that arrogant individual. Acknowledging a mistake would imply the recognition that one is not so great and perfect as he wants to “show off”. Admitting a mistake would go against the psychological pretension of perfection. And the social mask of  flawlessnessless will collapse.  Only a wise and humble person, that is, an individual who has a healthy dose of self-esteem, is able to admit making mistakes. Since there is no inflated ego to be deflated ….
The insecure Ahashverosh admitted no mistakes. (as we will see later on, in Esther 8: 8, the original decree to kill the Jews was never repealed: Mordekhai and Esther had to write a completely new decree, allowing the Jews to defend themselves)
One more thing: at the end of the party, the King wanted to continue “showing” more. And once he had shown all his wealth, his royal wine, his golden bowls, his garden, etc. there was only one more thing for him to display: his trophy wife Vashti. The Megilla (1:11) using explicitly the same verb as before: להראות (to show off), says that Ahashverosh summoned “Queen Vashti to show her beauty to the subjects of the kingdom and to the ministers, because she was very beautiful.” Our Hakhamim explained that Ahashverosh intended to exhibit his wife without clothes, and she obviously refused.
This party, as we will explain BH tomorrow, ended very badly for Ahashverosh.
The message is very clear and very strong. Vanity and ostentation leads to self-destruction. This infinitely rich, but miserably insecure and arrogant, King cannot control his exhibitionist impulses. And at the end of the party, in which he invested so much to boost his ego, he ends up dishonored and humiliated by all (היה אחשורוש שחוק לכל העולם).
To be continued…