The Gemara tells us, “Esther b’ruach hakodesh nemra” – that the Book of Esther was divinely inspired. Hence, its lessons are timeless.
Achashveirosh hosted a 180-day royal banquet “b’haroso es osher kavod malchuso – to show the wealth of his glorious kingdom.” He called Vashti to his party for a similar reason: “l’haros ha’amim v’hasorim es yafyah – to show the people and the officials her beauty.” Achashveirosh loved showing off, and this habit contributed to his downfall.
Because a person who flaunts the extras G-d gave to him makes himself vulnerable to the ayin hara (the evil eye) and risks losing them. In Achashveirosh’s case, he lost his royal and fabulously beautiful bride, Vashti.
The Gemara (Berachos 31b) tells us that Chanah prayed to Hashem, “V’nasata l’amosecha zera anoshim – Grant to your maidservant the seed of men,” which the Gemara homiletically explains to mean, “Give me a child that blends in with other people” – i.e., a child who is neither too foolish nor too wise.
This request sounds strange. What’s wrong with having a brilliant son? Rashi explains that Chanah didn’t want her son to stand out and be the cause of people’s wonder, for then, says Rashi, he would be targeted by the evil eye.
All the way at the end of Shas, in the final dafim of Masechtas Niddah, the Gemara relates an interesting case that came before the great Talmudic sage Rebbi Yochanan. A woman was having a distressing problem. After going to the mikvah, she would become disqualified to her husband even before arriving home.
Rebbi Yochanan said to her that she was, perhaps, showing too much public affection to her husband, thereby causing others to be envious and activating the evil eye. Rebbi Yochanan advised her to publicize her plight, which would transform the jealousy of others into pity, thereby removing any ayin hara.
All these sources teach us that we should adopt a posture of modesty. Let’s be careful not to show off our new car to a neighbor who is out of work. Let’s be weary of passing around our children’s report cards to friends who can’t get their children into yeshiva. Let’s be circumspect about talking about our mate’s kindness in front of a person who has marital woes.
We live in a society where people gauge success by the number of possessions, but we need to realize that flaunting our successes puts us in grave danger.
A related lesson can be derived from the composition of Achashveirosh’s palace floor. The megillah tells us: “ritzpas bahat v’sheish v’dar v’sochores” – it was a floor of precious gems and marble, rows and rows of jewels going round about. Who ever heard of a floor studded with gems? What was the palace architect thinking?
But perhaps Achashveirosh just wanted to show off. I can just hear Achashveirosh telling the palace planners, “I want the palace to be different. It should be unique.” In response, the architect, catching the drift of this egomaniac, suggested, “Why not put diamonds on the floor? No one’s ever done that before!”
While this attitude might sound babyish, think about how many of us share it. How many people tell the printer when they order simcha invitations that they want something very different (perhaps with a mirror or which glows in the dark)? How many women go to a dressmaker and insist on a fabric that no one has ever worn before? How many people go to the caterer and want a one-of-a-kind menu?
This attitude of needing to be different was characteristic of Achashveirosh, and the megillah is teaching us that it is antithetical to the Torah’s ways.
In the merit of studying the megillah, may we be blessed with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.