|Let’s look at the Purim story, as told in Megillat Esther, as a tale of two women. Though the king no doubt has many women in his harem, two queens are singled out by name: Vashti and Esther. The downfall of one paves the way for the ascent of the other.
Let’s briefly review the story. In the midst of a drinking party where the boos flow unlimited, the king decides that everyone should see just how beautiful Vashti happens to be. She is summoned to appear at the banquet “wearing a royal diadem” (Esther 1:11), and perhaps little else. The queen, who has been hosting her own women’s banquet, refuses to make this unscheduled appearance. That’s the last we hear of Vashti, because if word gets out that the king’s woman has defied him, what hope do the other men of the kingdom have of controlling their women?
Then there’s a beauty pageant, and the surprise entry, Esther, wins. Too bad she’s Jewish, though, because the king’s chief of staff, Haman, is insulted by Jewish otherness and has royal approval to exterminate them, wifey included. Mordechai, Esther’s uncle and booking agent, wants Esther to inform the king of this dastardly plot and her fate in its wake, but she refuses. “All the king’s courtiers and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any person, man or woman, enters the king’s presence in the inner court without having been summoned, there is but one law for him–that he be put to death. Only if the king extends the golden scepter to him may he live. Now I have not been summoned to visit the king for the last thirty days” (Esther 4:11).
Vashti is summoned and refuses. Esther hasn’t been summoned, so at first she refuses. Soon enough, though, Uncle Mordy will twist her arm. “And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis.” The implicit message in those words is that Esther has power, and she needs to use it.
Does Vashti have power? Does Esther? Are they actors in their own story, or are they powerless, and acted upon? We’ll discuss this further on Shabbat morning,
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and Simhat Purim,
Rabbi David Wise