Thursday, March 13, 2014

More thoughts on Purim

As Purim approaches, I think about how Esther risked her life to save the Jewish people. I also think about how, although she succeeded and survived, she lived out the rest of her life trapped in a marriage she had never sought and could not leave.

I think of the other women forced to “audition” for the position of Ahasuerus's queen. They, too, were trapped and imprisoned: even after the king rejected them, they were not free to leave the palace and go back to their former lives. They were stuck in the harem for the rest of their days.

I think of Vashti, too.

Yes, I know the awful stories about Vashti in the midrash. I didn't believe them when I first read them, and I don't believe them now. Maybe Vashti really was a vain, horrible woman who abused her high position and her servants. Maybe she was a good and decent queen. Or maybe, like the hundreds of other women in the harem, she was trying to survive the intrigues rampant there only to be manipulated into a situation where she was damned if she did and damned if she didn't. What would have happened to her if she had obeyed her husband's order and appeared before the men at his drunk-fest? Might not Ahasuerus, that champion of logic and consistency, have taken her to task once he sobered up, and perhaps even deposed her, for having compromised the royal dignity by obeying him?

The text doesn't tell us one way or the other. All we know about Vashti from the text is that she refused to obey the king's order to appear before him and his drunken buddies so he could brag to them about how hot she was — and that she was deposed for it.

The poet and writer Frances E. W. Harper (1825–1911) also thought of Vashti. Here is a link to “Vashti,” the poem she wrote about the deposed queen.

Here is a link to information about Harper herself.

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