Thursday, March 12, 2009

Vashti Lives!

This post interprets the Megillah in a way that is not p'shat but remez. In other words, there is more to the Megillah than what meets the eye. Alongside its straightforward meaning, there is another dimension to the text which tells a second, parallel story. Yes, the Megillah is both history and allegory at the very same time; as God unfolds history, He speaks.

We must first accept two givens:

1) The Gaon of Vilna teaches that every time it says the word "King" in the Megillah it is an allegorical reference to God.

2) The sages tells us that the covenant at Sinai was a "marriage" between God and the Jewish nation. (King Solomon's Song of Songs takes this allegory and runs with it.)

If we add up these two traditions we get this result: The wives of Ahashveirosh are the Jews. Stay with me here.

In the beginning, God provided us with an unending, indulgent feast. Our every whim was provided for and the King asked for only one thing in return: that His wife come to Him. To show the world how beautiful she is. But we refused.

The King had no choice. He decreed that his wife lose her position as His queen. This is the destruction of the First Temple. But nowhere does it say that Vashti was actually killed.

Maimonides writes that one of the ways of repentance is to change your name, casting off your old, sinful identity. At some point during the Babylonian exile, the Jews repented. Vashti became Esther.

However, even "Esther" does not come of her own volition. When God chose the Jews at Sinai, He menacingly held the mountain over them, giving them no choice but to accept. Esther and the Jews are "Chosen." One cannot chose to be Chosen.

The relationship thus remains unconsummated. The King wants the Queen to prove her love. He still pines for the day that His Queen will overcome all obstacles and come to Him on her own. So He comes up with a creative plan: He orchestrates a disaster. The King decrees that the Queen be destroyed. (Of course, the King loves His wife and intends her no harm. That is why, in the Megillah, even as the decree is signed by the king's signet ring, the queen is perfectly safe in the palace.)

The plan works! Risking her life, the Queen comes to the King, recognizing that He is the only one who will save her.

Of course, coming to the King wasn't easy for Esther. It meant losing her beloved Mordechai, for the King is obviously not willing to share the Queen. Coming to the King is synonymous with transcending all of our personal desires and agendas. But there is nothing to fear. The King promises to spilt the kingdom with the Queen 50/50!

The story is indeed bizarre. The Queen turns to the King for help when the King is the one who created the problem in the first place?! But this paradox is the reality that we must recognize on Purim: Ad D'Lo Yada... Drink until we don't know anymore what good and what is not...

The decree was a ruse, but it accomplished its task. The Jews embrace their relationship with God, accepting their traditions with love. At long last, the Temple can be rebuilt.

Happy Purim!


  1. loved it...Vashti becomes Esther...more and more chances we get...
    thank you

  2. Excellent! Although I think you brushed off a very important idea there at the end - "The Queen turns to the King for help when the King is the one who created the problem?!"
    Chazal say that Hashem uses Amalek as a stick to get Klal Yisroel to do Teshuva. Likewise the Gemara says that if Mashiach is ready to come but the Jews are not ready to receive him then Hashem will place a king as vile as Haman and force them to do T'shuva.

    One more point: I noticed that this was the last post since Tisha B'Av. In Av we say M'shenichnas Av, mimaatim B'simcha (decrease our joy). In Adar we say M'shenichnas Adar marbim b'simcha (increase our joy). It seems you were just waiting for a happy occasion.

  3. Benji-
    This was my point. Teshuva=Queen comes to King.
    The strange way the King gets the Queen to come to Him may be beyond mortal understanding, but it works well nonetheless.