BY SHLOMO PINKUS / AJT //
No matter the subject at hand, there will always be a difference of opinions. Before we jump to conclusions (and, in this case, literally create our own opinions), maybe we should hear all sides of the story.
There was a column in the Feb. 22 AJT entitled “Who Put the ‘SH!’ in Vashti?” More than disturbed by the writer’s lack of research and understanding of the information obtained, I was scared that someone would actually think, write and print the ideas that were presented.
The piece described Vashti as a heroine of her time, standing up for women’s rights against the tyranny of a vulgar king. It then continued by twisting information so as to make readers believe that “the rabbis and their midrashim” are to blame for our negative view of Vashti.
The author asserted that Vashti was not a evil queen, but actually very pretty, and that Queen Esther is only put into a good light in the tale of Purim because she was Jewish.
My only hope is that no one with any sense of historical experience believed the opinions of this article. The logic used debases our entire religion, which for the most part is reliant on a mesorah, the unbroken chain passed down from generation to generation.
Judaism as we know it has been molded by the rabbis and midrashim into a religion able to withstand the sands of time for eternity. To negate their teachings just for sheer amusement or to fit a picture that is simply not true is absurd. For lack of a better word, it certainly takes some chutzpah.
If we would look at just some of the midrashim – which were recorded at the time of Purim by the people involved, who witnessed the miracles unfold – in fitting fashion, we would see a very different story than what was depicted in the aforementioned writing. Indeed, the story of Purim is not a “Disney story,” as it was put; nor is it a 1960s women’s rights rally. It is much greater and deeper than most people would understand.
In fact, the Megillat Esther is the preparation for the future of the Jewish people. This account shows us how the relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people would change when the Israelites were no longer in the Holy Land and the Temple was no longer standing.
From the time of Moshe Rabbenu (Moses) until the point when the Purim tale was recorded, there was always a Mishkan (Tabernacle). It served as a medium through which the Jews were able to connect to Hashem in a “tangible” way.
The mishkanim – whether in mobile tent format or as a solid structure – gave us the ability to make Hashem a reality in our life in a way that would be unattainable without a physical location. We were able to use these places of worship as tools to see miracles in a very real and obvious way.
When the events of the story of Purim occurred, the First Temple had been destroyed. Thus, for the first time the relationship between the Creator and His people had changed; the Jews had to work harder and look deeper to see the hand of Hashem in our everyday lives. The purpose of the megillah is to show just how this connection will work and look in the future.
At first glance, there are many parts of the Purim story that seem almost irrelevant. We skim over them, but that’s the whole point – that nothing is irrelevant, that everything in this world, whether we realize it or not, is for the benefit of the Jewish people. Whether it is a small cyst, a dinner party or the actions of a single Jew, the seemingly insignificant has the potential to change the course of an entire people.
The writer of “Who Put the ‘SH!’…” claims that Vashti was in fact admirable and puts forward the idea that the midrashim are biased – that the Jews of the time somehow rewrote history. Besides for the religious and cultural ramifications, this does not make any sense historically.
As many historians will say, “history is written by the victor.” The Jewish people may have survived and been able to rebuild the Holy Temple, but they were not the ruling power after this; Persia and their King Ahasuerus retained their control.
The Jewish people continued to be subjugated until the Persian Empire was be destroyed by the Greeks later on. Thus, for the midrashim to skew the topics and speak in ways that would belittle a Persian queen in a way that was so far from the truth would have been a very serious crime.
Another difficulty with the contentions of the author in question is that that there exists no basis – in either the religious midrashim or in the Persian documents – for a “good Vashti.” If we go about making our own revisions to history in this way, contradicting our only recordings, could one not claim that the Romans were known to be abstinent or that King George III was not a bad ruler and it was evil rebels that stole his land to form America?
In short, I ask we why should not accept the truth – especially when it is so much more rational and understandable – but instead create our own version of the story?
Rabbi Shlomo Pinkus is a rabbinic field representative for the Atlanta Kashruth Commission. For his continued explanation of the Purim story, see atljewishtimes.com.