Guest post by R. Shaul Gold
Rabbi Shaul Gold taught in several yeshiva day schools and served as Rabbi at the YI of Avenue U.
The Purim story discusses three women – Vashti, Zeresh and Esther. In the homiletic spirit, let us say that these three women symbolize three types of women, three models of female behavior.
Vashti represents Women’s Empowerment, women’s desire to be men’s equal, to even surpass males and out“man” men. The licentiousness of Vashti’s party surpassed Achashveirosh’s and, one could contend, was pushed by the need to be more depraved than the men. Her failure to obey the king’s command was an assertion of Female Emancipation in the spirit of “Anything men can do, women can do better.” Vashti is the prototypical misandrist.
Zeresh represents the classical harridan and Haman, the hen-pecked husband. He is forced to conspire to legally empower men because he has been psychologically emasculated by his spouse. She is unhappy with her life because she has tied her success to her husband’s. She is constantly plotting and scheming; her husband is the key to her success. A consummate termagant, she abandons her husband coldly, knocking him when he is down.
Esther represents the very best of womanhood. Her modesty and simplicity earn her the respect due her. She is steadfast in her ideology. She understands her position and carries it forth with grace. This position is Queen, and she fills it with poise, dignity, charm and humility. It is not as a subservient wife [contra Zersh] nor as a timid wallflower [contra Vashti]. Esther needs neither power nor public acknowledgement to validate her essence. She possesses inner contentment. Faced with a situation that is foreign to her upbringing and moral compass, she soldiers forth in the knowledge that her path is the correct one, as understood by Torah scholars.
When faced with the ultimate challenge, one that she understands well after years of living palace intrigue, she sublimates her thinking and follows a seemingly non-logical course – because that was the Torah course.
After eliciting Mordechai’s moral support and the unity of the community as backing, Esther, after 70 hours of fasting, offers one of the most eloquent and humble entreaties to God to support her and bring success to her venture. It is never about her, never about empowerment; it is only about concern for the good of the people.
At her moment of victory she spares her husband’s dignity. She showers the glory upon Mordechai. Even at the moment that she asks of the Sages, “K’va’uni le-doros” and “Kisvuni le-doros” (establish this holiday and megillah for the generations –Megillah 7a), it’s not about her but about the challenge and victory of the Jewish people.
She is the very essence of modesty and humility.