Guide Esther and Vashti: A Play In Two Acts

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She is her own woman. If you are in suspense, so is the king. The best explanation for Esther delaying her real request until the second banquet is that she is unfolding a premeditated strategy, and doing so with careful thought and deftness. Who has done this thing? Then, having set Haman careening toward destruction, she lets things take their course. She is now a force to be reckoned with. The arrogant Agagite, who demanded that Mordecai the Jew bow before him, now lies fallen before Esther the Jew begging for mercy. Paton disapproves and says that she should have interceded on behalf of her fallen enemy.

In the scenes in which Esther traps Haman, she is indeed indirect, self-effacing, and manipulative. Some commentators find these qualities morally unappealing or unacceptable as an image of the feminine. But how else could one behave in the Persian court—or any court?

The Vashti episode demonstrated that the king may react badly to strong-willed women who do not temper their strength with subtlety.

Book of Esther

This might have been fine for Vashti, but it would have rendered Esther ineffective when efficacy was a national imperative. Also, the king has gotten himself into the fix. Can he simply remove his favorite official for an action enshrined in a royal decree?

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Moreover, the king might realize that he could protect his wife from the mob without sacrificing his vizier or butting up against the earlier decree. The slow-witted monarch has to be brought to the brink of action by suspense and anger, then pushed into action before he could think it through.

This is the approach Mordecai had expected her to take at the start, but this request is problematic, because, by a presupposition of the book ; found also in Daniel , 12, 15 but nowhere else , a royal decree cannot be rescinded. The baffled king simply turns the matter over to the two Jews to deal with, telling them plural to write a decree as they see fit and giving Mordecai the royal signet, just as he once did to Haman.

They have to figure it out for themselves. The result is an increase in power for the two protagonists. He cannot rescind the permission to attack the Jews, but he can allow them to fight back. Now all the Jews must join in the effort. This is explicitly self-defense, in accordance with the terms of the decree. Then Esther receives permission to continue in a mopping-up action in Susa on the next day In the aftermath, Jews celebrate not their victory but the respite from battle. Mordecai takes note of this initiative and proposes to institutionalize the celebration, and the people accept.

Finally, Esther issues an epistle that validates it all, and it is inscribed in a document as a witness to the future She can issue commands because she is queen of Persia as well as a proven leader of the Jews. The once docile young beauty has risen to truly royal stature, standing together with her cousin as leader. Mordecai, as vizier, has the primary executive power. Her authority is additive, but it is her own. Whereas Mordecai is a paragon of virtue from the start, Esther has to grow into her position.

For that very reason, she is the more lively, more human, character, the one with whom we can best identify. Her early ordinariness shows that ordinary Jews can rise to the moment, take on unexpected strengths, and succeed. Esther has been condemned for being indirect and manipulative. Well, she is, and thank goodness for that. She has to be, like everyone else in the palace. In my view, Esther behaves with dignity, courage, and good sense.

There is nothing demeaning in approaching a king as a supplicant or in using stratagems and personal influence in achieving a valid goal. Imagine a counter-story in which, say, Esther stomps into the inner court and issues a series of bold, non-negotiable demands, calling for the restoration of Vashti and the equality of all women in the realm. She would have been promptly killed, or at least deposed, and thereby rendered useless.

The story would be a bitter satire on the female ego. More precisely, there would be no book. Perhaps alone in the Bible, the author of Esther is aware of female subservience and is cynical about the masculine qualities that require it. We see this clearly in the Vashti incident. The author of Esther is very much aware that males, at least in the quirky gentile world, must use political power to enforce their position—and even so they do not really succeed. The harem is the most successful locus of male dominance—and its order is enforced by denatured men.

How Should We View the Women in Esther?

Surely the description of the harem induction shows an awareness that women were being treated as sex objects an often misused term that is precisely applicable in this case. The author does not rail against the arrangements or rebel against the society, but the awareness itself is noteworthy. Moreover, the author depicts a successful relationship of cooperation between male and female, in which both attain prestige and influence in the Jewish community and beyond.

The book is full of keen satire. Its edge is not, however, directed at male dominance in and of itself, but at gentile dominance as manifested in the Persian court and, by extension, throughout the gentile realm. In Esther, the author has created a model for Jews in the diaspora, who in the absence of a national state and army, must rely on their own courage and ingenuity to deal with dangers.

Rather, it is an attempt to reconceive the status of Jews in a new context. Please support us. Clark, , p. But sometimes a certain sympathy emerges. She does two things.

First, she advises her husband to make a gallows for Mordecai In effect, they blame the author for not dealing with other, supposedly more important issues, such as the independence of women and liberation of subject peoples. Professor Rabbi Michael V. He received his his Ph. I would like to receive new essays When published Before Shabbat.

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