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Viewing Vashti

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JewishTreats.org

She was raised a royal princess, he was raised in the stables. Vashti the daughter of the great Babylonian king, Belshazzar, and Achashverosh the son of Darius the Mede, were a match never meant to be. When Darius assumed the throne after assassinating Belshazzar, however, the new king took pity on the young girl. He spared her life, but insisted that she wed his son, Achashverosh. This is the history of Vashti and Achashverosh according to the Midrash.

But Vashti was no sweet innocent victim of her husband’s drunken tantrums. Indeed, the Midrash tells us that Vashti insulted her now royal husband, publicly reminding him that he had once been her father’s stable boy (Talmud Megillah 12b).

Upon reading the first chapter of the Book of Esther, one might feel sympathy for Vashti. Her only crime appears to be refusing Achashverosh’s command to come with the royal crown and show off her beauty. Even more to her credit, one Midrash maintains that when Achashverosh demanded that she appear wearing the “royal crown,” he meant wearing only the royal crown and nothing else!  Vashti, the granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzer, certainly expected to be treated with a great deal more respect than to be shown off as a ”trophy wife.”

An alternate Midrash maintains that she wasn’t upset about appearing naked. In fact, she was more than willing to partake in the implied immorality, but she would not, according to tradition, present herself to her husband because she had been suddenly struck with leprosy and refused to be seen in public with the shocking physical blemishes.

While her refusal to attend her husband’s party is Vashti’s only scene in the Book of Esther, the Midrash portrays her as a woman who thrived on cruelty and who held a particularly fierce grudge against the Jewish people. “The wicked queen used to bring Jewish girls, strip them naked, and make them work on Shabbat” (Talmud Megillah 12b). Because of this, the Talmud notes, Vashti’s disgrace and fall from power occurred on Shabbat as well.

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