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Megillas Esther

Part III - Vashti's Demise

by Rabbi Yehudah Prero

In Achashverosh's time, there were two different courts that could be called upon to render judgment. One court issued its decisions in accordance with the laws of the kingdom. This court merely looked at the facts, and determined if the laws had been violated or not. The other court, however, took other factors into consideration. This court was able to render judgments that were either more lenient or more strict than the law called for, depending on factors that it deemed relevant. Achashverosh, although he was furious at Vashti, did not want her to die. If he sent the matter of her insubordination to the regular court, she would surely be sentenced to death. So, Achashverosh sent the matter to the other court, as he was sure they would understand that they should issue a lenient verdict for Vashti. In fact, he even hinted to the tribunal that they should be lenient in their verdict. ( As an aside - why did Achashverosh need to send the matter to a tribunal at all - after all, he was the king? The law under Achashverosh was that any legal matter directly concerning the king could not be decided by the king; it had to be decided by a tribunal.)

Normally, the tribunal would have understood what Achashverosh wanted, and Vashti would have been dealt with leniently. However, for one member of the tribunal, the issue of an insubordinate wife was one which hit home. Haman (who here, our Sages tell us, is referred to by the Megilla by the name Memuchan) had a Persian wife named Zeresh, who was much smarter than him. Haman was from the nation of Amalek, and his native tongue was the language of the nation of Amalek. Haman insisted that his wife speak his language in the house. Zeresh flatly refused to do so. Haman wanted to show his wife who the boss was in his household, and when the case concerning Vashti's insubordination came before the tribunal of which he was part, he knew he had a chance to use this opportunity for his personal benefit.

Haman, the lowest ranking member of the tribunal, spoke out before the senior ranking members had a chance to say their opinion, so all would first hear what he had to say. This would create a greater possibility that the rest of the tribunal would agree with him. Haman knew that there was no way the tribunal would not do what the king wanted, so he posed the issue in a different light. He argued that the law prohibiting a king from ruling on an issue pertaining to himself should be abolished. After all, any issue involving the king was truly an issue involving the entire kingdom. He gave an example: Vashti, by acting in her insubordinate manner, was not merely insulting Achashverosh; she was setting an example for all the women in the kingdom. This example was a negative one, as far as Haman was concerned, as women would start rebelling against their husbands. This, Haman concluded, would create havoc throughout the kingdom.

Haman continued with his proposal. As he wanted a law which he could use against his wife to come out of this, he had to make sure that he fashioned his proposal carefully. He said that as Vashti would not appear before Achashverosh, she is no longer to come before the king. The king would then find for himself another wife, a women who is fit to be queen, who was even more beautiful than Vashti. The entire kingdom would hear of the king's new power to decide judicial matters which concern himself. The benefits of this, Haman said, would be twofold: the entire kingdom would fear Achashverosh and his power, and women would respect and honor their husbands, creating stability in the kingdom. What should be done to Vashti? Haman did not want to say outright that she should be killed. He instead crafted this proposal to essentially force Achashverosh into deciding to kill her. He wanted Achashverosh to realize that once Vashti wouldn't appear before him, there was no need for her anymore. She should be killed, and a new queen found to replace her.

Normally, the tribunal would never have agreed to this proposal. It effectively took away the power of rendering judgment from them, and put it in the hands of the king. However, G-d allowed this plan to find favor in the eyes of both the tribunal and Achashverosh, and it was carried out. Vashti was executed immediately.

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