Rabbi Dovid Feinstein notes that a queen is usually seen in her crown. It seems superfluous for Achashverosh to tell his chamberlains that Vashti should be in her accustomed garb. Rather, as the Talmud (Megillah 12b) explains, he intended for her to wear only the crown and be otherwise undressed. This would prove to all that she was naturally beautiful, and not attractive merely by means of royal dress and cosmetics.
יא לְהָבִיא אֶת–וַשְׁתִּי הַמַּלְכָּה לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ בְּכֶתֶר מַלְכוּת לְהַרְאוֹת הָעַמִּים וְהַשָּׂרִים אֶת–יָפְיָהּ כִּי–טוֹבַת מַרְאֶה הִיא
11. To bring Vashti the Queen before the king in the crown of royalty to show the nations and the officers her beauty because she was good to look upon.
Logically, the verb, “bringing” must refer to an object. In the Torah, for instance, when Moshe is asked to bring his brother Aaron to a certain place, Rashi is quick to point out that he is to verbally convince him to come rather than physically put him somewhere (Vayikra 8:2) because it is not appropriate to speak of human beings as if they were objects to be taken from place to place. In stark contrast, as pointed out by class participant AG, Achashverosh intended for the chamberlains to treat Vashti as the vessel (the Talmud’s verbage) she was to him, and bring her – acording to the Maharal and Malbim – by force if necessary1.
According to the Maharal in Ohr Chadash, the word “and” is used – as in English – in a list to indicate the final item listed. In this case, there is an “and” on both the fifth and seventh chamberlain. The Maharal writes that this is due to the fact that it was customary for Persian kings to have either five chamberlains or seven at their command at one time. The list could have ended at the fifth, or (as it does in our case) at the seventh. Either one would be a “final” of members listed. Seemingly, to stoke his own ego, Achashverosh took all precautions and used all the servants at his disposal for the purpose of self-aggrandizement.
The Midrash (Esther Rabba 3:12) interprets the names of these chamberlains as allusions to H-Shem’s eventual destruction of the Persian Empire. As an act of “measure for measure” (mida kineged mida), H-Shem acted towards Achashverosh’s arrogant attempt at copying Him. Interestingly, the very servants he thinks he controls completely have names indicative of his lack of control over anything.
The Malbim writes that Achashverosh sent for Vashti through chamberlains to denigrate her. He was in effect saying that he married her for her physical appearance rather than her political effect on his rule.
- If the intention of the verse is to indicate Achashverosh’s drunkenness, there are simpler ways to say so. According to the Alshich, Achashverosh indeed was not drunk, but simply acting light-headed.
- On a deeper, more allegorical level, Rav Yitzchak Hutner (Pachad Yitzchak on Purim) quotes the idea that a mention of a “king” in Megillas Esther also indicates the King of Kings, The Holy One (see our previous blogs regarding this). If so, H-Shem’s “heart” was in a positive spirit because of the distinct behavior of His chosen people.
- The Midrash (Esther Rabba 3:11) states that there is no true gratification amongst the nations of the world. Therefore, Achashverosh’s heart wasn’t really gratified with wine, but only seemingly so. In Ohr Chadash, the Maharal asks how this is possible. Do idolators really never experience gratification and joy? It certainly seems they do! He responds that complete gratification only comes from spiritual pleasure, and that can only be achieved through means available only to the spiritual people. Any other gratification is physical and does not have permanence. He quotes as proof the verse in Tehillim (31:20) that promises endless gratification to those who live their lives righteously. As Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch points out in his commentary on that verse, this is a reward in this world, as opposed to the stereotypical suffering tzaddik. In fact, several recent studies demonstrate that people without religion have higher stress levels (read: ungratified) than those following in the ways of Torah (http://www.healthzone.ca/health/newsfeatures/article/1119541–you-docs-having-faith-is-good-for-bodies-and-souls).
י בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי כְּטוֹב לֵב–הַמֶּלֶךְ בַּיָּיִן אָמַר לִמְהוּמָן בִּזְּתָא חַרְבוֹנָא בִּגְתָא וַאַבַגְתָא
10. On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was like it was gratified1 with wine, he said to Mehuman, Biz’sa, Charvonah, Bigsa, and Avgasa, Zeysar, and Charkas – seven chamberlains who serve before the face of King Achashverosh –
- Since the verse does not specify for what “the seventh” is a modifier, the Talmud (Megillah 12b) answers that this day was Shabbos, the Sabbath. The Sages famously continue there to contrast the drinking of idolaters to that of Jews. Whereas drunken idolaters discuss immodest topics in their stupor, Jews drinking at the Shabbos table tend to discuss Torah topics and sing praises to their Creator. In Rashi’s choosing to interpret this day as Shabbos as the “pashut p’shat” (simple understanding) he usually prefers in his commentary, we must wonder why just seeing this as a seventh day of the party is not so simple. One consideration brought up by the Torah Temimah is the article “the” which typically implies a specific occasion with which the reader is supposed to be familiar.
- Rav Dovid Feinstein again reminds us here (as we’ve seen before) that Achashverosh was imitating the creation of earth, and therefore began his party on the first day of the week, with the intent of it ending on Shabbos.
- Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi notes that the verse uncharacteristically does not begin with “vayehee” (“and it was”). Perhaps this is because, as noted above (see our first blog posting), such a statement would indicate a negative event occurring, and Vashti’s upcoming death, on the contrary, was the spark from which the Jews’ salvation began.
It was an added level of enticement that the women were allowed into the private rooms of Achashverosh, much like a presidential affair in the Oval Office, or Nebuchadnetzer’s defiling a prostitute in the Holy Temple. According to the Midrash (Esther Rabba 3:10), Vashti needed to utilize vaster space for her party so that the women would not be in close quarters, thus going through their menses at the same time. This guaranteed that at least some of the women would be available to gratify the men’s baser urges.
Although it would ordinarily seem that a women-only party would be more conducive to certain standards of modesty, the Talmud on the bottom of Megillah 12a makes clear that Vashti wanted to tempt the men to sin just as her husband intended (as mentioned in a previous post). As the Maharsha points out in his commentary to the Talmud, had Vashti wanted real privacy in accordance with moral standards of the day, she would have held her party in the women’s palace. However, Vashti’s party was neighboring the men’s party. Rabbi Dovid Feinstein points out that her party was separate in accordance with the laws of modesty. However, there is an added sensual pleasure in a sin’s being almost within the law. The moral code regarding what was forbidden them was slowly being eroded.
ט גַּם וַשְׁתִּי הַמַּלְכָּה עָשְׂתָה מִשְׁתֵּה נָשִׁים בֵּית הַמַּלְכוּת אֲשֶׁר לַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ
9. And also Vashti the Queen made a feast of women in the royal house which is Achashverosh the King’s.
- Vashti’s party was a mirror of her husband’s. According to the Midrash (Esther Rabba 3:9), she also wore the clothing of the Kohen Gadol, and also served foods and drinks to satisfy her guests.
- The Maharal (Ohr Chadash) points out that she served drinks in the quantities that women enjoy. In this regard, it is interesting to note that the gematria of Vashti (716) is equivalent to (and even has the same letters as) “vayesht” (Bireishis 9:21), a verb for drinking, and the gematria of Achashverosh (821) is equivalent to “vihishkisa” (Bamidbar 20:8), another verb with a synonymous meaning.