The Chida writes that Memuchan argues that Vashti’s actions would be a bad influence on women, and would lead to social upheaval from within the home. The Malbim writes that his argument had more to do with political upheaval resulting from a perceived weakness in the king if he does not act. Taken together, the situation would be quite similar to the political and social climate in the wake of the feminist movement in America. For all of its positive intentions and contributions (equal pay for equal work, etc.), it seems the increase in unwed mothers and divorce since that time certainly indicates a level of instability. That being the case, one can ponder what one would do had one the ability to pinpoint the very moment feminism started, and stop it in its tracks. Certainly, this instability is not what Achashverosh would have wanted.
יז כִּי–יֵצֵא דְבַר–הַמַּלְכָּה עַל–כָּל–הַנָּשִׁים לְהַבְזוֹת בַּעְלֵיהֶן בְּעֵינֵיהֶן בְּאָמְרָם הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ אָמַר לְהָבִיא אֶת–וַשְׁתִּי הַמַּלְכָּה לְפָנָיו וְלֹא–בָאָה
“Because the word/matter of the queen will go out to all the women to disrespect their husbands in their eyes saying that the King Achashverosh said to bring Vashti before him, and she did not come.”
In Moreh Nevuchim, the Rambam uses this verse to teach that “going out” need not refer to the physical action of moving. Here, even a word can “go out.” This being the case, any mention of H-Shem going out need not be literally physical. According to the Malbim, Memuchan is pointing out that all of the women present during Vashti’s rejection of the chamberlains know that she refused because of the disrespect she felt during the request (see previous blogs on this subject). Achashverosh had little to worry about this affecting their personal, marital lives. However, externally, those women who did not witness the event had only the basic story that Vashti refused the command of the king. Without knowing Vashti’s motivation, this would teach them that they, too, need not listen to their husbands.
The Vilna Gaon writes in his “Simple” explanation that Memuchan, in order to play off of the king’s precarious political situation, is hinting to Achashverosh that we (officers) already know about this situation, and they (the people) will find out eventually. In his “Allegorical” interpretation, the Vilna Gaon continues with the idea that the entire Megillas Esther is an allegory for a person’s personal, internal struggles. As such, Memuchan represents the Satan, the “Yetzer Hara” (“Evil Inclination”), and the Angel of Death. Through being successful in battling evil, a person can merit to be called an officer, in control of one’s inclinations.
According to the Malbim, Memuchan switches Vashti’s name and position in order to devalue her royal status. After all, Memuchan would argue, she is a queen, but anyone can be queen.
Mesores HaBris points out that Memuchan’s name as it is spelled here can be read “mum kan,” or “there is a blemish here.”
טז וַיאמֶר מְומֻכָן [מְמוּכָן] לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהַשָּׂרִים לֹא עַל–הַמֶּלֶךְ לְבַדּוֹ עָוְתָה וַשְׁתִּי הַמַּלְכָּה כִּי עַל–כָּל–הַשָּׂרִים וְעַל–כָּל–הָעַמִּים אַשֶׁר בְּכָל–מְדִינוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ
16. And Memuchan said before the king and the ministers, “Not the king alone has Vashti the Queen wronged. Rather, all of the ministers and all the peoples in the states of Achashverosh.”
- The Talmud (Megillah 12b) interprets Memuchan’s jumping ahead of the other advisers as a display of his insolence. A wiser man would have waited to give his advice after greater people had spoken.
- The Talmud goes on there to identify Memuchan as Haman. As such, Rashi there interprets his name to mean “prepared” – prepared for the death of Vashti and himself. The Ben Ish Chai notes that a hint to this idea is the fact that the gematria of “Memuchan” is equal to that of “eitz” (160), the tree on which Haman was hanged1. A “tree” may also refer to the Talmudic statement (Chulin 139b): Where is there an allusion to Haman in the Torah? In the verse (Bereishis 3:11) “did you eat from the tree?,” wherein the word “hamin” (“from the”) is spelled with the same letters as “Haman.” This occurred in the story of Adam and Chava’s temptation to eat the fruit in Gan Eden, and since (as we shall see be”H in our last blog on this verse next week) the Vilna Gaon believes Haman to be representative of the Evil Inclination, it is a fitting allusion.
- The Midrash (Esther Rabba 4:6) asks why Memuchan was so eager to have Vashti killed, and offers three reasons: she slapped him in the face, Memuchan’s wife was not invited to the party, and because Memuchan wanted his daughter to be able to marry the king. All three reasons are really one, with each moving further from practical predictability; he wanted more influence over the king. Memuchan wanted to yield his own influence, his wife’s influence through the queen, and (more indirectly) the theoretical influence of his daughter as a queen.
- We must however, contend with another Talmudic opinion regarding the identity of Memuchan. The Yerushalmi quotes the Pirkei d’Rebbi Eliezer as saying that Memuchan was the prophet, Daniel. On the one hand, Memuchan’s advice is evil and murderous. On the other hand, it is ridding the world of the evil Vashti2, a sworn enemy of the Jews. Therefore, it is “Haman-advice” in its evil means and “Daniel-advice” in its simultaneous beneficial ends.
- In Ohr Chadash, the Maharal writes that there are seven advisers present before Achashverosh at this point. There are similarly seven major constellations (as they were understood then), the seventh being me’adim (Mars), which represents bloodshed and has a numerical value of 95. This is the same gematria as Haman and Daniel.
- The Maharsha adds that the unscrambled, initial letters in the words in Tehillim 22:21, which are interpreted as Esther’s prayer for rescue from the Jews’ fate at the hands of Haman (see our tenth blog), “mey’cherev nafshi mi’yad kelev yichidasi” form the name, Memuchan.
The Malbim writes that Achashverosh was stressing to his advisers that he sent the message through chamberlains to give excuses for Vashti’s refusal to come. As mentioned in earlier blogs, it was degrading to send chamberlains to escort royalty. Furthermore, the verse here calls Achashverosh’s command a “ma’amar” instead of the usual “dibur.” The Chaye Adam explains that “dibur” is a tougher, more authoritative order, whereas a “ma’amar” can be interpreted almost as a suggestion. Again, the king is trying to devalue his original command in order to downgrade – or outright eliminate – Vashti’s punishment.
According to the Vilna Gaon, in an attempt to save Vashti, Achashverosh emphasized to his advisers that she is a queen. He is intimating to them that they should be careful in dealing with such an important person, and judge her leniently.
According to the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 4:5), this word, “bamalka,” is meant to contrast what occurred in the 1 case of Vashti with the case of Esther, who also acts out of line with “k’das” (“the law”) (Esther 4:16) when she attempts to visit the king uninvited. G-d Willing, we will learn more about that verse when we get there.
טו כְּדָת מַה–לַּעַשׂוֹת בַּמַּלְכָּה וַשְׁתִּי עַל ׀ אֲשֶׁר לֹא–עָשְׂתָה אֶת–מַאֲמַר הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ בְּיַד הַסָּרִיסִים
15. The rule: what is done to the Queen Vashti regarding her not performing the message of King Achashverosh through the chamberlains?
Truly, being king, Achashverosh was neither bound by the law nor ignorant of it. Therefore, according to Midrash Panim Acheirim, the rule to which Achashverosh refers would be a legal loophole to try to save Vashti.