Friday, March 14, 2014
Vashti vs. Lady Gaga: A Modern Day Purim Battle
How far have we come since the Book of Esther? The book begins with the saga of King Achashverosh demanding that his wife, Queen Vashti, come and strip before his friends. Deeply insulted, she refused, and was willing to give up her title, status, and life instead of degrading herself. While the rabbinic tradition does not view Vashti in a positive light, when we read the Biblical text itself, she clearly acts in a laudatory fashion. She is a role model for women and girls who are asked by society to surrender their agency for the approval of others. Regardless of a) how badly a woman feels about herself or b) what can be gained socially or financially, she should not allow herself to be fundamentally degraded for the pleasure of others.
Esther acts with bravery and cunning throughout the book named in her honor, but she is not our only hero or role model. Vashti is not the villain or the shrew she is often depicted to be in our traditional Purim schpiels; she is a woman who knows her own worth and is not willing to devalue herself for the comfort, profit, or enjoyment of others. We live in a world that is not only often hostile to Jews, but also to our Torah values: self-respect, modesty, restraint, and iconoclasm. This Purim, let us do more than have fun and recall our physical preservation from the evil machinations of Haman. Let us recall the values embodied by Vashti, role model them for our community, and support our children in adopting those values daily in their lives.
Chag Purim Sameach!