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Rabbi's Week In Review - 3/1/2021

03/01/2021 03:32:11 PM


Our Purim celebration this past week presented an opportunity to ponder how we effect positive change, how we change our world for the better. One opportunity came through an article — “The Book of Esther - A Fresh Look at Trauma and Accommodation,” by Cat Zavis — discussing the two heroines of the story, Vashti and Esther. They can be seen as being the opposite sides of the same coin.

Our Purim story begins with Vashti. As queen, she is summoned by King Ahasuerus to appear at a banquet composed solely of men who had been drinking for seven days. She refuses and summarily loses her status as queen. She is also banished from the story from that early point forward.

Queen Esther attains her status as queen for essentially winning a beauty contest. She will later in the story approach the king without being summoned, no less an insult to the king than refusing to show up when summoned. Yet, the king welcomes her. Arguably, it is her beauty, if not her sexuality, that puts her in a position to change King Ahasuerus’ evil edict.

Vashti is banished for directly confronting male power. Esther is the ultimate savior in the story by working the system dominated by males, rather than trying to bring about wholesale change to the system.   

The issue also presented what is missing from our Purim celebration. The prayers of Hallel are customarily said on major holidays, particularly appropriate as praising G-d for our rescue from the hands of tyrants. In this light, Purim seems like a natural, yet we do not recite Hallel on Purim.

One explanation for its absence is that the reading of Megillat Esther, the Book of Esther, is a substitute for Hallel. But another reason given is that, notwithstanding our rescue, the power structure has not changed. King Ahasuerus is still king. Again, we are confronted with the question as to whether survival counts as a win or we need wholesale change — systemic change to create a better world. It is a question with no clear answer but one confronted every time we work for a more just world.

Tue, April 20 2021 8 Iyyar 5781