Study and Theory/
Purim

Ayelet Haviv Gilad

Kindergarten Teacher, Tell the Kids about Vashti

The story of Purim is a complex political story, not really suitable for children.

We as educators and parents make simplifications, round out corners, and omit quite a bit from the story, especially for young children. However, despite the fact that it is not a children’s story, it is still important that we tell it to them.

We tell them that Mordechai and Esther were heroes and saved the Jews from Haman the evil wicked man.

Achashverosh is presented as a man of little significance, rather foolish, ambitious and very full of himself.

And there are several other more or less superficial characters.

But what about Vashti; hy is she almost always obscured or, worse than that, presented as despised?

Why is there no room for another heroine in this story? (Does it seem that her heroism could overshadow that of Esther? Perhaps because her refusal to the king was something still conceived of as dangerous even in our own modern society)?

In my opinion, the story of Vashti should be told, and she should be given a place of honor and heroism, especially for kindergarten and elementary school children who base their opinions on ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. They are so strongly inclined to doing this, that some may not have another significant opportunity to change their opinion. Who knows, maybe drawing the image of Vashti as a strong, positive woman will leave an imprint on some of the children, mainly girls.

While King Achashverosh celebrates a long, opulent banquet, Vashti and her guests too are holding a women’s banquet. Achashverosh, under the influence of wine, sends seven messengers to bring her to him. What he demands of her is to stop everything she’s doing, put on her crown and come to the king’s banquet to show herself for the crowd; or, more accurately, before a bunch of drunken men. Vashti refuses and the messengers return empty handed. The king is furious. Vashti knew Achashverosh and could probably imagine what her fate will be if she decides to turn down his request. She could probably anticipate that such a decision would exact a heavy price from her. She takes the risk of losing her high position, the luxury and material wealth she enjoyed in the palace, and perhaps even put her life at risk. Nevertheless, she chooses to be loyal to herself, and not to give in to the whims of the hedonistic woman chasing king. Vashti is a brave woman who refuses to be just an object, displayed as an ornament for the king to do as he pleases with. Despite the expected heavy cost, she sticks to her guns and assumes the right to say no to the king. Vashti is, without a doubt, a strong woman; so strong that she jeopardizes the status of the ruling men.

Aside from the king’s personal anger at Vashti, his advisors fear the repercussions of Vashti’s refusal: Queen Vashti has done wrong; not only against the king, but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Achashverosh.  For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and say, King Achashverosh commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.

The king, his advisors and his guests fear the possibility that Vashti will risk the entire male hegemony by creating a dangerous precedent: Women throughout the kingdom will discover the possibility of taking a stand, refuse to do things against their will, and not agree to be an object. Vashti constitutes a real danger.

Therefore, in order to preclude a feminist revolution, they sentence Vashti and advise the king to banish her and choose another queen instead of her. Her exact fate is unknown. Was she expelled? Put to death? We will never know.

In any case, Vashti’s story forms the basis for understanding the rest of the story, that of Esther’s heroism.

From kindergarten we were all brought up to admire Esther, the beautiful and sophisticated woman who saved her people. But I think the time has to make room for another heroine, not instead of Esther, but alongside her. A brave heroine who refused to be objectified. The story of Vashti serves to strengthen the image of Esther. Thanks to Vashti, we all understand Esther’s greatness, and what she subsequently had to deal with.

We kind of like rebellious heroes, and there are quite a few of them in Jewish history. So why hasen’t Vashti entered the pantheon of valor? Does she still threaten male hegemony? Is this why we choose to continue diminishing her role or even hold her in contempt?

No more. We can definitely make a little room for Vashti in the list of Biblical heroes and heroines.

This is part of our job as educators, and it is so simple.

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When my daughter came home with her friends from kindergarten, i asked her what they told them about Vashti in kindergarten. What they knew was that the king called upon Vashti and she didn’t want to come so he expelled her.

I told them that Vashti too was a heroine; why is that? This is because she rebelled against King Achashverosh who was a very inconsiderate king. She didn’t think she had to do everything the king told her, and she wasn’t afraid of him, despite his being the king. She was simply a brave woman.

These are three and a half sentences that can perhaps change something in their outlook.

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