This is a Purim midrash in the form of an advice letter. A midrash is an interpretation of an ancient Jewish text, often in the form of a story that fills in some missing pieces of the tale. In this case, it means I imagined what Queen Vashti might say to me if she were writing to The Debrief. Here’s a primer on Queen Vashti’s role in the Purim story.
My memory of that night still feels blurry, and it all happened so quickly. My husband (the king) was drunk with his friends. He was bragging about me. That should make me feel good, right, that he was bragging about me? He was only bragging about my body, which is something he does, which makes me feel really weird. Then it got worse. He wanted me to show off to his friends—to dance for them—putting on a show. Adult-style entertainment, so to speak. I’ve danced for him before, in private, which I actually initiated, because I like dancing and I like pleasing him. Maybe he thought just because I did it before, I would do it again. But it was a different night, and there were different people around…and I felt differently. So I said no. I said I would not dance for his friends. I hoped—if he really cared about me—that he would respect my boundaries and my right to decide what I do with my body, free from pressure or coercion. Free from his whim.
But then it got even worse. He said: “Vashti, I love you, you know I do, but if you embarrass me in front of all my friends, we’re finished. I can’t have a queen who won’t do what I tell her to do. So, it’s totally your choice. Stay here and dance, or leave the palace—go somewhere I can’t find you—and live out the rest of your days alone. No one else will have you if you’re so insolent.”
What was I to do? He said I had a choice, but it didn’t really feel like a choice anymore. A free choice would be without consequences. A free choice would be: “Vashti, I’d love for you to dance for my friends tonight. I think we’d all get a lot of pleasure out of it, if and only if you want to dance for us. It’s OK if you don’t. I love you either way. What do you think?”
That would have been a choice.
But dance for the king or lose everything? That’s not a choice. That’s not fair.
Some days I think I should have just sucked it up and kept my crown. I was certainly tempted to stay, especially with the manipulative words of the king echoing inside my head. And the terror of his threat. And wondering…he says he’ll let me go, but what’s to keep him from killing me if I refuse him? My whole body starts hurting when I think too much about it.
Most days, I know I made the choice of survival. The only choice that would have worked in the long run. Staying at the palace was no longer safe for me. If I’d said yes to that request, what would have come next? How much worse would it have gotten?
And now for my question: I got myself out, but the king is now getting a new queen. If he treated me in such a terrifying manner, what’s to keep him from treating someone else like that? I got myself out, but what about this next woman? What if she doesn’t get out so easily? I don’t know what to do. I feel just horrified at the thought of another woman becoming his queen and being subject to such treatment. On the one hand, it’s his fault, not mine, since he’s the one choosing to be coercive and threatening. But on the other hand, I’d like to do what I can to stop more terror from coming down on other people. But I feel powerless and still so scared. What can I do?
Scared for Me and Scared for Her
Readers—What do you think about Vashti’s situation? What would you say to her? Do you have any advice to give? Post a comment below to debrief with me.