by Helene Debowsky
As I started to work on this article, my mind was on the story of Purim and thought of it as an example of Women’s Lib. (My formative years were the 60’s when the feminist movement started.) I saw Vashti as a strong woman who wouldn’t take garbage from anyone around her. I said to myself: “Good going; you’re courageous, strong, and assertive. You’re the first liberated woman.”
In those days it was the law of the land that every man shall be the master of his home. I’m glad things changed over the years!
As I did my research into Vashti, my opinion of her changed some. I read that she had danced naked before her husband and his drunken friends many times before and it was only because she had a bad rash, that she refused this time—talk about vanity! No, Vashti was no feminist; she viewed herself as men of her times did: as a beauty-object. She used make-up to cover her flaws and worked to make herself picture-perfect. Her level of confidence was weighed daily by a scale and a mirror. She was a woman of low self-esteem.
And where does Esther fit in this picture. Did she have a healthy self-esteem? Did she value her looks?
We are told that Esther is passive and submissive. All her life she has obeyed the men in her life. As a child she was taken in by Mordechai as a foster daughter, then taken in to the King’s harem and taken by the King. She does not reveal her identity at the palace because Mordechai has commanded her not to tell. She requests nothing at the harem even after she is crowned Queen. She is a model of docility.
When Mordechai tells Esther she must plead to the King to save the Jews, she does not know what to do. She knows that those who appear before the King unbidden are condemned to die but also has loyalty to Mordechai and her people.
In this moment of fate, Esther discovers she is not so different from Vashti. Esther takes control of the plan; changing and amending it as she sees fit. Like Vashti she will appear before the King only when she decides that the time is right—in this case after three days of fasting and praying. As she marshals her strength to save her nation, she must revisit the experiences of her shunned predecessor and learn from them.
Esther is the true feminist, because she took control of the situation and did it “her way.”
On a personal level, I hope you all can find the time to help WRJ grow, to show the importance of women of all ages in our modern society!
Helene Debowsky is Women of Temple B’nai Israel, Clearwater, FL, Co-President. Previously, she held the title of Operations Vice President. She has been a member of Temple B’nai Israel for 38 years and on the sisterhood board for 15 years.