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I had been wanting to write about Queen Vashti for a while. A big part of my rabbinate and my writing focuses on uplifting the stories of women in the biblical narrative, especially those who do not get enough attention.
Whispering into the ears of the foolish king, our calculating villain puts his fiendish plan into action. This is the moment he has been waiting for. Nothing less than perfect acceptance can launch his heinous plot.
When I was a child, I remember saying to my mother about the Purim story, "Maybe Haman wouldn't have done anything if he'd known Queen Esther was Jewish." King Ahasuerus' easily manipulated nature laid the foundations for the story, while Haman's vociferous antisemitism drove the story forward.
Welcome to the Jewish Month of Adar! This month in the Jewish year we celebrate Purim by reading Megillat Esther, dressing up in costumes and sending our friends and families mishloach manot gift baskets. There are many ways to incorporate environmental themes into every holiday, from reading prayers for our earth in services to using recycled materials to make our costumes.
Though Purim is a time for costumes, carnivals and hamentaschen, the story also prompts big questions, like the use of the death penalty in our society. At the end of the Purim story, we see the death penalty carried out when Haman is hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai.
I have always loved Purim. I remember eating hamentaschen in my religious school classes (deciding amongst the apricot, poppyseed, chocolate or strawberry flavors), playing bean bag toss at the Purim carnival, and waiving the groger enthusiastically as my rabbis, dressed up in costumes to accompany the theme of that year’s Purim spiel, recited the name of Haman, the wicked villain who tried to kill the Jews. I remember feeling so honored when I got to wear my own costume as part of the Purim spiel and read the megillah the year after I became a Bat Mitzvah. We are taught that Purim is a time for “feasting and merrymaking” (Megillat Esther 9:22). However, there are also a number of traditional obligations we have as Jews in addition to feasting and merrymaking, which remind us of the struggles for justice that continue year round.
Jews across the world are getting ready to celebrate Purim. Already, there are many Jews, from young children to grown adults, planning their Purim outfits. Some will be characters from the Purim story. Some will be famous actors. Some will be fictional heroes and villains. And no doubt, many people will cross-dress and dress up as someone of a different gender. Most people will not think twice about whether their costume will be accepted on Purim, as it is almost expected that people will dress up for the holiday.
On Purim, we celebrate a time of transition for the Jews, from “grief to joy and from mourning to a festive day—to make them days of feasting and joy, and sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor” (Megillat Esther 9).