On the last day of the great party, Ahashverosh is completely drunk. In that state of intoxication, and when there was nothing more to show-off, he sent for his wife, Queen Vashti, who was celebrating her own party with the women of Shooshan. Ahashverosh ordered her to come to the men’s section “to exhibit her beauty before all the people and ministers.” But Vashti refused to comply with the order of the King.
When Ahashverosh learns that his wife did not obey his order, he exploded “within himself” ( “וחמתו בערה “בו).
Rabbi Moshe Almosnino explains that the word “within himself” is here for a reason. Let’s see ….
Ahashverosh did not externalize his anger. Because he was actually angry at himself. In the public eye, he tried to downplay Vashti’s disobedience.
Based on the “peshat” (literal reading, as opposed to Midrash), Rabbi Almosnino opens our eyes to a very important detail.
When Ahashverosh sends for Vashti he did not call her through one of his personal servants. The Megilla invests a whole verse (Cap. 1 Pasuq 10) to describe that he summoned Vashti to appear before him through the Seven Imperial Officers. In other words, the call of Ahashverosh was not “the kind invitation of a husband to his wife”. It was, albeit involuntarily, an Imperial decree.
Now, the laws of the Persian empire were very, very strict. And even if it was the queen, the king’s wife, who disobeyed an imperial order, she should be punished (if President Obama’s daughter crosses a red light, she must pay a fine.¿right?)
And something else. Very important. As we will see later on in Chapter 8, any imperial decree in Persia, once officially announced, could not be repealed EVEN BY THE KING!. Even if these decrees were made in error, and / or under the influence of alcohol!
Now we understand the desperation of Ahashverosh … The King realized that he made a serious mistake when he “officially” summoned Vashti through his Seven Officers! Now Vashti disobeyed the order of the King and, regardless of her valid reasons, she now must pay for this. Ahashverosh loved Vashti. And he never intended to harm her ….
The King calls his legal adviser, seeking for some legal loophole to spare vashti. But very diplomatically they explain that there is nothing they can do. Memuján, the Empire’s Attorney General explains to the King that 1. (Pasuq 16) lo ‘al hamelekh lebaddo , this was not a personal affront from a wife to her husband. Vashti’s disobedience is now a delicate matter of state. 2. (P. 17-18), this offense, if not severely punished, can become a dangerous precedent with unpredictable consequences for the social stability of the Empire. And finally, (P. 19) he offers a dignified compromise to spare the Queen’s life (P.19): if not executed, she must be dethroned.
This is the reading of this episode by Rabbi Almosnino analyzing in depth one little word “bo”, “within himself”. For the Rabbi this means that Ahashverosh, was furious “at himself” when he realized that his huge mistake might cost Vashti her life, or her throne.
Rabbi Almosnino explains that the reader of the Megilla, when reaching Chapter 3, and seeing that the decree which authorizes the elimination of the Jewish people was sealed, will connect the dots and say: “There is else nothing to do. The decree was officially issued with the seal of the King. Now, not even the King can reverse it, as it happened with Vashti. ” This will help the reader to appreciate more and better the magnitude of the great miracle that HaShem performed for us in Purim (להראות את גודל הנס).
And one final lesson from this episode of Megillat Esther.
What was it that led the king to make such a silly, reckless and self-destructive mistake, which caused so much pain and humiliation to Ahashverosh and his family? An error which, he then regretted but was not able to reverse, because it was already too late …
Purim is a day to celebrate, eat, drink and be happy. But this episode of the Meguilla reminds us that alcohol abuse can lead us to make terrible unintentional mistakes, with unpredictable consequences, which some times, cannot be reversed.