The tale begins when Queen Vashti refuses to dance naked in front of the drunken King Achashverosh and his friends. Flummoxed by her refusal the king consults with his male advisors who say, “Now all women will ignore men’s commands. They will refuse all of their husbands’ demands, however ludicrous. (God forbid.) The king is easily persuaded and goes along with their advice. Vashti is kicked out of the palace and loses her crown. #MeToo Vashti!
And how does the king pick a new queen? A beauty pageant. Esther of course wins the pageant. Apparently she looks good in a swim suit. The Bible relates that she spent twelve months preparing herself: “Six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and women’s cosmetics.” (John Lennon sings: “We make her paint her face and dance. If she won't be a slave, we say that she don't love us. If she's real, we say she's trying to be a man.”)
We learn nothing about Esther’s character. We are taught nothing about her wisdom. We know only that she hides her Jewish identity and that is she is exceedingly beautiful. She is selected as queen. #MeToo Esther?
Her uncle Mordecai refuses to bow down to Haman, so the king’s most trusted advisor suggests that the king kill all the Jews. The logic and rationale of antisemites was, and perhaps always will be, elusive. Esther’s character emerges. Her wisdom shines. She fasts and prays. Esther reveals her identity to the king and explains how her life is threatened. The king cannot apparently draw any conclusions on his own. He cannot see the evil that stands before him, that his very own advisor threatens his queen and her people.
“Who is he and where is he who dares do this?” stammers the king.
Esther points toward Haman. “The enemy is this evil Haman!” she declares.
Haman and his sons are hanged. The Jews make bloody war against their enemies. They emerge victorious, and their enemies are routed and killed.
This farcical tale rings true in our own age. Antisemitism, misogyny and violence are present in our own day—in abundant measure. We have spent too many weeks crying. We have spent too many months screaming for justice.
On Purim we are commanded to make fun of these all too serious historical themes.
Today we laugh or at least we try to laugh. Tomorrow we can continue arguing.
The Talmud says that we can only fully accept the Torah on Purim. Why? Because laughter is the key to acceptance. Because not taking ourselves, or even our history, so seriously is the recipe for redemption. Rabbi Michael Strassfeld opines: “Only when we can mock the tradition can we fully accept it. Otherwise we make the tradition into an idolatry rather than a smasher of idols, into frozen-in-stone dogma of what once was rather than a living faith.”
In messianic times all festivals will be abolished except for the holiday of Purim. When the messiah vanquishes evil and eradicates all the injustices about which we continue to despair we will still need to laugh.
We always require laughter.