The ‘Rule of Law’ Gang in Ancient Persia: A Torah Thought for Purim by Moshe Feiglin
When Sharon introduced his “Disengagement” idea, it seemed like nothing more than a preposterous dream. Nobody understood what the State of Israel would gain from perpetrating this horrible crime against thousands of Israeli citizens. Nobody deceived themselves into thinking that this folly would bring peace; the Arabs of Gaza left no room for doubt. So how did Sharon manage to get his immoral and illogical decision into Israel’s mainstream?
On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Bizzetha, Harbona, Bigtha, and Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven chamberlains that ministered in the presence of Ahashverosh the king to bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to show the peoples and the princes her beauty; for she was fair to look on. (The Scroll of Esther 1:10-11)
After six straight months of drunken feasts, the foolish king had nothing to boast about – except for his wife’s beauty. He commands her to appear before all the merrymakers to show the entire nation her beauty, attired in her crown – and nothing else.
Is there a royal decree more foolish than this? True, nobody will be expelled from his home, nobody’s life will be shattered and barring Vashti’s pride, nothing will be destroyed. Nevertheless, this was a classic case of a patently illegal order, complete with a black flag flying overhead.
But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s commandment by the chamberlains; therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him. (The Scroll of Esther 1:12)
Vashti refuses to obey the immoral order. We would expect that with no further ado, the king would command to behead her. That is how he handled the murder conspiracy of Bigtan and Teresh and that is what Queen Esther feared would happen to her when she dared come before the king without being summoned. But Ahashverosh understood that he had painted himself into an immoral corner. He realized that his decree would not stand the test of reason and that he was essentially endangering the legitimacy of his leadership and reign on power.
What is the last resort of a criminal and foolish tyrant? How does he restore his legitimacy?
Then the king said to the wise men, who knew the times – for so was the king’s manner toward all that knew law and judgment; ‘What shall we do unto the queen Vashti according to law, for she has not done the bidding of the king Ahashverosh by the chamberlains?’ (Esther 1:13,15)
Suddenly, Ahashverosh remembers the “rule of law.” He consults with his legal advisors and defers to the High Court. The Midrash relates that at first, Ahashverosh turned to the Jewish wise men. But they quickly understood that he was not looking for justice, but rather for legitimacy for his immoral decree and for his very leadership. The Jewish wise men evaded his overtures. The Persian High Court, though, was happy to take on the case and found the penultimate creative legal solution to the royal predicament. It did not deal with the question of who was right. It dealt with only one issue – the perpetuation of the existing establishment. And so they wrote in their legal decision:
‘Vashti the queen has not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, and to all the peoples, who are in all the provinces of the king Ahashverosh. For this deed of the queen will come abroad unto all women, to make their husbands contemptible in their eyes, when it will be said: The king Ahashverosh commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not. (Esther 1:16-17)
In other words, it makes no difference at all if the directive was logical, moral or even legal. Vashti, or Gush Katif or Migron, are not part of the equation. All that matters is the perpetuation of Ahashverosh’s power. If the queen will not appear before the nation attired in nothing more than her royal crown, the subservience of all the women in the entire kingdom will vanish and the empire will crumble. That makes sense, doesn’t it?
It is not the dubious honor of the king that is in question here. It is not even the need to be the darling of the media that lies behind the irrational decree to destroy settlements. It is simply a matter of responsibility toward the perpetuation of the leadership. For if we do not carry out our orders and drive women and children from their homes today, tomorrow nobody will carry out their orders and the state will be destroyed.
In fact, Ahashverosh’s kingdom was indeed destroyed in a relatively short amount of time. But it wasn’t because of Vashti’s refusal to obey orders. On the contrary, it was because the state had lined up with the immoral conduct of its leader.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim,