Tuesday, March 4, 2014

MEGILAT ESTHER Chapter 1. Unintended consequences of alcohol abuse

At the very last day of his six-months party, Ahashverosh was completely drunk.  In that state of mind, he sent for his wife, Queen Vashty, who was having a separate feast for women. He summoned Vashty to come to the men's section leharot ha'amim vehasarim et yofiah "to show-off her beauty in front of the populaces and ministers".  The dignified Queen, as expected, refused to come. When Ahashverosh hears of her refusal he exploded "within" (vahamato ba'ara bo). Rabbi Moshe Almosnino (1515-1580) observes that this word "within" is here for a reason.  Ahashverosh did not exteriorize his anger. He actually tried to belittle Vashty's act of subordination, because he loved Queen Vashty. In a moment of sobriety Ahashverosh realized that summoning Vashty by commissioning seven officers for the mission, had the value of a Royal order. And since Queen Vashty ignored one of the King's order, the consequences would be inevitable. In the Persian Empire disobedience to the King's orders carried the capital punishment. Now, the desperate King seeks the counsel of his advisers. Why? Persian Kings did not need any consultations to condemn someone to death. When Ahashverosh ordered to execute Haman, for example, he consulted no one. In the case of Vashty however, Ahashverosh sought the counsel of his advisers because he realized his mistake and now, he was looking desperately for a way out to reverse the decree and save his beloved Vashty.

But it was too late. The King's advisers prevented Ahashverosh from saving the Queen.  One of them, Memukhan, put things in perspective for him. He said to the King: Vashty's disobedience is not a "personal" matter between you, Ahashverosh, and your wife. Rather, this is a matter of state: one of the King's subject, even as prominent as the Queen, contravened an official order coming from the King on-duty.  Legally, Vashty needs to be punished.  As we know from the decree against the Jews, once a Royal order was issued it cannot be reversed. Even if the order was issued while the King was drunk... 

We learn many lessons from Megilat Esther. One of them is that alcohol in your head might bring you to do things you would not do when you are sober. Things which you might actually regret when you recover your sobriety. But then, it might be too late to go back in time and reverse your mistakes.

Have a very happy and sober Purim!