Friday, September 28, 2018

Women, Girls, & Cats: Be a Vashti

This is what happened during the time of Xerxes,[a] the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush[b]: At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present.
For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty. When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the enclosed garden of the king’s palace, for all the people from the least to the greatest who were in the citadel of Susa. The garden had hangings of white and blue linen, fastened with cords of white linen and purple material to silver rings on marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and other costly stones.Wine was served in goblets of gold, each one different from the other, and the royal wine was abundant, in keeping with the king’s liberality.By the king’s command each guest was allowed to drink with no restrictions, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.
Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes.

10 On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine,he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him—Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Karkas— 11 to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at. 12 But when the attendants delivered the king’s command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger.
13 Since it was customary for the king to consult experts in matters of law and justice, he spoke with the wise men who understood the times14 and were closest to the king—Karshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memukan, the seven nobles of Persia and Media who had special access to the king and were highest in the kingdom.
15 “According to law, what must be done to Queen Vashti?” he asked. “She has not obeyed the command of King Xerxes that the eunuchs have taken to her.”
16 Then Memukan replied in the presence of the king and the nobles, “Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes. 17 For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and say, ‘King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.’ 18 This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen’s conduct will respond to all the king’s nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord.
19 “Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed,that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she.20 Then when the king’s edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest.”
21 The king and his nobles were pleased with this advice, so the king did as Memukan proposed. 22 He sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language, proclaiming that every man should be ruler over his own household, using his native tongue.

Usually, the part of the Book of Esther that gets the most attention, by scholars of the Hebrew or First testament, is the story of Purim, and Esther's heroic actions. Many people have never heard of Vashti. Banished when she defied her husband who ordered her to dance before his friends wearing (nothing but) her crown, she is an early example of feminine self-determination in the Scriptures.
This week, the real horror has not been the high school assault made by a 17-year old Brett Kavanaugh. The horror has been the continued assault on social media, in the hearing room, and on TV, on women who dare question the status quo. Who speak up to the culture of rape and violence so clearly elucidated in Kavanaugh's yearbook. (which he lied about)
I have a cat named Vashti. I would probably have a daughter with the name if I'd had one after I studied this text. For women, the decision not to obey the patriarchy, whatever form it takes in your life, is monumental. The refusal to dance. The absolute refusal to be judged by others' standards. The courage of self-determination. 
And make no mistake.  It is not only men who enforce the patriarchy. Women can be the willing emissaries of its rules and restrictions. This has certainly been true in my life. We saw it played out in yesterday's Senate hearing as Rachel Mitchell grilled Dr. Ford in lieu of the white male Senators, with a smile on her matronly face.

My cat Vashti is an indoor cat. She hasn't faced coyotes, hawks, owls, foxes, and the many other predators on our farm. But she's been through four dogs, all much larger than she. All have ultimately backed down from her claws and her snarls. Most have taken some real wallops on the nose to get the message. Nevertheless, she persisted. She's about 13 now, and slowing down. But she's lived up to her name.
I was so excited when I learned that Vashti McCollum was elected the first female Bishop of the AME Church! She lived up to her auspicious name as well.

This is 2018. No human being is entitled to bully, berate, intimidate, demean, or diminish another because they are bigger, richer, whiter, or happen to be male. Or because they give the most money to the church, or they are an adult. 
But this is something women need to do themselves, and with one another.  I love the idea of her banquet. Let's have those! Support and empowerment. Not whining and blaming.
Be Vashtis.

more on the Hebrew Scriptures:

From the New York Jewish Times:
Vashti is attacked by commentators on the Megillah. The Talmud explains that she was the great-granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar, a Babylonian king who conquered most of the known world and exiled the Jews from Israel for 70 years. (The Purim story takes places during that exile.) Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson, Belshazzar, was king while the Persians destroyed Babylon. When the Persians ransacked the castle, they found Belshazzar’s toddler daughter, Vashti. Cyrus, the king of Persia at the time, decided to marry her to his son Ahasuerus. He thought the Persian monarchy would benefit from her prestigious pedigree.
There are still many Vashtis today, women who are punished because they say no, women who are stuck in abusive relationships. It is imperative that we learn from the Megillah and work to change the culture we live in today.
Support friends who are survivors of rape and domestic violence. Counter rape myths when you hear them. Patronize charities and organizations that help women escape domestic abuse, such as Shalom Bayit, the Shalom Task Force and Stop the Violence. Ensure that women have the courage to say no like Vashti did, but make certain that they will not suffer her end.
Your name reveals the essence of your soul, according to Jewish teaching. In Persian, the name Vashti means goodness. A commentary explains that Vashti comes from the Hebrew word “shtei” meaning two. While Esther is considered the only hero of the Purim story perhaps Vashti can now be counted as the second.