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Midrash Esther Chapter IV-1-Recusal

In “Consultations,” we offered five views of Achashveirosh: Achashveirosh believes that his ascension to the throne was guided by the constellations, or, Achashveirosh as Bill Clinton, Achashveirosh who believes that he is a man with a great destiny, a man determined that every decision be perceived as a ruling by the Supreme Court expressing his deep commitment to law and structure, and finally, who understands a king that for some reason he will need Jewish support to succeed as King. We will have to examine the sages’ decision to recuse themselves from the perspective of each of these descriptions of Achashveirosh.


The Midrash continues: The wicked Achashveirosh said to them, “Seeing that I ordered Vashti to appear before me naked and she refused, what is to be her punishment?”

They replied, “Your Majesty, when we were in our own land, we used to inquire of the Urim and Tummim, but now we are tossed about,” and they quoted to him the verse, “Moab has been at ease from his youth, and he has settled on his lees, and not being poured from container to container, and did not go into exile; therefore his taste has stayed in him, and his scent was not diminished (Jeremiah 48:11).” [Esther Rabbah 4:1]

We must note that the verse never explicitly states that Achashveirosh ordered Vashti to appear naked before him. We must also note that when Achashveirosh later consults with other people, he does not mention anything about Vashti appearing naked; he simply describes her as refusing to obey his command. The Midrash wants us to understand that when Achashveirosh consulted with Jewish sages, he was not embarrassed to mention the “naked” issue.

If it’s true that the sages successfully recused themselves from this decision because they no longer had the wisdom for which they were famous, why would Achashveirosh keep Mordechai in such a lofty position in the palace? If Achashveirosh was deliberate in asking for the advice of these wise men, how could they refuse? Why would they believe that a verse in Jeremiah would convince Achashveirosh that he should consult with people of Moab, and not because of any great wisdom of theirs, but because they had not suffered exile and captivity?

How is their response calculated to address all of the above descriptions of Achashveirosh?

“Our wisdom has obviously not been sufficient to save us from suffering, captivity, and exile. If you seek people of destiny, seek it somewhere else. If you seek to connect with our great past, then look to the words of a great prophet, Jeremiah, and follow his advice by turning to a nation that seems to have been blessed with destiny, political smarts, stability and  a solid structure.”

The fact that Achashveirosh is unashamed to openly speak of his demand that Vashti appear naked, indicates that despite his belief in their wisdom, there was a part of him that looked at these men with disdain.

Mishloach Manot: How can you apply this Midrash to the Blessing of Restoring Justice in the Amidah?

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