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Midrash Esther Chapter Three: II: An Introduction to Vashti

“Also Vashti the Queen made a feast for the women.” Rabbi Yehudah bar Rav Simone opened his lecture on this part of the Book of Esther with the text, “As for My people, a young child – me’olal – is their master, and women nashim – rule over them (Isaiah 3:12).”


“As for My people, a young child – me’olal – is their master,” this means they exact judgment on every detail. This can be derived from the verse, “And do to them – v’olal as in ‘me’olal’ (Lamentations 1:22)”

Another explanation of ‘me’olal’ is they pluck tiny grapes – (their masters take every little thing from them and leave the Jews with nothing), as in, “Neither shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard – ‘t’olel ‘ (Vayikra 19:10).”

They bring false charges against the Jews, as in, “Accuse with false charges – alilot (Devarim 22:14).”

Rabbi Yehudah bar Rav Simone said: Their masters treated them as kedeishim, prostitutes, as in, “There shall be no prostitutes – kedeishah (23:18),” and (in the story of the Concubine at Gibeah) it says, “And abused her – vayitallehu – her all night (Judges 19:25).”

“And women – nashim – rule over them,” Rabbi Chuniah said that the masters pounced on the Jews like a creditor – nosheh.

Another explanation: Four women had sovereignty: Jezebel and Ataliah in Israel, and Semiramis (Nebuchadnezar’s wife) and Vashti among the nations.

The Jews were suffering only because of Achashveirosh, but because of Vashti, and because of how Achashveirosh and Vashti worked together. The two parties, that of Achashveirosh and that of Vashti, brought all the issues described above to the fore:

The King who prepared a party so exacting in detail, was just as exacting in punishing the Jews for the slightest infraction.

As the King has a lavish party at which money doesn’t matter, he goes after the very last penny of the Jews.

It is impossible for the Jews who are under such psychological attack by Achashveirosh to connect with him and share his ideas. Haman has the perfect opportunity to accuse the Jews as, “They do not follow the King’s ideas.”

Punished with exacting detail, their money is sucked away, and then accused falsely, allows Vashti to treat Jewish women as prostitutes.

How should the Jews respond to Vashti’s sin against the King? They are known to hate her, yet fear more accusations of disloyalty. They fear the King, resent him, but cannot ignore his public insult. They don’t want to be involved, but the King insists; he is on top of them like a collection agency, a creditor; they cannot ignore him.

Although Vashti doesn’t seem to play a major role in the Purim story, she is compared to three women, each of whom had a devastating effect on the Jewish people.

The Midrash is reminding us to pay attention to the Vashti section of the story as it reflects the Jew’s position in the kingdom, and the significance of Esther, one of the Jewish women, of whom many are treated as prostitutes, becoming Queen and taking Vashti’s place. The Reversals of the Purim story begin with Vashti!

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