A very long time ago there lived a powerful king named Achashverosh, who ruled the entire Persian empire from India to Africa. The king, like kings in general, believed that he should have whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it. A few years into his reign and to show off, he threw a party to which the entire town of Shushan was invited. People caroused and drank too much, and the king demanded that his gorgeous, arrogant wife Vashti do a striptease for his court. Vashti refused. She was an independent woman. But the king didn't like that, and off with her head.
Now he needed a queen. Calling all virgins... especially girl-next-door-type, modest, blond-haired orphans. And of all the lovely ladies of Shushan, one in particular catches his eye. Her name is Esther. And she's... gasp! Jewish. "Esther, don't tell him," counsels her cousin Mordechai, who has cared for her since the death of her parents. (You know how rough things can be for Jews. Someone always wants them gone.)
And things go well for a while, Mordechai checking on her in the court with the maids the king has bestowed on her. Esther has entranced Achashverosh but doesn't give herself to him yet. She has the king basically eating from her hand.
Of course there's a villain who just happens to be the king's prime minister -- Haman, a descendant of Nebuchadnezzar, just one of the many rulers who just happen to be Anti-Semitic. Of course he wants to be king. Naturally, henchmen are involved. He sets a plot to assassinate the king, and his henchmen take the fall after Mordechai figures it all out and reports them.
But Haman is too big for his britches and wants everyone to bow to him. Well, Jews don't do that, and Mordechai refuses. Twice. Haman is enraged and convinces the king to sign off on a decree to kill all Jews in the super-large kingdom, not just Mordechai. Eeek! Esther stages a three-day fast and thousands of people pray for the M-man.
But the king has insomnia. He calls for the reading of the day's events, in which he learns of Mordecai's discovery of the plot to kill him, and that he had never gotten a giftie for his help. Haman, ever the smarmy bastard, enters at that moment and they chitchat. So, Prime Minister, how should a king reward someone? Arrogant Haman, thinking only of himself as usual, responds. "Oh, my King, dress him up in fancy robes and parade him through the town!" Well, all right then. "This shall be done to the man whom the king desires to honor! Fetch Mordecai the Jew!" Enraged, Haman has to do it. But before this happens, he had taken his wife's advice and built a 150-foot tall gallows to end Mordechai's life once and for all, right in his own backyard. Yuck.
Meanwhile, Esther, becomingly pale from lack of food and looking angelic from her prayers, invites the king and Haman to two private banquets. At the second one she reveals Haman's evil plan to exterminate the Jews... and that she is one also. The king becomes blind with fury and leaves the hall for a breath of air. Haman, seeing his plan unravel, begs Esther for forgiveness and advances toward her, throwing himself upon her in his groveling. The king enters and thinks he is raping Esther.
My, how the tables have turned. You can guess who hangs instead of Mordechai. Haman, and his wife, and his ten sons are all dispatched at a hanging party on the gallows built for Mordechai. And although the decree to kill the Jews can't be turned over, another decree is signed that says Haman tricked the king. Oh by the way, it turns out that Esther is of royal stock, from King Saul. Yowza.
There are more details to this story of intrigue and revenge, sex and death, foolishness and trickery... but this is it in a nutshell. It's really quite a story. It would make an excellent movie.
But reading the megillah, I am conflicted and overwhelmed. Instead of making me merry, this story saddens me and scares me, too. Things are always more complicated than they seem...
1 week ago