Shira Lankin Sheps

Binging and excess in the megillah; a recipe for loss and regret

The world we step into when we open our Megillah scroll is a world of excess.

Expensively dyed hangings are draped on the walls, marbled pillars line the halls, and the glint of silver and gold shines on every wine laden chalice and vessel. The verse states, “The royal wine [was] in abundance, in accordance with the king’s wealth.”(Megillat Esther, 1:7) As we can tell from the length of, and the wealth displayed at King Achashverosh’s parties (the first one for the officers and royalty lasting 180 days and the second for the citizens of Shushan lasting 7 days), it is safe to assume that the wine was plentiful and excessive. What follows is the famous story of Vashti’s downfall. Achashverosh and his cronies demand her presence (and in the nude, Rashi says).  She refuses. The Megillah pointedly describes this scene where Achashverosh and his friends have been partying, binge eating and drinking alcohol daily for over 6 months and in this excessive state of mind demand the Queen’s appearance!

The reader of this chapter of the Megillah is clearly intended to understand that King Achashverosh and his “wise men”, to whom he turns for advice, are under the negative influence of alcohol when they lewdly demand Vashti’s presence, so they can leer at her and treat her as an object of their pleasures, and not as a human being. Their immediate rage at her rejection of Achashverosh’s invitation, is a direct result of their mad intoxication. In this state of mind, these men decide Vashti’s fate, first in their dismissing her  as Queen of the Persian empire. And then as we know from Rashi’s explanation, in their condemnation of her to an execution that would serve as an example to all the other women of the kingdom. Vashti meets her end, as a result of the mad intoxication of her husband and his advisors.

The very first line after the scene where Achashverosh “dismisses” Vashti, reads, “After these events, when King Achashverosh’s fury subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done, and what had been decreed upon her.”(Megillat Esther 2:1) Rashi comments that this means that Achashverosh regretted his madness, and the fact that Vashti and her beauty were no longer part of his life. His courtiers and advisers began to panic at the sudden depression and sadness of the king. The following verses describe just how frantically they scrambled to find a replacement for Vashti, so as to soothe the pain of the King’s loss. This one moment in the Megillah lets Achashverosh and the reader finally consider the tragic effects of excessive drinking.

It is interesting to note, that the one day in the entire year that the Jewish community engages in and one could argue, encourages “excessive drinking”, is Purim; the day that we celebrate by reading the Megillah, eating too much, and drinking too much. Isn’t that what we are encouraging when we say that, “we should be so intoxicated that we cannot  tell the difference between Haman and Mordechai?” When our brains drown in alcohol, our judgment and behavior suffer. When we are unable to make decisions with our best faculties and clearest mind, we miss the freedom to make good and healthy choices. The example of Achashverosh makes it clear that the results can be disastrous for us and for our relationships. This Purim, let’s be cognizant of the message that we read in the Megillah about this issue, and translate that into responsible behavior. Let us not emulate Achashverosh, for he is depicted as a fool, after all.

About the Author
Shira Lankin Sheps is a writer, photographer, and clinically trained therapist. She is the executive director and founder of The SHVILLI Center, which provides resources for building emotional resilience and promotes mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. She is the founder, former publisher, and editor-in-chief of The Layers Project Magazine and the author of 'Layers: Personal Narratives of Struggle, Resilience, and Growth from Jewish Women.' Shira lives in Jerusalem with her husband and children.
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