Why does the Book of Esther start with Chapter 1 instead of Chapter 2? What is the relevance of the story of how King Achashverosh fired Queen Vashti to the rest of the book, which tells the story of Esther’s rise to power and the king’s trust and the salvation of the Jewish people? Vashti doesn’t appear after the very beginning of the book. What gives?
Vashti and Esther are two sides of the same coin. Both are strong women who know how to make things happen. Both rise to an occasion by the means they have at their disposal, and both send strong messages about women’s power. Esther does this, famously, by submitting herself to the king and then using her trust and position to save the Jews. But Vashti also rises to an occasion by exercising her own agency.
While Ahasuerus makes a great feast, Vashti makes one too for the women. And when Vashti is called in before the drunken king and his drunk courtiers, she refuses. She does not abandon the women: she stands with them, refusing to let them become pawns. Indeed, the king’s courtier Memucan fears her influence over the other women in the kingdom enough that he convinces the king to fire her and tighten the grasp of the kingdom’s men over the women. “She was thinking for herself? We can’t have that!”
But the reality is, Memucan and Achashverosh have already lost that battle. Esther comes along and takes up where Vashti left off. Esther’s agency is famous, less so Vashti’s but just as important. Together, they tell a story of strength and power, and I am proud to be a member of Team Vashti.