For all you folks cruising the internet for something to say at your Seuda, here’s a thought (hat tip to Mrs rejewvenator).
Vashti really gets piled on by the rabbis. In the Megilla, she lasts all of ten verses. She throws a party for the women, is summoned to appear before Achasverosh wearing the royal crown, refuses, and thanks to Memuchan, is banished from ever appearing before the king and is replaced by Esther. So far, she sounds like a victim of Achashverosh’s cruelty and temper. Maybe she’s even a feminist heroine, who, like Mordechai, refused to obey the commands of the king.
When we turn to the midrash and the gemara, Vashti comes of a lot worse. First, we’re told that she’s the granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzer, who destroyed the First Temple and exiled the Jews. Second, she’s the daughter of Belshazzar, the Babylonian king who threw a party just like Achashverosh did, and also drank out of the vessels of the Temple. At that party, the dismembered hand wrote on the wall (yes, the famous “handwriting on the wall”) that his kingdom was ending, and that very night the Persians and Medes attacked, killing everyone, except Vashti. We also learn that Vashti would kidnap Jewish girls and make them work for her in the nude, and that she’d force them to weave for her on Shabbat. She also either grows a tail or gets leprosy, thus refusing to appear before the king naked, as per the Midrash. The rabbis finally tell us that Vashti is executed, not simply banished, for her refusal.
But c’mon rabbis! Tell us how you really feel!
Looking deeper into the Megilla, we see an interesting trend. There are many people who could be considered victims in the story of Purim. The Jews, most obviously, but lots of other folks as well. Vashti, Bigtan and Teresh (who were plotting against an evil king, after all), Haman’s ten sons, and the people killed by the Jews during their uprising were all victims. One could even argue that Haman and Achashverosh were victimized by one another!
The rabbis are very careful to make sure that nobody else gets to play the victim besides the Jews. Vashti is assigned an awful backstory and terrible actions are ascribed to her as well. She deserves her death! Bigtan and Teresh, according to the Midrash, were actually trying to set Mordechai up to take the fall for
Haman’s Achashverosh’s death. so they too deserved their fate. And of course, all those non-Jews who the Jews killed were planning to kill the Jews as per Haman’s plot, so that’s that. Haman’s ten sons? Well, Haman is descendant from Amalek, so they have a Divine death sentence hanging (no pun intended) over their heads, and in any case, they were actually killed in the battle, and their corpses were hanged. As for Haman and Achashverosh, they cancel each other out. Haman manipulates the drunken Achashverosh and basically takes all the king’s power for himself. Achashverosh casually has Haman executed in a moment of (feigned?) rage. We don’t feel pity or sympathy for any of them.
The story that we’re left with is one in which the great personal sacrifices and risks of Mordechai and Esther, their selfless devotion to the Jewish cause and fearlessness in the face of personal harm are the only truly good, noble, and altruistic acts in the whole story.