One of the hidden and lesser-known messages of the Purim story, as told in Megillas Esther (The Book of Esther), is the Torah’s positive attitude towards women and their prominent role in shaping the history of the Jewish people (rumors to the contrary notwithstanding). A careful reading of “the whole megillah” will illustrate this point exactly.
The story takes place 2500 years ago in Persia and Media (an area that today is known as Iran). It starts off with this wacko, male chauvinist King Achashveirosh who throws a wild party at his royal palace in Shushan, the capital of Persia. He gets so drunk (at least a 2.0 BAC) that he asks his gorgeous Queen Vashti to parade around in front of the whole crowd wearing only her royal crown. (You can't make this stuff up!) She says, "No way, pervert!", so Achashveirosh has her killed! Talk about female subordination! But wait … it gets worse.
The King's advisors convince him that unless something is done, other wives might rebel against their husbands in the future and not yield to their every whim (Heaven forbid!). So they brainstorm and come up with this brilliant edict that is then sent out to the entire kingdom. It says, "Let every man rule in his own home and speak the language of his own people." What gross inequality! Where were N.O.W. and the A.C.L.U. when we needed them?
Okay, so then the King runs this whole Miss Future Queen Contest, forcing every eligible, beautiful girl to enter, and drown herself in makeup, even against her will. This Jewish girl, Esther, is picked as the winner and is chosen as the new Queen of Persia.
To make a long story short (for the compete, uncensored version, you can hear the entire story as it’s read at your local synagogue on Purim Night, this Wednesday evening March 23rd, and on Purim Day, Thursday March 24th), the wicked Prime Minister of Persia, a fellow named Haman (pronounced "hey, man", which rhymes with Farrakhan) was jealous of a Jew named Mordechai who was high up in the government. You see, already way back then, the anti-Semites couldn't handle a Jewish-controlled Media …. (laughter, please!).
So Haman convinces the King to do away with the Jews once and for all. The King decrees that on the 13th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, all the Jews should be rounded up and shot. Now you can imagine what kind of field day the Anti-Defamation League would've had with this one! Mordechai gets wind of this evil scheme and starts mobilizing all the Jews he can get together to come up with a way to prevent this horrible misfortune. So they immediately start making all different types of committees and subcommittees and board meetings (some things never change!) Oh, and they also pray to G-d to save them.
Meanwhile, at the royal palace, Queen Esther (who has just returned from the mall, where she did the first book-signing of her new book, From Shushan Girl to Beauty Queen: My Persional Story) is informed by Mordechai of the horrible news. Mordechai, who according to reliable sources, was actually married to Esther, instructs her to do the following: She is to go to the King immediately and to appeal to him and plead with him for her people. (There you have it - the first Jewish lobbyist.)
But does she listen to him right away? Nooooo!! Esther senses that if she will approach the King straight up, the entire plan will fail and all will be lost. So she devises this whole plan to butter up the King and Haman by inviting them both to a special party she is throwing that night. This would hopefully make the King suspicious and turn him against the Prime Minister. And the plan worked! They all drank wine together, the King got upset at Haman for trying to destroy Esther's people - and Haman and his ten sons had a massive ‘hangover’ - literally!
The end of the story is that the Jews live happily ever after, and Esther and Mordechai establish the holiday of Purim for all future generations to commemorate the great miracle that G-d brought about through Esther to save the entire nation.
Now, just look at the contrast between the conventional, non-Jewish attitude towards women at that time and the way that Mordechai and Esther worked together in a perfect husband/wife dynamic.
Whereas the Persians were busy partying and attempting to dominate and denigrate their women by parading them around in an immodest fashion (which was obviously the standard, accepted mode of behavior at that time, and which seems to have continued till this very day, as is evident from the magazines you see at all the convenience stores), the Jewish people, as represented by Mordechai and Esther, were far more progressive in their male/female relationships. They understood full well that Men Are From Baghdad and Women Are From Damascus, and that each one has a very special and unique role to fulfill.
And while Mordechai could only suggest a possible plan to save the Jews, it was up to Esther, with her insight and intuition, to ultimately formulate that plan in a way that would bring it to a successful conclusion. What a team! What mutual self-respect and understanding between husband and wife!
The story of Purim is called Megillas Esther, not Megillas Mordechai. And that should tell you a lot about the Torah’s attitude towards women and the tremendous role they play in the history of our people!