July 13, 2024
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July 13, 2024
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At the beginning of the Purim story, we are told that King Achashverosh summoned his then-Queen Vashti to a swinging soiree of sorts. In what was arguably one of the earliest recorded moments in the “Women’s Lib” movement, a brave Vashti refused to join the party, sending the rejected and dejected Achashverosh into a terrible tizzy: “On the seventh day, when the King’s heart was merry with wine, he ordered… [his seven ministers] to bring Vashti the Queen before the King with the royal crown, to show the people and the princes her beauty… But Queen Vashti refused to come at the King’s behest… and the King became very wroth, and his anger burnt within him.”

As a result, Vashti was not only banned from the banquet, but cast away from the castle, which ultimately set the stage for the Esther/Mordechai/Haman saga. The question, however, is what if Vashti had instead relented and attended the King’s affair? Would the outcome for the Jewish People have been different? Possibly, because Esther would not have ascended to the thrown or overheard Haman plotting her people’s destruction. In a weird way, we arguably have Vashti to thank, at least in part, for Esther’s heroism, yet on Purim we do little if anything to celebrate Vashti. We don’t even drink Vash-Tea, wear Vash-T-shirts or name airports after her, like Vash-Teterboro.

There is a debate as to whether Vashti actually deserves any credit or whether she had other issues that made her more zero than hero. Putting aside whether Vashti does or does not merit accolades of any kind, this article focuses on the whole “what if” question, i.e., what if Vashti had behaved differently. This unanswerable dilemma begs an additional question: what if other moments or events in Jewish history had not occurred and, as a result, how would Jewish life be different today?

For example, what if Maxwell House Coffee never published a Passover Haggadah? Would we have Haggadahs published by other coffee powerhouses? Would we have the Starbucks Haggadah, the Folgers Haggadah or the DDH (Dunkin Donuts Haggadah)?

What if Jews did not know how to dance the hora? What other dances would they do to celebrate Simchat Torah, weddings and other events? If circle-dancing was not an option, would Jews resort to Texas line dancing, 1980’s breakdancing or Irish Riverdance?

What if for the High Holidays, all synagogue seating was sold through StubHub? Would pricing be adjusted to account for obstructed or semi-obstructed views, like when the person sitting in front of you is wearing an unusually large hat?

What if the Jews, during the Exodus from Egypt, had waited just a few extra minutes in order to allow their bread to leaven, thus—from a culinary perspective—turning the Passover holiday from a mediocre matzah fest into a brilliant bake goods bonanza?

What if synagogue congregants, during a bar mitzvah, were not allowed to throw candy at the bar mitzvah boy? What else would they throw? Would they hurl kugel, toss latkes or sling herring? (By the way, in Scandinavia they might actually throw herring at the bar mitzvah boy. And when Jews in Scandinavia get engaged, they consummate it with the giving of a (her)ring.)

What if for the week immediately following Sukkot, all Jews were required to eat etrog jelly, drink etrog juice and spray etrog-scented air-freshener? And what if the only commercials on t.v. featured etrog-only advertisements with catch-phrases like “You’ve gotta get-rog some etrog!”

What if all Jewish sleepaway summer camps did not schedule their respective visiting days on the same exact day and therefore did not require parents, who already spend beaucoup bucks on camp, to also spend hours in the car sitting in the type of terrible, needless and inescapable traffic that for a split-second makes you question whether having kids is really worth it? (“What a wonderful world this would be.”)

What if all synagogue instituted a new kiddush rule that requires everyone to throw all dirty and used paper plates in the garbage instead of just leaving them on the kiddush tables for others to see, be disgusted by and navigate around?

What if pulpit rabbis had stunt doubles to attend synagogue board meeting and to absorb consistent congregational criticism?

What if kosher delis did not offer Dr. Browns Black Cherry Soda? How else would diners wash down a pastrami sandwich? (Yes, Cel-Ray is a possible alternative.)

What if Chazzans charged by the note? (“Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Amen!! That will be $250 please.”)

Final thought: What if a family catered a bris with something other than bagels and lox? (Inconceivable!)

By Jon Kranz


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