The Shalom Center Chapter 9 Project

This Purim, The Shalom Center invited writers, dreamers, and seekers, to reimagine Chapter 9 of the Book of Esther as an exercise in dreaming new worlds, new responses, and new endings into existence....

Background from The Shalom Center

During the holiday of Purim, it is customary for communities to gather and read the Book of Esther, a satirical and grandiose tale from the 5th century BCE that recounts the near extermination of the Jews by the Persian Empire.

While the climax of the story celebrates the Jews escaping their own annihilation, the Jews’ response to that victory is brutal retaliation against their enemies. “So the Jews struck at their enemies with the sword, slaying and destroying; they wreaked their will upon their enemies (Esther 9:5).”

But what if there was a different way to navigate this painful chapter? An alternative to unbridled retribution, that replaced violence with hope? That uplifted transformation over reprisal?

This Purim, The Shalom Center invited writers, dreamers, and seekers, to reimagine Chapter 9 of the Book of Esther as an exercise in dreaming new worlds, new responses, and new endings into existence.

Below are submissions written by members of Moving Traditions’ staff.

Rabbi Tamara Cohen

And on the 13th day of Adar the world as it was was overturned and the enemies became anemonies, red and purple sprouting freely from fertile soil.

And the trees for hanging became trees for climbing.

And all the foolish kings turned their scepters into pogo sticks.

And the masks became mirrors — each soul freeing itself and in so doing helping another free

And joy and gladness for some became joy and gladness for all.

And Vashti waltzed with Esther and they shed tears together for the women and the queers and
the children whose beauty had been claimed, commodified, used for a purpose other than to
bring delight and wonder to themselves and their Creator. Behold, they took back their bodies.

And Mordechai’s breasts filled with milk once again and all the under-nourished children of the
earth were suckled and satisfied.

And in the center of Shushan, the people turned to their neighbors and vowed to never again
command a person or group to bow to a power not in line with their own knowing.

And the children of Shushan — the Jews and the Persians, each knew themselves to be free as
wild horses and all around them the chant rang out “this is how it will be done for the one that
God desires to honor.”

And throughout the lands letters were sent affirming that every child and indeed every sentient
being was one that God desires to honor.

And the people unfurled the scrolls and shed tears, for the grief they carried was very great.

And their friends brought packages of food to offer them comfort as they honored their dead.

And they wrote additional scrolls to preserve the memory of the way their world had been.

And the Day of Lots grew pregnant with healing as the great kaf joined the pay, reish, yud, mem.
And the gragger gave way to the shofar, and the drowning out of names ceased. And the tekiyot
at first were the cries of Sarah and the cries of Hagar. And then the fast gave way to the feast.

And then the only palace was God’s palace.

And in the courtyard the people gathered to remind one another in the name of Mordechai and
Esther, “you are here for a purpose, your fear is not stronger than your courage, you can indeed
stand up for your people, and insist that there is enough light, happiness, joy, dignity and honor
for all. And there was.

Brian Mono

Mordechai had wanted the King to hang Haman’s sons and send a Jewish army out to kill their coconspirators.  We’re just going to get rid of a few thousand bad apples, he told Esther, and we won’t take any spoils.

Esther wasn’t convinced.  Innocent people might be killed.  History would call them murderers, she warned.

How can history call it murder when they tried to annihilate us and we defended ourselves? wondered Mordechai.

But it wasn’t his decision – it was hers.  So, he tried to make the best of it.

Mordechai ordered the justice department to start prosecuting the coconspirators.  They held trials and sent hundreds to jail.  Mostly low-level radicals. Some mentally Ill.  Even a few civil servants. 

He worked with his court rivals to create an infrastructure campaign.   New capital projects and roads for everyone – even in the places that had supported Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews.

The economy improved and for a time things seemed to be getting better.

But then the rumors started trickling out of the House of Haman.  They claimed Mordechai and the Jews had rigged the beauty contest.  The Jews had stolen the Queen’s crown and then stolen their estate.  Within a few months, more than a third of Shushan agreed that it was true.

They riled people up about all the illegal immigrants flooding across the border.  They claimed the immigrants were taking the new jobs on the infrastructure projects, especially in the rural areas.   They said the Jews were trying to replace the native nations of the empire with new ones.

When people asked Haman’s sons why they wanted to kill the Jews, they gave different answers.  They’re lying, some said, we never wanted to kill the Jews. We we’re just joking, others said. We aren’t antisemites, they said, but you do have to admit that fixing a beauty contest is just the kind of thing some people would say the Jews would do.

A couple years later, when the prosecutors were finally ready to bring their case against Haman’s sons, the scions all pleaded innocent. The prosecutors went to pull the reports from the Book of Records, but someone had ripped out the pages from that period.  The prosecutors considered subpoenaing the King, who after all had been there when it all happened.  But everyone knew he was a drunk, and so his testimony would be considered unreliable.

Then suddenly Vashti reappeared on the scene.   She sent a private message to the King and released it to the press in Shushan.  She was sorry she had caused so much trouble.  She was ready to make amends.  She might even be willing to dance in public the next time he asked.

The King was confused.  He still loved Esther.  And he was mostly impressed with the way that Mordechai was running the empire. But sometimes, he missed Haman – the amusing ‘locker-room’ talk, the ‘harmless’ pranks they played on people.  Mordechai was no fun.  And maybe he missed Vashti too.  Perhaps, there were things they could do in private that he wanted more than to display her in public.

Then the King came up with an idea.  Nobody was quite sure where he got the idea.  He said it would be like the beauty contest.   Esther and Mordechai would compete against Vashti and Parshandatha, Haman’s oldest son, to be the head queen and vizier.  Except this time, all the nations in the empire would choose the winner.  They would vote and the majority would decide how to lead the empire.

So, both sides started campaigning.  Vashti and Parshandatha turned up the heat with antisemitic dog whistles and suggested that they would ‘reclaim their land’ and ‘banish their enemies.’  Election day approached quickly.

On election eve, Mordechai went to visit his niece.   He wondered aloud whether they had made the right choice years ago.  It would have just been a few thousand bad apples, he said, to Esther.  We would have had the respect of the world; and it would have been over.  

No, said Esther.  We did the right thing, and the people will vindicate us tomorrow.

But that night, as Esther lay in bed, she found it difficult to sleep.  She wondered if Mordechai had been right all along.  She wondered if future generations of the Jewish people would celebrate her like the wise child at the seder or pity her as the simple one.