Mar 17, 2022Liked by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg

I find the default of men being in charge of interest in both stories. If man and woman were created at the same time why even focus on the fight for superiority? A King and Queen and yet one is still subservient to the other? OY!

I wonder just how insecure and inadequate the men were who wrote these passages. They are codifying the subservience of women and I will say I am not at all impressed. This is one of many reasons I chose to retire from the Catholic faith. Can't we all just be people?

No, when a woman (Lilith, Vashti, or Esther) simply asserts her own rights to exist she must do it within how men perceive her rights and is punished if the men disagree. Frankly, this just makes me angry. I do not want to dominate the other in either direction. Can't we just be partners, equals, friends, colleagues?

As I often do here, I reflect on my own experiences and this is such a hot button for me and I know how privileged I am. But I am also a person who goes by a name most frequently associated with maleness (Berni). I cannot tell you how many times during my career as an Environment, Health and Safety Manager I had people ask to talk to Mr. Berni Wasser... a person who does not exist in my family. But they were sure they had spoken to him in the past... no, they spoke with me, Berni, short for Bernadine. Really? That didn't seem likely. What the actual heck? Then the commentary turned to how tough, scary, or aggressive I was in obtaining my goals... goals, like those of Esther, that were about helping the people within the business live and work in a safe, secure, sustainable environment. Goals that were about everyone else, not me, but still perceived that way because "Oh no! Woman on deck!".

That is not to say that every male presenting person did this and that female presenting people never did. My experience has been a mix (I had a female presenting boss who bleached her hair and wore contact lenses to be taken less seriously).

But if we want to see our families and communities happier, healthier, and better able to do the work needed to accomplish that, we really need to stop supporting winner take all perspectives and get out of our own ways.

Thank you for the time and space to rant a little. I appreciate you all.

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Mar 17, 2022Liked by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg

I see a parallel in the earlier story (in Memucan’s words) a parallel with what’s going on today with all this anti-Trans legislation. It’s dripping with ‘how dare they’ and ‘we must punish them else they’re go further.’

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[First - Purim sameach! Second - every time I read the Lilith/Adam argument I just want to say, "Kids, there's more than one position. Also, there's taking turns. What's the hurry here?" {Yes, there's a lot more involved there, but the humor in it just screams at me. As we say around here, it's all fun and games until someone gives birth to demons.}]

Lilith and Chava: Death and Life. No and yes. Both aspects of dignity and value - the former withdraws to preserve the recognition of her inherent value; the latter shares knowledge that awakens Adam (and everyone) and creates more beings of inherent worth (us).

Notably, both of these female figures in these aspects instantiate powers of the Infinite Divine: Life and Death, Yes and No, Creation and Destruction, Limit and Permission, Perhaps these are expressions the feminine aspects of G-d (from our point of view in creation, as the Ein Sof is not male, female, neuter and yet can be metaphorically described in all these ways... sort of as Joseph who wore a colorful 'princess dress' is also a figure of this concept-defying fluidity; but that was a different discussion).

Back to this discussion. Notice the pattern: Lilith must first say "No" to the male's selfish desire to dominate before Chava can arrive to open Adam's eyes and he can accurately see Chava as Chava - lifeforce, life-giver, creator, light bringer - and they can begin to live as humans, striving and repairing and learning. Together. Lilith's "No" opens a space for Chava's "Yes." They work together.

Queen Vashti and Queen Esther: Vashti, preserving her own dignity and value, says "No." And that ability to say No terrifies the males who disasterize her No into the possibility that all of civilization will be upended... when it would only reorder an unjust system and introduce justice as a ruling principle, not a king's random edicts or "right" based on traditions, bad habit, unexamined prejudice.

Vashti's "No" opens the space for Esther's "Yes," Esther embodies life and justice, truth and light and - indeed - Vashti's "No" upends an unjust system in a way the king's advisors could not imagine or plan against. Their very planning allowed Esther's entrance and allowed her access to the king - to open his eyes as his partner, the missing part in his judgment that allowed someone and something like Haman to fester in and corrupt the court and the king's judgment.

Vashti and Esther work together to subvert injustice and introduce justice and life into a merry situation on the tracks to deliver the usual impending doom and grinding hatreds.

In parallel, Lilith won't repent of being created with dignity and value, so says "No" and becomes a force of "No" -- which is the first step in any possibility of change. Vashti does similarly. Chava opens the possibility of life and active change for the better (we can know and choose good OR evil by her gift as co-creators with G-d) - her "Yes" which couldn't have occurred without Lilith's "No." Esther steps into Vashti's space and completes the work by swaying the king in the direction of good and improvement and life.

Days where justice and truth reign are bad days for Haman. Haman gets away with his hatreds and mercilessness - and lack of humility - when the ruling system does not take all and the value of all into account in spite of apparent differences.

(Thank you, Rabbi for opening my eyes to this and other parallels. Such makes Torah live.)

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I guess one parallel is that both of these stories revolve around Women. There is no story of Adam and Eve in the Garden without the actions of Eve. And, of course, the Book of Esther is, well, about Esther. Esther is the hero of her own story, but what about Eve?

Throughout history Eve has always been portrayed as the ‘villain’ of the story. Weak willed Eve whose gullibility and lack of faith brings about the downfall of mankind. That is how the story is usually told. But is there another way of looking at the story? One thing jumps out at me “The woman saw that…the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom.” Isn’t Eve then like Prometheus? Stealing wisdom from God to bestow on mankind? Instead of remaining docilly in the Garden like pet hamsters didn’t Eve bravely lead us out into the world? I know, it is a world of many sorrows, but it is also a world of many triumphs and glories. Do we really want to “…get ourselves back to the garden?”

I’m not going. I’m staying here with Eve. Thanks Eve.

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One thing that strikes me is how much one woman has to shoulder the burden of an entire people's survival in both narratives. Esther pleads her case to the king thusly: "For we have been sold, my people and I, to be destroyed, massacred, and exterminated." Earlier, Lilith has a pact about sparing the future children born from Adam: "She swore to them in the name of the living God that whenever she would see them or their names or their images on an amulet, she would not overpower that baby, and she accepted that a hundred of her children would die every day."

The same demand isn't put on Adam's or Mordecai's shoulders. Granted, Lilith is portrayed as more of a perpetrator than a victim compared to Esther, but I find it interesting that both roles, of a sentimental nature, are thrust onto the women of the story, whereas the male-presenting figures (with the exception of wicked Haman) are cast as more rational and sitting in judgment. Besides being stories about how the Israelites came to be and were preserved, I think there's also this subtle angle of delegating sentiment and desire to women and reason and lawgiving to men.

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Mar 18, 2022·edited Mar 18, 2022

Okay, bear with me because I've been trying to put my vague feelings into words, and I'm not sure if I'm getting it 100%--please feel free to ask for clarification, it might help me figure out what i'm trying to say lol

One of the things that sticks out to me here, is that with these pairings, Lilith-Eve and Vashti-Esther, Eve is placed into the hero role, the "good woman" of the two. Which isn't what I'm used to--coming from a Catholic background, the one time I remember Eve being compared to another woman, it was Eve to Mary, with Eve the lesser of the two, criticized for her lack of obedience in contrast with Mary's clear "yes". (Not here to discuss the Christian bible, so I'll leave that alone there, except to say that me and my mom both came out of that particular homily feeling very defensive of Eve). Eve is the one who disobeyed first, the one who got us kicked out of Eden, and reading this in conversation with Esther and the midrash about Lilith, she's also the hero. It makes me think of the interpretation that Miriam R mentioned in the comments, that leaving the garden was inevitable/part of growing up for humanity. Eve taking the apple wasn't just an act of disobedience, it was her taking the first step towards being an adult. Basically, I think pairing Eve and Esther complicates the "good woman-bad woman" dichotomy/comparison that comes up in theology and literature so often, by adding complexity to the image of a "good woman"

As I was reading this, I got DNA by Girls in Trouble stuck in my head, specifically the line "older and younger and hunter and thief, which one is you, and which one is me," so I went back and listened to that song and read some of the comments from that thursday post about it, which helped me figure out why I was thinking about it. I really liked the ambiguity of the song, and that line in general, with regard to which of the sisters, leah or rachel, it was about at any given moment--it left room for them both to play both roles, and, for me, turned the story from two girls/women fighting over a man, to two women struggling to live in a patriarchal society. And I want to apply that ambiguity here, to completely take out the "good woman-bad woman" dichotomy that was complicated in that last paragraph. Eve and Esther, Lilith and Vashti, are not separated by their actions/who they are as people, they're separated by the world's reaction to them. Esther may use more subtle methods than Vashti, but she is still going against the king, or at least asking him to go against what he's already chosen to do; Eve asserts her own autonomy by eating from the fruit of the tree, as Lilith did by leaving Eden rather than submit to Adam. And taking that dichotomy, I think, allows us to imaging a kinship between the pairs of women--Richard Van Ingram's analysis of Lilith and Vashti's "no" leaving room for Eve and Esther's "yes" resonated with me, and has me imagining the women in conversation with each other, though at least in these excerpts, Eve & Lilith and Vashta & Esther don't meet. Esther being grateful for Vashta's "no," because it opened the way for her, Lilith being glad to see Eve eating the fruit and leaving Eden her own person, etc. And again coming back to the song, I think of the last lines:

"Both of us are braided through with candles blood and bread

both of us were born with all these visions in our head

you would always promise me that one day we'd be free

late at night i'm leaving and i'm taking you with me."

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If you visit my area, Washington, DC, one noticeable feature of the many statues and monuments is that they mostly represent actual European and white men of history, dressed in prestigious garments and flanked by power symbols.

In contrast, the statues of women most often show them as allegorical figures, such as forces of nature, or the intellect, and so on, not as women of history, with comparatively few exceptions. And these female figures often appear young, vulnerable, and either draped in alluring outfits, or only partly clothed, or nude. This kind of representation is changing, but there's a long-standing tendency to view European and white men as the default real humans and arbiters of power, while women and feminine-identifying people -- as well as any other people who have been subjugated, colonized, oppressed through unequal legal rights -- are primarily limited to appearing as fantasies of the dominant European and white male gaze, as supporting role players and/or symbolic forces. If the narrative is about women who resist the handmaiden roles to male dominance, and/or who live independently and assert their own power, then they're likely to be demeaned as adversaries, and punished with stereotypical projections of evil, like femme fatale, whore, crazy, shrew, harpy, or hag, etc. In reality, the domination is what is evil, not the people who are subjugated. The resistors are courageous, curious, willing to take risks, and they extend loving kindness to themselves, cultivate self-respect, using their power and skill and resources to free themselves and share that possibility with others.

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I've always linked Esther and Jezebel in my mind - two women married in a foreign land and don't subscribe to the majority culture religion and how one is a heroine and one is a villain. I have a lot of unformed thoughts on this still.

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I've been reading a bunch about why Jews dress up on Purim but not Halloween, and there's a lot about how it's OK to masquerade because God was masquerading throughout the Megilla - He's never mentioned, but clearly He saved us.

But, like, actually....Esther saved us. How do we reconcile the idea of God orchestrating the miracle of Purim without taking it away from Esther? If it's all Esther, where TF was God?

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