Thursday, November 30, 2006

Esther & Achashveyrosh: Love Unexpected

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Did you ever wonder what exactly it was Esther did for Achashveyrosh in the bedroom that was so special he not only ignored his own personal house rules, but even altered the domestic policies of his entire kingdom on her behalf? Whatever it was that Esther did for him must have truly blown his mind. Yet, all things considered, how would this have been possible? Let’s check this out.

Achashveyrosh likely possessed a large harem and there had to have been many young and beautiful girls among those conscripted into his sexual service. That Esther was in some manner endowed with special sexual skills that the others did not possess is not evident. Achashveyrosh, typical of kings of his time and culture, could take any woman he desired and probably had vast selection of sexual partners, both prior to and after the ‘talent search’ that resulted in Esther’s abduction. The question as to what Esther possessed to win his special favor remains a mystery. Could it have been something other than sexual?

Esther, adopted by her uncle Mordechai HaTzadik, was probably raised in an environment lacking any sexual context. So where exactly would she have developed the necessary sexual or sensual talents she may have used on the king? Winning the sexual and emotional affection of a man like Achashveyrosh could not have been easy. Consider the range of his sexual appetites and the ongoing competition among the members of his harem; all trying their damnedest to be the sexiest lover – all vying to become the queen. It is unlikely that any of the other girls in Achashveyrosh’s harem would offer any helpful advice to the new arrival that might jeopardize their own aspirations. Becoming queen meant becoming somebody; something more than just a sexual slave girl living at the king’s behest. We can be pretty sure that none of the other women with whom Esther would be sharing the king, gave her one bit of good advice on how to please him.

So, if there was advice to be given, where did it come from? According to the Megillah, Esther was snatched up in an intense and determined search for a new harem after the execution of Vashti. Those particular ministers in charge of procurring the right sort of girls would likely have coached the candidates, collectively and individually, on how to avoid displeasing the king. If the girls taken didn’t manage to please the king, these ministers might likely face the wrath of a very unpredictable and violent monarch. After all, everyone was well aware of Achashveyrosh’s fits of rage and subsequent depression, as was evident from his behavior with Vashti. Just how much the eunuchs could have taught Esther in such a short period of time is not known.

It’s fair to say at this point that the entirety of Esther’s sexual experience, until the time she entered the king’s chamber willingly, occurred under severe duress. Esther probably resolved herself to her fate and, knowing that her survival depended upon being as pleasing as possible, learned quickly the likes and dislikes of the king. Held in captivity, she may have kicked into a ‘survival’ mode that permitted her not only to subject herself to the king, but it also provided the emotional wherewithal to mentally ‘escape’ inside herself while with the king. Her body was doing one thing while her ‘soul’ was doing another. We just call this ‘faking it’. Esther wouldn’t be the first or the last to feign sexual interest or pleasure with a man whom she despised.

Yet, even with faking a like or dislike of the act, one cannot fake ease or comfort in sexual experience. An experienced lover knows full well when he or she has just crawled into bed with a novice. To fake it well, Esther would have had to have some positive sexual experience by which to gauge her performance. To a sexual beast like Achashveyrosh, her body language and movements would have to mimic those of a real expert, and there was no way for her to determine what those subtle, and not so subtle, signals would be. Her ruse would be discovered even if Achashveyrosh paid her little concern or was even intoxicated duiring their time together. Being in a royal house, where there was probably plenty of spying, perhaps for the king’s safety, she would have had to deceive her handlers as well.

Now, it is very possible that Achashveyrosh, known for being a vicious tyrant, enjoyed the deflowering of inexperienced girls and may have not cared one bit for their feelings and their sexual skill level meant nothing to him. Yet, if that were so, how would Esther have ever found favor with him at all? Achashveyrosh must have developed some feelings for her, as he had once for Vashti, and those affections he held protected her later on. So how, lacking the necessary sexual skills we imagine she may have needed, did she gain his affections, especially as she was possibly ‘faking it’ and the king might have picked up on this insincerity at some point?

Many have answered that Esther had a particular non-sexual charm which pleased Achashveyrosh. For those men who have had several or many lovers, some women, even those with somewhat lesser sensual abilities, are often much better company and nicer to be around than the ones who are great in bed. I can say that I have dated a few dozen women or more and there are some that were awesome in bed and others, though not so sexually stimulating, that were simply a pleasure to be around all the time. There are also issues of trust, and a woman that can be trusted, is a woman that makes a man feel secure and comfortable. Perhaps Esther was one of those women who acted without guile or ulterior motive, having never asked Achashveyrosh for any personal favors. Perhaps she also had an innate understanding of the dominant-submissive role-play that worked well with the king’s fragile ego. Maybe she decided to shun all the advice and just be ‘herself’, without any coquettish scheming or manipulative strategies that an Achashveyrosh would likely have seen a thousand times already and grown weary of.

Now, I don’t wish to paint Achashveyrosh in too much of a sympathetic light, but let’s get one thing straight; he was just a man like all others. Achashveyrosh, for all his other faults, was very much capable of love and he wanted to love again as he did for Vashti. He could tell the difference between happy, sad, and phony. A king has to rely on those instincts when making policy or forming alliances. Maybe this tyrant had a soft spot and a sensitivity that did not filter down into the way he governed. Probably, he was taught to govern with a stern hand because this was how a nation, according to his ministers, had to be governed. Maybe Achashveyrosh was conflicted because he always had to live a double life and hated it. The simple, honest, and straightforward Esther, making no unusual requests or begging favors; engaging the king without guile and perhaps even recognizing his turmoil, became the sole object of his affection because of her sincere character.

If this is so, then why hadn’t he called on her for so long? Why did she have to take the initiative to see him? Surely, had she won his affections to such a great degree, he would have called upon her more often, if for no other reason than to feel that safety and security of her company if only for a few hours? For the answer, we have to change, not our opinion of Esther, but our assessment of the man called Achashveyrosh.

Achashveyrosh knew that Esther never came to him willingly, neither for the initial beauty pageant or those few occasions that she was summoned to his bed-chamber. The king understood how Esther reacted to his touch and to his person, and that she wasn’t completely comfortable around him. Yet, in a twist of irony that borders on the miraculous, Achashveyrosh was sedated and eased by the woman who he felt may have hated him most. He began to love this innocent woman for her simplicity, and actually felt a sense of guilt and empathy for her plight; so much so that he was resolved not to force himself upon this woman ever again. He knew, deep down, that she never wanted to be his queen, and he would never make the mistake of forcing her, as he had crudely done with Vashti, to ask anything of her that she did not wish to offer willingly. The moment that Esther appeared to the king uninvited and unannounced, may have actually been one of the happiest moments of his life.

Such is the love that Achashveyrosh was capable of giving. Who would have imagined? Esther’s charm alone could not have won the day. It had to have a sympathetic heart and understanding to be recognized and adored. That Achashveyrosh, with all of his glaring faults, would be the one man to truly appreciate Esther’s character, is probably the greatest miracle of Purim.

When we stop viewing the players as one-dimensional archetypes, it opens the possibility for much richer and profound experience within the story. We are no longer limited to rigid judgments of good and evil, but see people as real people, sometimes bad, and other times, surprisingly congenial and honest. In our reassessment of Achashveyrosh and Esther, we haven’t changed any part of the initial tale; only opened the story to resemble people living within the most likely scenario. The natural richness of the Purim story comes to life.

“There is always some madness in love, but there is also always some reason in madness.” (Friedrich Nietzsche 1844-1900)

Kol Tuv

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