Leap of Faith: flashing the cash

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Leap of Faith

Leap of Faith: flashing the cash

A stimulating series where our progressive rabbis consider how biblical figures might act when faced with 21st century issues

“For 180 days, he displayed the vast riches of his kingdom and the splendid glory of his majesty.” (Esther 1:4)

Last week it was reported that Lady Gaga was paid $1million to perform at the wedding celebration of Jewish British billionaire Alan Howard and Caroline Byro. The bash is thought to have cost around $10million.

It follows a trend of some very lavish simchas for the super-rich, especially in America. Rappers Kanye West and 21 Savage received a similar amount to Lady Gaga for barmitzvah gigs, with pop star performances, rollercoaster simulators, mini Broadway shows and even Cirque du Soleil seen at recent coming-of age-parties.

The benchmark was set in 2015 when Aerosmith, 50 Cent, Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty all played at a $10 million batmitzvah mini-festival. The father of the batmitzvah girl was later imprisoned on charges including insider trading, tax evasion and raiding his company’s coffers to pay for the event.

This all reminds me of King Achashverosh and Queen Vashti. Achashverosh wanted to show his wealth and strength by offering his courtiers and officials a banquet, the likes of which nobody had ever seen. A man, immensely rich, who did not know what else to do with his power, decided to show it off. But who can sustain so many days of excess without losing any sense of decency?

The King decided to display his most treasured possession, his wife Vashti, as the pinnacle of his success. She, however, did not want to partake of this orgiastic display of power, and turned him down.

Achashverosh and all his male guests saw the danger to their position if they left unaddressed Queen Vashti’s challenge. So he decided to find a new wife. We know the rest of the story: Esther is chosen, and she will go on to save the Jewish people from the villain Haman. Queen Vashti is replaced by someone who, at least in the King’s wildest wishes, will be more obedient to his rule.

So what would the repudiated Vashti say about these lavish simchas of today? She would probably sigh very deeply and comment that when one person is in possession of so much power and wealth, this becomes their raison d’être. Queen Vashti resented the fact that, because of her husband’s position, she was not considered as a human being in her own right, but as an object.

Another strong queen,  Queen Elizabeth II, marked her 70 years on the throne with a series of events that brought together the whole country. As Vashti would tell us – money is a tool, not an end in itself.


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