Immediately upon commencing the reading of Megilat Esther, we understand the fate of those who don’t follow the royal command. Wicked Queen Vashti refused to come in front of King Achashverosh as instructed, and was almost immediately ordered to be killed; without any “due justice” as per the instruction of Achashverosh’s advisors. The reason for this is clear, denying the king is an act of rebellion, treason; and rightfully so, carries with it a heavy punishment.
However, something perplexing occurs when we come across the story of King Achashverosh and Queen Esther, as we find the same crime with a totally different outcome.
After King Achashverosh met lovely Esther, he was extremely impressed and married her right away. But one thing about her kept bothering him–the king wanted to know her origin, where she came from. Who were her parents? And most importantly, which nation did she belong to? But Queen Esther wouldn’t share any of that information with him. So much so, that Chazal say that this is why her name was Esther, meaning covering her identity:
(מגילה יג,א) רבי יהודה אומר הדסה שמה, ולמה נקרא שמה אסתר? על שם שהיתה מסתרת דבריה.
As the king’s curiosity grew, he took a few steps to ensure that she would comply with his command, but alas, it was still all to no avail.
The pasuk says: (אסתר ב,יח) ״ויעש המלך משתה גדול לכל שריו ועבדיו, את משתה אסתר, והנחה למדינות עשה ויתן משאת כיד המלך״
The Gemara (מגילה יג,א) explains that first he made a big party to honor her, it was called “Esther’s fiesta-משתה אסתר”. When this didn’t help and she still kept to her stubborn ways, he lifted taxes from all countries in her honor. One can just imagine how every nation rejoiced, but this too didn’t change her mind and she still kept silent. Then he sent valuable gifts on her behalf to all the ministers but she wouldn’t budge. Finally, he went for the ultimate threat, he started a new campaign in search of a new woman to marry: ״ובהקבץ בתולות שנית״. And yet, we still find- ״אין אסתר מגדת מולדתה ואת עמה״.
Now, despite the fact that she repeatedly refused to follow the king’s request, he didn’t follow up with any of the harsh treatments that her predecessor received, and the obvious question is why? Why did King Achashverosh kill Queen Vashti for not complying with his requests, whereas Queen Esther gets a free pass with so many benefits to try and convince her in vain? Furthermore, how is it possible that Queen Esther didn’t learn the simple lesson from Vashti of what happens to the woman who doesn’t listen to the king?
The answer to this boggling question is that it all depends on the approach–how one speaks to the other. When Queen Vashti was asked to comply, she answered in a very degrading way, she said (מגילה יב,ב) that her father’s rancher used to drink a thousand cups of wine and wouldn’t get drunk, while King Achashverosh gets totally stoned with a bit of wine (note: in some cultures the mentality is such that if after few cups of wine one will get drunk that expresses a lack of manhood. ברוך שהבדילנו מן הטועים).
The Pasuk says on that: ״ויקצף המלך מאוד״, the king got very angry. Rashi explains that he was angry at the response of Vashti, not the fact she refused to come. In contrast, Queen Esther never spoke to the king in a disrespectful way, she knew how to express her respect to her husband. While she didn’t say a word about her origin, she knew how to do that while showing full respect and making King.