Esther and the woman who wanted to marry a millionaire

ENCINO, Calif., March 5 (JTA) — The Fox network may have thought it had an original idea in producing “Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire.”

But more than 2,000 years ago, Esther of the Purim story entered a similar competition.

“It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as with a poor man,” my grandmother used to say.

More to the point, however, as Tina Turner sings, is “What’s love got to do with it?” This holds true for ancient Shushan as well as contemporary America.

Esther, orphaned and under the care of her cousin Mordecai, entered the king’s harem. There, with the assistance of seven court-appointed maidens, she spent a year preparing for her encounter with the king — “six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and feminine cosmetics,” according to the Megillah.

And she knew, if not selected queen, she would be unfit to marry anyone else and destined to spend the rest of her life in the harem.

Darva Conger, along with 3,000 other women, answered Fox’s cattle call for the chance to win an Isuzu Trooper, a $35,000 diamond engagement ring, a Caribbean cruise — and a multimillionaire husband, both unknown and unseen.

“Who’d want to marry somebody you don’t know anything about?” my son Jeremy, 10, asks. “What about his beliefs and personality? Or whether he’s a good or a bad person?”

Of course, there are differences in the two stories — for instance, Esther was “brought to the harem” — while Darva willingly went on the show.

Yes, the character question. This was a concern for both Esther and Darva.

King Ahashuerus, for example, was auditioning for a new wife because, in some versions of the story, he had not only banished but also actually ordered the execution of his first wife, Vashti. Her crime? She had refused to parade naked, wearing only a crown, before his banqueting buddies.

And Rick Rockwell, in 1991, had a restraining order issued against him for allegedly threatening a former fiancée.

So here’s the important question. Especially in light of today’s society, where half of all marriages end in divorce, where cohabitation is much less frowned upon and where almost 50 percent of the United States workforce is female.

Are we women still trading sex and beauty for power and riches, regardless of the consequences? Or worse, are we so jaded we’ll jettison our principles — and even don a swimsuit — in exchange for 120 minutes of commercial and superficial fame?

Both Purim and “Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire” offer entertainment, escapism and excess. And both are saddled with problematic premises.

Once she joined the harem, Esther, for instance, engages in premarital sex — and she later intermarried, both condemned in traditional Judaism.

And Darva, who professes to be a Christian, agreed to a Godless and loveless wedding ceremony.

In the story of Purim, the Megillah states, “Venahofoch hu,” the unexpected happened. It refers to the fact that the Jews killed their enemies — all 75,810 of them — instead of being destroyed by them. But that was not the only unforeseen turn of events.

Out of all the women “trying out” for the honor of being crowned queen, Ahashuerus chose Esther. “The king loved Esther more than all the women,” the Megillah tells us. And Esther was able to use her influence to accomplish nothing less than saving the Jewish people.

Regarding the television special, the unexpected also occurred.

Darva Conger, in hindsight and humility, promptly announced she would annul her marriage, teaching us that real relationships are not made on Fox Television.

Fox, in an unusual bow to good taste and perhaps lower ratings, pulled the plug on future reality-based shows, saving us from witnessing good cops and good pets that go bad and from enduring another alien autopsy, which my children, to this day, swear happened “in real life.”

In Judaism, marriage is a sacred union, involving the bride, groom and God. Its purpose, as stated in Genesis 2:18 and Genesis 1:28, encompasses both companionship and procreation.

In ancient times, parents were obligated to find a suitable spouse for their child, later relying on the help of the local shadchan, or matchmaker. But, in all cases, the consent of both the future bride and groom was a prerequisite.

But whatever the epoch and whatever the method used to find a prospective spouse, a certain amount of risk is unavoidable. Esther gambled her entire future, and Darva her credibility.

And almost 18 years ago, I gambled $35 on a ticket to a Jewish Federation Gala Singles Dance at Los Angeles’ Hillcrest Country Club. This was perhaps the modern equivalent of using a shadchen’s services or participating in an untelevised version of “Who Wants to Marry a Jewish Lawyer.”

Luckily, as the Megillah says, “the unexpected happened”: I actually met my future husband, Larry, there. We married, appropriately enough, on Purim of the following year.

“Even if all the festivals should be annulled, Purim will never be annulled,” the Midrash tells us.

Indeed, we need Purim to remind us to indulge in laughs, larks and occasional lotteries. We also need Purim to remind us to pay heed to life’s darker, more distressing, side. And to celebrate life’s unexpected miracles

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