Esther: The Ultimate Jewish Role Model

This Dvar Torah originally appeared in Elana Sharp’s compilation of insights into the Megillah. Contact her on Facebook if you want to be added to her weekly Dvar Torah email list. Additionally, the thought I’ve written here was sparked by theories discussed in Dr. Baruch Alster’s class on the Megilot, though of course any shortcomings are mine alone.

I) The 7th chapter of the book of Esther is a perfectly contained whirlwind of events, and, I think, the climax of the story. The perek (chapter) begins where we have just left off: Haman has just publicly honored his enemy Mordechai, and his wife Zeresh has warned him that he may fall to his ruin. Having just enough time to mourn and hear such depressing news from the person he relies on the most, the kings servants come and bring him to Esther’s banquet, to which he had previously been invited.

This is where we begin. As we all know, it is at this banquet that Esther tells her husband that she and her people have a grave enemy who seeks to destroy, massacre, and exterminate herself and her people

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Achashverosh, boiling over with anger, eyes narrowed, turns to Esther and bellows those those short, powerful words:“Who is he and where is he who dared to do this?” He is angered. He is                                                                                     shocked, and amazed. Who would do this?

We all know, of course, who it is:

“The adversary and the enemy, this evil man Haman!”

This is all the more shocking. The evil man is Haman? The king leaves the room. He needs some space to consider what has happened.

The very enemy had been there at the table the entire time. He was a guest now, and he was a guest in the past. A trusted adviser for some time, he had influenced exceedingly important matters of policy and was given broad powers. If Achashverosh thought that Haman had crossed some lines, shouldn’t he have noticed before? After all, was it not he who had given Haman the very power he was using to try and destroy Esther and the Jewish people?

II) I think there is a simple lesson here which we are supposed to learn, but first let me describe each major acting force in the Megilah, before the lesson unwraps itself before us.

Achashverosh is a fool, pushed this way and that by others, his eyes closed to obvious consequences and responsibilities. He holds great power, Haman is evil, vindictive and prideful, but clever and sometimes fearful. He tries to control his surroundings because he realizes the threat and challenges in them, and this allows him to influence his king.

Mordechai is steadfast and confident, the consummate and calm hero who faces whatever comes. Esther is less confident, wavering at times, and often passive, but she comes through in the end. She rises to meet the incredible challenge before her, and she is met with the success she deserves. She is the only person in the Megilah who changes, and as she evolves she becomes a stronger person.

What is the lesson in all this, which we are taught from the 7th chapter, and the events we have described?

III) I think it is in the 7th chapter that we, the readers of the book of Esther, look ourselves in the mirror. We are very complex, so sometimes it’s hard to see things the way they are.

Perhaps, like Achashverosh in our chapter, something challenges us to open our eyes for a moment, and to protest against the status quo. We have closed our eyes to our actions like the king, and maybe we allowed our less desirable qualities, the Haman ins us, to come out.

We’ve been ignoring the fact that we hurt someone else, perhaps that we have done so often. That’s how Haman got to the table. We invited him, we asked him to advise us and to sometimes act on our behalf. All the while our eyes were closed.

Mordechai is not at the table. He is steadfast, and strong- stronger than we usually are in fact, and he does not usually come to the table. He holds the knowledge of tradition and a strong faith, and so do we. But it’s hard to be so strong all the time, and sometimes, it seems like our strongest qualities do not even come with us to greet a challenge. It’s just us, our desire to abdicate ourselves from free will, and our lesser qualities as people.

This is why we must be like Esther. Esther is the hero of the Megilah, and in fact, she is the hero of our day to day lives. She shows us that even though we may start off with many weaknesses, we can work on ourselves until we meet the challenges that we come upon. She takes control, pointing out the enemy. Indeed, he has been at the table the entire time. Is Achashverosh not a little bit of an enemy as well? Compliant in evil, allowing it to happen? Is that who we are?

She turns to Mordechai for advice, and she grows. So do we.

IV) We have, however, left out God. God is not mentioned in the book of Esther, at least not explicitly. Why is that?

I think the Megilah reflects an obvious aspect of our every day lives when it does not mention God’s influence explicitly. We don’t always notice God in the background, even as we might celebrate a holiday thanking Him for saving us! Usually this is a bad thing, but the truth is, the Megilah teaches us a valuable lesson when it does not mention God.

Leaving out God teaches us that we may not simply say “God will take care of this”, whatever the situation may be. He has given us free will, and therefore responsibility, and we, the weak, the vindictive, the good, must rise to the task. Esther is the paragon of accepting responsibility upon herself. She teaches us not to simply give up and say God will deal with it, but to meet each challenge, and when necessary, point out evil.

This is what she does in the 7th chapter. The stage is set, and everyone will be there, each part of our personalities. We have something to do, and we could try and ignore it, or we could even do something immoral. Who’ll know?

The Mordechai in us will know. The Esther in us will know too. It is our job, like her, to look in the mirror, decide what needs to be done, and to do something about it.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Esther: The Ultimate Jewish Role Model

  1. Le Newyorkais

    what kind of craziness is this? the megillah is obviously some comedy or farce, not something that ever happened. Persian records have no such story in any fashion. no beauty contests to find a queen, no rules about a king being unable to rescind a decree, no discrimination against any ethnic group in that time period.
    my favorite Purim torah is the Rabbinic claim, not supported by the text, that Mordecai and Esther were married. then they got to invent the lamest excuses why Esther committed the capital crime of adultery, even under duress. these excuses r used nowhere else: 1) sex with a non-jew is not adultery, or 2) women r passive in bed, so r not liable for sex sins.
    Purim torah, and Chazal knew it!

    • Yitzchak Sprung

      Hey Le! Welcome!

      You seem like a post modern guy to me, so I don’t think you’ll mind if i argue that the text, which may easily be read as a farce, is a multilayered text allowing several meanings. Most importantly, when a book is canonized, I think we should consider why. I think this layer gives some indication.

      While it’s well known that the humor of the Sages made it into the Talmud, I’m not sure I agree with you on this one…

      • Le Newyorkais

        You r right that Esther, and almost all Biblical texts, can be read in different ways. The Rabbinic-Talmudic interpretation is the only 1, to my knowledge, that claims it is the ONLY true interpretation, at all times. Of course they maintain that their reading has been authorized by God, but many others can make that claim, since no one can prove it (including the Rabbis).
        When I read a text, I like to see what those other interpretations say, but then I decide how the text speaks to me. In some cases the Rabbis seem spot on, but in many many others, the Rabbinic reading seems far-fetched and self-serving. As just 1 example, to me, based on knowledge of contemporary societies, a literal eye IS the retribution for popping out an eye. In the Rabbinic reading, the Torah is speaking of monetary compensation for injury. To me, when an ancient test says “eye for eye,” I see no evidence that the first eye is literally an eye, while the second “eye” is monetary value. Let’s see some evidence to support the Rabbinic view, not just “tradition.”
        In yeshiva, 1 is purportedly encouraged to ask questions, but no FOLLOW-UP questions to a weak answer is allowed. I learned this lesson the hard way, when i was still a believer. Whenever I challenged the validity of a rabbi’s response IN GOOD FAITH, they said it was a “klutz kasha,” and said I was merely being contentious. Well they were wrong, and still today I get rolled eyes when I point out the weakness of their first and only answer. Of course, now they know better than to openly degrade the opinions of myself and of the leading scholars.
        You know, I was once a serious believer, and now I am not. Who is to say that my “tshuva” to apikoorses is less valid than a secular person who does tshuva to belief?

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