Megilat Esther, A Tribute to Jewish Women's Valor
By Eliahu Laurence
Although from the outside, Judaism seems to be a religion that gives preference to men, we find that the basis of much in Judaism stems from women. Tradition tells that the self-sacrifice of the Jewish women in Egypt who encouraged their husbands to continue in spite of no seemingly chance to get out of bondage hastened the redemption. We are told of the meritorious women who refused to participate in the idolatrous episode of the Golden Calf. The story of Chanukah is replete with the story of martyred Chanah and her seven sons who refuse to bow down to idols and the story of Yehudit who killed the wicked governor and brought about a victory over the Greeks.
The story of Megilat Esther is a true story of the heroism and self-sacrifice of one of Judaism's special personages, Queen Esther. It took place some 2300 years ago in the Oriental capital of the world, Sushan, Persia.
Esther, whose Hebrew name was Hadassah, was orphaned of her mother and father at a very early age. She was raise by her uncle, Mordechai. Mordechai was a judge of the distinguished high court of the Jewish people. He and Esther were descendents of King Saul.
Mordechai imbued into Esther all of the positive character traits that only the finest people posses. Esther was a very modest person and well liked by all. She concerned herself only with the other person, yet to herself, she showed little concern. Even her non-Jewish neighbors cherished her because of her genuine concern that she exhibited for them.
Esther eventually married her uncle, Mordechai. Although this is not mentioned in the Megilah, our Jewish tradition relates this to us. It could not be written in the Megilah since the Megilah was written during the life of Achasverous. (He obviously would be unhappy to know and have it known that he had married a married woman.)
Achasverous, the king of Persia, was not the most loveable person. He was ruthless and cruel. A despot who dealt strongly with all who stood in his way. He was not from any royal lineage, yet his wife Vashti, was. He used Vashti's lineage to give himself credence as a king.
Achasverous was aware that the Jews in his kingdom had a prophecy that they would return to their homeland and rebuild the holy Temple in Jerusalem. He feared that this would break up his kingdom of 127 various states. When the time of his reckoning came and the Temple was not rebuilt, he made a gigantic party. During that party, he became drunk and began bragging about the beauty of his wife Vashti. To impress his many distinguished guests, he ordered Vashti to appear in front of all totally naked.
Vashti refused, and in his drunkenness, he ordered her to be executed for refusing to obey a royal decree. Vashti was put to death and the king had to suffer with out a wife.
The advisors to the king suggested that a new queen be chosen from through out the 127 states. The most beautiful girls were brought to the royal palace to seek their chances to become the new queen. To encourage girls to be brought to the palace, large financial gains were promised to the girls and their families. Many sought that their daughters should be contenders for becoming the queen.
Esther on the other hand, tried to hide from the eyes of all. Unfortunately, her charm was well known and she was taken to the palace of the king. Mordechai commanded her not to reveal who she really was. Esther obeyed her husband and like Sarah, the wife of Abraham, and Rivka, the wife of Issac, did not reveal that she was a married woman to spare her husband's life.
Although all the girls in the palace, used their position to eek our the most that they could get from being in the palace, Esther, in her self sacrificial manner, exhibited no concern for herself, but helped all those whom she met. She soon became the most liked person in the women's palace.
All the women would spend months learning how to use various makeups and perfumes and how to become attractive to the king. Each girl had her turn spending a night with the king, yet none were ever called back.
Esther was different. She wanted no perfume and no make-ups. Although, Jewish tradition relates that not only was she married, but also she was advanced in age, she had a beauty that shined from the essence of her personality. People we literally taken by her exquisite charm, grace and true concern for others.
When she was brought to Achasverous, she was the only one to plead to the king that she was not worthy of being the Queen. She pleaded with the king to take some one younger and more beautiful, some one that would be fitting to be queen to the king of the greatest and most powerful empire in the world.
In spite of the king's proddings, she refused to divulge her lineage. She told him that she was an orphan and not worthy of being the wife of a king. Her true humility won a place in the heart of Achasverous.
Yet the more she pleaded with Achasverous, the more enamoured he became with this wonderful woman. He had never met a woman that truly had his concerns at heart. He fell in love with Esther with such a strong bond that he declared her to be the queen.
In the meanwhile, Haman, the archenemy of the Jewish people had concocted a plan to exterminate all the Jewish people. He convinced the king of the worthiness of his plans with an extremely large bribe. When the king gave his permission to annihilate the Jewish people, Esther was shocked.
Mordechai urged her to speak with the king to intercede and change the decree. Esther was fearful of her life. Although she was the queen, no one was permitted to come into the kings chambers unsummoned. It was certain death unless the king extended his scepter to her, and there was no guarantee that he would. He had murdered Vashti because she did not hearken to his rules. Esther, too, could be replaced.
Mordechai explained to Esther that even though she may enjoy a high position, she must realize that perhaps it was divinely given to her in order to save her people. Esther told Mordechai that although she had had relations with the king, she was considered as a woman forced to have relations with another man and was still permitted to cohabitate with Mordechai, her real husband. If she went to the king willingly, she would never ever be permitted to her real husband again.
Mordechai insisted. The danger facing the Jewish people was too great for personal concern. Esther was hesitant. Mordechai reminded her that if she did not go, the Jewish People will find redemption from another source but she may be cut off forever from G-d.
Esther requested a three day fast. At the end of the three days she invited Achasverous and Haman to a party. Haman was impressed that he was the only person present other than the king. The king was suspicious. Why was Haman, his minister invited? What connection did he have with the queen? Was some plot in the brewing?
The king requested Esther to explain the reason for the party. She said she would but only at the next party.
The king left perturbed. Haman left elated. Haman decided that his luck was rising even higher. The king suspected that Haman was involved in some evil plot.
At the next party, the king and Haman began to drink the superb wine that Esther poured for them. Soon they became relaxed and inebriated. Esther began to unfold a terrible story of the imminent destruction of her people. Although the king did not her nationality, he became agitated to her Esther report that some one was planning to kill her, together with all of her relatives and her nation.
The king demanded to know who would do such a terrible thing. Even Haman had no idea to whom she was referring. As the king's anger began to mount, he became agitated at the thought of someone trying to kill the queen together with her people. He demanded to know who this wicked person was. Haman also wondered who would have the audacity to even think to kill the queen.
Esther took her finger and slowly turned and pointed to Haman. This is the wicked evil man! The king's anger was uncontainable. He jumped up and left the room to try to digest the accusations that he had heard. Was Haman, his closest and most reliable advisor, plotting to kill the queen?
Haman, realizing his jeopardy, knelt down to beg forgiveness from the queen. In his drunkenness, he stumbled and fell on to the chaise lounge that the queen was reclining on. At that moment, the king returned to the room to view Haman lying on top of the queen.
This sight was too much for the king to bear. Orders were given for the immediate execution of Haman and his influential sons. Esther asked that a royal decree be made giving the Jews the ability to defend themselves against those who tried to kill them. Achasverous agreed and the Jews were able to defend themselves and kill all of their enemies.
Through the efforts of Esther, a truly righteous woman, we have the holiday of Purim.
We see that due to the heroism of a Jewish woman, our people were saved from destruction. Esther remained the wife of the king. She had one son, Darius II, from Achasverous, through whom the holy Temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt. So we see that through the self sacrificing actions of heroic Jewish women, the Jewish nation continues
from the March 2000 High holiday Edition of the Jewish Magazine