Ester

The book of Ester is a small book, a mere ten chapters.  Most of us can relate the main events by heart.  We imagine ourselves as Queen Ester, convinced we share her courage and faith.

Do we?  In our fast food immediate gratification mindset, we can quickly lose our resolve.  We get anxious when we wait a year, a month, or even a week for Hashem’s response.  The timeline for the book of Ester spans eleven years!  

The book opens with Aḥashverosh holding a six-month feast followed by a seven-day banquet.  Vashti refuses to appear when beckoned, and the search for a new queen begins.  

The search takes four years.  Each girl undergoes a one-year preparation period prior to being presented to King Aḥashverosh; six months treatment with oil of myrrh, followed by six months with perfumes and other cosmetics.  Ester is brought to King Aḥashverosh at the end of this period and is crowned queen.  

Haman’s power and influence over King Aḥashverosh – along with his hatred toward Mordeḥai and the Jewish people – intensifies during the next five years.  Haman and the king’s servants spend the entire tenth year of the timeline casting lots – “throwing pur” – and Adar 13 is selected for the date of destruction.  Haman convinces King Aḥashverosh to issue the decree – and the eleventh year begins.

The first month is packed with events.  After her three day fast, Ester approaches King Aḥashverosh and he & Haman attend the two feasts she hosts for them.  Ester exposes Haman’s plot and he is killed on the very gallows he had built for hanging Ester’s Uncle Mordeḥai.

Ester’s task is not yet complete; a month later she approaches King Aḥashverosh regarding the upcoming day of destruction.  Prohibited from nullifying his decree, King Aḥashverosh does what he can; he grants the Jewish people the right to fight back.  Purim is proclaimed for an annual commemoration of our victory.

The sheer length of time which it took for Ester’s story to play out is a challenge to modern sensibilities.  Who has such endless patience?  Who has such unwavering faith?  

We picture Biblical personalities as larger than life.  We imagine them in continuous communication with the Ruaḥ, unwaveringly focused on their Divine task.  By contrast, the only revelation Ester received was the familiar “for such a time as this” admonition from her Uncle Mordeḥai.

Ester’s response was impressive.  She risked death – twice – by approaching the king without being summoned.  She risked death when she revealed her Jewishness.  Ester had no guarantee that Haman, after vigilantly cultivating his influence over the king, would so instantly and completely fall from power simply because of King Aḥashverosh’s desire toward her.

Ester is the most ordinary of heroines.  All she had was a lifelong understanding that she was part of something bigger than herself – the Jewish nation.  She did not win her royal position to live in comfort, but to ensure her nation’s existence.  May we all have her courage and faith, especially in the midst of ordinary days which in retrospect may well be the most extraordinary of days.

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