Esther's Choice

by Nicole Landau
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At a glance, the story of Purim is fantastical, whimsical even, a coincidence-ridden fanciful tale that one really wants to believe. The king kills his queen. Esther ascends to the throne. Her cousin Mordechai overhears a scheme to kill the king, saves him, and in the end Esther and Mordechai together save the Jewish people. On the surface, these seem like disconnected, random events. And where, we ask, is G-d in all of this?

Learning a little about Esther may help us answer this question. The verses tell us of what happened when Esther was first brought before the king as a candidate for becoming the new queen:

Now when the turn came for Esther, the daughter of Avichayil uncle of Mordechai, to come before the king, she requested nothing. (Esther 2:15)

This refers to Esther's refusal to use the cosmetics provided to every candidate for queen. The commentator known as the Menos Halevi asks why she did this and why her family is mentioned at this point. He explains that instead of being seduced by the material wealth and glory attendant on becoming queen, Esther focused on her spiritual treasure, her heritage. As a result, she did not request makeup in the hope that she would be rejected and sent home to her family. Physical pleasure was not what she sought. To Esther, the deeper, hidden world was far more real.

The very name of the book we read on Purim hints at this idea: Megillat Esther, the Scroll of Esther. In Hebrew, the word Esther is related to the word nistar, meaning hidden, and the word megillah is related to the word megaleh, meaning to reveal. Thus the Megillah of Esther can be literally translated as the revelation of that which is hidden. Esther's name and essence are one. She focused on what is important and meaningful, even though it might be hidden from the eye.

Then and now, G-d's Presence is not readily visible. In fact, G-d's Name is not mentioned once throughout the entire megillah. Yet Esther makes her choice. She does not perceive the honor of becoming queen as real. She calls on that which is inner, deeper, and hidden. She prays to the G-d Whom she knows is present. In the face of a decree of extinction hanging over the Jewish people, she calls for a three-day fast, for Esther understands that by temporarily suspending the physical aspects of reality (such as eating), the deeper spiritual world is brought within reach. By initially evading the role of queen by refusing makeup, and later, by risking her position in the palace and her life by approaching the king without being summoned, Esther reaches past the physical and dedicates herself to her Jewish identity, inspiring the entire Jewish people, then and now, to do the same.

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