We have all grown up with the almost fairytale story of Queen Ester and Mordechai, who ultimately vanquish the evil villain Haman, and everyone lives happily ever after. However as we shall see, the story is not simple at all, there is no rosy end with Mordechai and Ester riding off into the sunset; rather a real human tragedy. Esters fears go far beyond what we think she is afraid of; her sacrifice far more heart wrenching than what meets the eye – and her salvation is not really salvation at all. However this story is one of the most profound tales of tenacious faith and self- sacrifice, for then and now.
The gemara in Megilla 7b tells us that Ester asks the Sages “Kitvuni Ledorot – Write my story for all ages”. As Mori Verabi Rav Lichtenstein Zt”l pointed out – the gemara doesn’t say write down Megillat Yehudei Shushan or even Megilat Mordechai Vester – but write down my story.
The Talmud highlights a very personal story of Ester interwoven in the narrative of the Jews of Shushan and the Purim festival – and this personal story must in and of itself be told to future generations for us to learn from.
So what is Ester’s story and why is it so pertinent to our lives today?
Why was I born an orphan?
When one reads the Megilla one can’t help but wonder why the need for such detail, in the opening chapters describing King Achashverosh’s lavish party and the squabble with Vashti. Rav Meir Leibush better known as the Malbim points out, that this really gives us an insight into how the entire story unfolds. King Achashverosh calls for “Vashti his queen –Vashti Hamalka” to come and show her beauty. Yet when recording her answer, the verse changes the order stating that “Queen Vashti –Hamalka Vashti” disobeys. What’s the play on words Vashti Hamalka – vs Hamalka Vashti?
Our Sages tell us that Achashverosh was a simple commoner who rose to power. He married into royalty with Vashti being a descendant of Nebuchadnezzar. And so, in the palace there is a continual power struggle where Vashti tries to remind him that the only reason he is King – is because he married into royalty. Achashverosh, who is a total megalomaniac, orders her to show off her beauty in front of the ministers at the banquet, to reiterate that she is only queen due to her beauty and not her lineage. She is in fact, no more important than one of his concubines.
After the entire episode is finished and Achashverosh killed his wife, we hear of a worldwide search to find the King a new wife. What type of wife is he looking for? Based on the Malbim’s understanding – he isn’t looking for a woman with a long lineage of royalty. He is not interested in repeating mistakes of the past.
Here we hear for the first time of Ester –“who has no father or mother-ein la av veim”. She is an orphan, who from the day she was born had no parents. After she was conceived her father died, and during childbirth her mother died. Here is a girl completely alone in the world. Perhaps Ester could ask – “what did this little girl do to deserve such a tragic fate?” Yet we don’t find any hint of anger from her side. Ester accepts her fate, and although she has no answers as to why G-d acted in this way, the Sages describe how she led her life as a complete tzadekket. Here we have the classic case of a person who is given a very tough set of circumstances and challenges. Yet, with a tenacity of faith – continues a life of mitzvot and tahara. Ester has no answers (although perhaps we can already see a glimpse of reasoning based on the Malbim which we will explore further) yet that does not let it affect her behavior.
Here our Sages introduce us to the fact that Mordechai (one of the leading Sages of the generation and a member of the great Sanhedrin) saw fit to marry such a women.
|Ester Chapter 2
7) And Mordechai raised Hadassa who is Ester – his cousin; for she had no father or mother. And the girl was very beautiful; and after the death of her father and mother Mordechai took her as a daughter.
Masechet Megilla 13a
After her father and mother died Mordechai took her as a daughter – It was taught in the name of Rabi Meir- do not read it as a daughter but as a wife
|אסתר פרק ב
(ז) ויהי אמן את הדסה היא אסתר בת דדו כי אין לה אב ואם והנערה יפת תאר וטובת מראה ובמות אביה ואמה לקחה מרדכי לו לבת:
תלמוד בבלי מסכת מגילה דף יג עמוד א
ובמות אביה ואמה לקחה מרדכי לו לבת, תנא משום רבי מאיר: אל תקרי לבת אלא לבית
After a life of loneliness, Ester finally sees the light at the end of the tunnel. She is engaged to Mordechai “the bachelor of the century”. She would no longer be alone. Her dedicated behavior as a true bat yisrael has payed off; not only in the world to come; but even in this world.
Taken from her beloved
Yet soon after, another tragedy befalls upon her. When the soldiers come to take the women for the “beauty pageant” as we like to explain to our children, (yet we all understand that it had a lot more sinister undertones than that), the Megila tells us “Vatilakach Ester”. She is taken away against her will. The Malbim explains this verse also referring to Mordechai –against his will. Everyone was in mortal danger for going against the king’s decree; nevertheless Mordechai endangered his life to hide Ester. Yet to no avail – she was discovered and taken away.
Her tragic life that for a brief moment was infused with love and light by her husband to be- Mordechai – is once again flung into darkness as she is forcefully taken from her husband to be “used” by the King. The story is even more tragic as it seems that although she was halachically married to Mordechai (what in halacha is called kidushin); nevertheless they had not yet lived as man and wife, as the king rounded up all the virgins.
Yet once again we find Ester being true to her faith and virtue. When all the maidens are given the choice of the best perfumes and clothing, Ester very timidly says no thank you. One could understand this as Ester being a very passive girl with no real say. But there is a more simple answer. Ester is an Eishet Chayil. She has no desire to be chosen by this non Jewish megalomaniac King. All she wants is to return home to her husband Mordechai, and raise a family in the ways of Torah and Kedusha. Rashi explains that Mordechai ordered Ester not to divulge her identity for if they were to discover it – she would have been even more eligible in the eyes of the King and never be able to return home to Mordechai.
What might have been clear to Mordechai – was a mystery to Ester
The Megila says that Mordechai went every day to the palace to find out how Ester was. The Ibn Ezra explains that he was worried that she might need medical treatment. Rashi though brings the Midrash that Mordechai was given a sign from Heaven that it was not for naught that a tzadekket was taken to be “used” by Achashverosh. Her sacrifice would save the nation. Although Mordechai is clearly distraught about his beloved; he has Ruach Hakodesh that there is a divine plan and her situation is not in vein.
Yet this is not clear to Ester. Our Sages tell us that she only received Ruach Hakodesh five years later. From the simple reading of the text – it seems that Mordechai never divulged this secret to her until a few years later.
Although her life had become full of darkness, she nevertheless continues in her righteous ways. The Midrash tells us that Ester kept halacha scrupulously even whilst in the palace of that Rasha. At the epicenter of immorality and licentiousness –in the palace of Achashverosh; she even keeps the laws of family purity. For a second time in her life she has been given a terrible set of circumstances – yet continues to act faithfully in the ways of the Torah.
A further tragedy
Another tragedy then befalls her – After spending months in the palace of the King – Achashverosh finally makes a decision and decides that Ester would become queen. At this moment, what was a temporary imprisonment now became a lifelong sentence.
Yet, in the recesses of her mind she clutches onto a false hope that one day she will be able to return to her loving husband Mordechai (if for example Achashverosh would have a heart attack). For five long years, she remains loyal to him not ever actively initiating or enhancing her relationship with Achashverosh – so that halachically she would be considered as if she was raped by Achashverosh and would still be permitted to her husband Mordechai. (A raped woman as opposed to an adulterous woman is permitted back to her husband if he is not a Kohen). To this end she acts in a very passive way –“karka olam”.
After five hard years – forsaken and all alone
Yet then comes a bombshell request from her beloved and trusted husband Mordechai. She is asked to actively initiate a meeting and relationship with Achashverosh; to entice him with all her charm in order to nullify Haman’s decree. This action in halacha would be equivalent to committing an adulterous affair and forbid her from any hope of ever returning to her husband Mordechai.
Here the question begs to be asked – why didn’t Mordechai give her a get?
Tosfot and the Rashba were both bothered by this question. Tosfot answers that if he would have given a get – there would have to be witnesses and he was worried that it wouldn’t be able to be kept quiet. The Rashba argues that according to Din Torah – if he wrote the get in his own hand writing, even without witnesses it would have been valid on a Deoraita level and would have saved her from the grave sin of arayot. The Rashba himself leaves the question without trying to answer it. “Ein meshivin al haaggada”
To this request – Ester tells Mordechai that everyone knows that one can’t just go and visit the King uninvited. Such a violation is punishable by death and her presence hasn’t been requested by the King for thirty days.
The simple reading of these psukim is that Ester was worried that she might be killed. Yet based on our Sages understanding of her final answer, Rav Azulai (The Chida) explains that she was worried about something else altogether. She was worried about being unfaithful – actively initiating a relationship that would not be considered rape but rather, an act of adultery – sinning against G-d and prohibiting her from ever returning to Mordechai. She ultimately agrees to Mordechai’s request but adds “kaasher avadti avadti – just as I will be lost to my father’s house, so too will I be lost to you”.
Rav Azulai explains her perilous situation in such an eloquent yet heart breaking manner. “The halacha follows those who understand that she would be prohibited to return to her husband even though she was doing a great mitzvah”. The Chida continues to explain that for Am Yisrael it was a win-win situation – they would definitely be saved. For if she was killed when entering the chamber, the Heavenly decree would have been abolished as a tsaddeket died al Kidush Hashem; and if she survived – she would surely beg for the life of her nation. But For Ester – it was a lose-lose situation – Either she would be killed …and if she survived she would have nothing left to live for. She would never be able to return to Mordechai.
Although as we saw previously Mordechai risked his life to try and save Ester; here for whatever reason he didn’t give her a get. Perhaps it was because it was too dangerous as Tosfot answered or perhaps he was acting based on Ruach Hakodesh as the Noda Beyhuda postulates.
Yet one cannot escape the notion that at this moment Ester feels completely forsaken – not only has she no family, not only is she asked to do things that no Jewish girl should ever be asked to do; but she is now being abandoned by her loving husband. The glimmer of hope that she would one day be reunited with Mordechai is in a moment extinguished.
Yet here we find the true heroism of Ester. She once again has every reason in the world – to say “why me? What did I do to deserve such a lonely fate; to be forsaken and feel so alone and unloved?” How many of us given her situation would have become angry, vindictive and left Judaism altogether? Yet Ester does the exact opposite. With all her pain and heartache – she davens to Hashem to give her the strength to go through with what has to be done; to help the Jewish people and abolish the decree.
The Midrash Ester Raba tells us of the tefila that Ester prays as she enters the chambers of Achashverosh.
“G-d of Israel who has ruled the world since antiquity; help your maidservant who has been left an orphan all alone without a father or mother; and similar to a destitute person who goes knocking from house to house. So am I – asking for your mercy going from window to window in the house of Achashverosh. …..Father of orphans; stand by this orphans side who has always trusted in your righteousness; give me mercy before this man for I am afraid. Lower him before me for You make the haughty fall”
It is a heartfelt cry to the Ribono shel Olam who cares for the destitute widows and orphans – to help her. Was there ever a woman who felt more alone, more destitute, an orphan and widow – than Ester? Her tefilla was so genuine that it was able to pierce the heavens and tear up the decree.
When Bnei Yisrael complained at the destruction of the first temple that they were orphans without a father, Hashem promised that only a savior that was truly an orphan would be able to save them. Perhaps the deeper understanding of that promise is Hakadosh Baruch Hu stating – only when Am Yisrael truly feel that they are orphans and have no one to rely upon other than Avinu Shebashamayim – only then will the Geula come. Ester encapsulated this based on her lifetime travails.
Let us return to the beginning of the Megilla and try and piece things together – not from an outsider’s perspective, but from Ester looking back on her life. Ester said to the Sages – Write my story – for my life has a very important message to thousands of girls and boys who, over the next two millennium would also face harrowing hardships.
When Ester was born and grew up as an orphan never having felt the love and embrace of her mother and father – she surely could have asked G-d –why? What did I do to deserve this? Yet she held onto her faith and righteousness and ultimately married the tzaddik of the generation. When she was taken forcefully from her husband – she could have again asked G-d why? Is this the way you repay my righteousness notwithstanding my situation? Yet she continues to lead a life of virtue even within the hedonistic walls of the palace. Her faith is unwavering. When she is ultimately asked to forgo her husband forever – she could have asked G-d – why?
Although she didn’t understand why all these tragedies happened to her in her life, nevertheless she never faltered in doing the actions that needed to be done. Only at the end of all these events does she realize or at least postulates , that her being an orphan with no lineage ultimately allowed her to be chosen by Achashverosh; that all her suffering and solitude ultimately led to a heart wrenching tefila, and an almost inhuman act of self-sacrifice; that saved the entire Jewish people.
She doesn’t ask the Sages to write Mordechai and Ester’s story for generations. For Mordechai, even with all his self-sacrifice, had a certain clarity and Ruach Hakodesh as to why all this needed to happen. Ester tells the Sages to write her story – of a girl who couldn’t understand at the time why all of these things were happening to her – and nevertheless kept her faith and virtuosity. She wanted to tell all the girls over the next two thousand years – there will be tragedy and trials – in your life and you may have questions and complaints to G-d! But draw strength from my story and ultimately choose to continue a life of faith and virtue…. and through that you might save the entire Jewish people.
A final cherry on the top to this bitter sweet story can once again be found in the commentary of the Malbim. After the story ends, perhaps Ester still questioned – I have done what needs to be done; surely now I can go back to my Jewish community and although she would never be permitted to live with Mordechai, she could marry another tzaddik and build a family with Torah and mitzvoth? Why did she have to spend the next decades in a gilded prison?
Here we find the answer not in Megilat Ester but Sefer Nechemyah.
When Nechemiah comes to ask Daryavesh for permission to rebuild the Beit Hamikdash; the verse describes a lady sitting in the corner of the room. The Malbim explains that this woman was actually queen Ester who convinces her son Daryavesh to grant the request of Nechemiah. Even after the story of Purim, Ester’s duty and self-sacrifice to the Jewish people hadn’t ended. Yet her self-sacrifice not only led to the salvation of the Jewish people but also the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash.
Ester told the Sages – Write MY story for generations.so that we could gain inspiration from her faith and strength from her courage. This lesson is as pertinent now as ever before….Kitvuni Ledorot…
 Masechet Megila 7b – Here Rav Lichtenstein develops another side of the story – the development of Esters personality from a passive girl to a woman of valor who takes the yoke of leadership upon her. This author with humility would like to suggest that the story of Ester is a development in a very different manner as we shall elaborate on.
 Rav Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel Wisser born in 1809-1879 was one of the outstanding commentators on the Tanach in modern hstory. His commentary known as the Malbim covers almost all of Tanach and he has many novel insights.
 Malbim on Megilat Ester 1/11
 Megilat Ester 1/11
 Rashi on the first verse in the Megila
 This idea is developed by the Malbim who proves it from the psukim.
 Megilat Ester 2/7
 Masechet Megila 13a
 Rabi Meir says her name is Ester but was called Hadassa due to her actions of being a tzadekket as tzaddikim are likened to Hadassim. (Megilla 13b)
 Masechet Megila 16b
 Maharal in his commentary elaborates how Mordechai saw Ester as his completion…that would bring the Geula.
 A similar description is found in Breishit when Sarah Imeinu is taken against her will by Paroh
 Masechet Megila – the opinion of Rabi Meir (that Mordechai married Ester) which seems to be the accepted opinion by Rashi, Tosfot, Rashba, Maharik, Beit Shmuel, Noda Beyhuda and others.
 In the times of the Talmud, couples would get engaged (what we now do under the chuppa by giving the ring) and only six monthsto a year later actually live together as man and wife. However once they are engaged – she is considered a married women.
 Rashi Megilat Ester 2/10. Rashi’s commnetray seems to contradict that of the Malbim as Rashi implies that the fact that Ester came from royalty would be an attraction. This is not necessarily a contradiction as Rashi could be reffering to what the gaurds perceived important even though this might not be what Achashverosh himself thought.
 Ibn Ezra commentary to Megilat Ester 2/11
 Rashi ibid.
 This is no small act of faith when considering as Tosfot (Megila 13a D.H tovelet) points out – that she was raped countless times by that Rasha.
 Masechet Sanhedrin 74a
 Although this was not considered an issur – the majority of Poskim agree that it would be considered an adulterous affair to the extent that she would never be able to return to her husband. See Responsa Maharik 127; Beit Shmuel E.H 168/4, Responsa Noda Beyehuda Tanyana Y.D 161., Responsa Shvut Yaakov Volume 2 chp 117Cf Beit Yaakov 39.
 Tosfot Megila 15a D.H “ksheim sheavadti”
 Chidushei Harashba al hashas –Megila 15a D.H “Ma”
 Rav Chaim David Azulai (known also as the Chida) was born in 1724. He was one of the leading Rabbis of his time both in halacha and kabala. He was a prolific author whose works are often quoted by later authorities.
 Megilat Ester 4/16
 Responsa Noda Beyehuda Tanyana Y.D 161
 Ester Raba 8/7
 Ester Raba 8/7
 Ester Raba 6/7
 Nechemiah 2/6