Esther, My Heroine

By Sue Tomchin, Editor, Jewish Woman magazine

As a child I remember always wanting to dress as Queen Esther for Purim. She had all the attributes that make today’s Disney princesses eye candy for seven year olds—she was beautiful and wore glamorous gowns and a glittering crown (which I could easily make out of a piece of cardboard and aluminum foil). Today what I’m looking for in a heroine is much more than a pretty face. What I’ve come to see in Esther, though, is a woman, not unlike the rest of us, struggling to navigate a difficult environment. Her tendency, like for many women, would be to keep quiet, not threaten the status quo. But as her cousin Mordechai tells her, keeping quiet, staying in the same place, isn’t an option. That’s true of us all. By staying in one place we lose ground. We have to step up, claim our space in the world, and speak truth to power. Esther does that with amazing political savvy. She takes a risk by going to talk to the King, without being summoned, but prepares for this step, both spiritually and by looking her best. (This is something most of us learn before going to our first job interview or professional meeting—be mentally prepared and dress the part.) Then, it really gets interesting and her political acumen shines. Once the king has lowered his scepter to welcome her, he asks her why she is there. She refrains from answering, biding her time, until she has King Ahasueras eager for her answer and Haman, the most powerful man in the kingdom, primed for a fall. Then she finally answers. We know what happens next—Haman is discredited and the Jews of Persia are saved. More than just a pretty face, Esther understands her power and uses it wisely and well.

The story of Purim has much more to say about power and relationships. To explore further, download a copy of JWI’s program Rethinking Purim—Women, Relationships and Jewish Texts.

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2 responses to “Esther, My Heroine

  1. My memory of Purim as a little girl is identical to yours’ and it is only as an adult that I began to re-examine not only Esther, but other female Biblical figures at a deeper level. I am fortunate that for the last dozen years I have been a member of a Jewish Women’s Spirituality Group; at our most recent meeting we discussed Esther using a fabulous book called “The Hidden and the Revealed: The Queen Esther Mosaics of Lilian Broca.” Lilian Broca’s art provides a stunningly beautiful look at Esther and delves deeply into her character. Her web site provides a glimpse of these remarkable Byzantine-style mosaics as well as statements from the artist and a brief video. Thank you for your thoughtful post.
    http://www.lilianbroca.com/

  2. ESTHER vs. THE MACCABEE WARRIOR QUEEN
    Queen Esther, the heroine of Purim, can’t hold a candle to the heroine of Hanukkah: Queen Salome Alexandra, also known as Shalom-Zion. Queen Esther was the fictional winner of a beauty contest. Queen Shalom-Zion, who was married to a grandson of the Maccabees, actually governed her nation for 37 of the 77 years of Judean independence. She negotiated treaties, commanded troops, and influenced Jewish divorce laws to give women greater rights. She also built mikvah pools throughout Judea. Talmudic rabbis said that while she ruled, it rained every Sabbath (but only on Shabbat) and lentils grew as large as gold coins. The two queens had one thing in common: drunken kings for husbands. Esther saved the Jews of Persia from the anti-Semite Haman. Shalom-Zion, by championing the rabbis, helped Judaism to survive for the two thousand years after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Judy Petsonk, author of the historical novel Queen of the Jews, about Shalom-Zion, the real, but forgotten, Jewish queen.

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