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.