Mordechai How can I tell my beloved niece, Esther, that it may be time to step out of the existence I helped cultivate for her because her people need her help? It was dreadful enough that I upended her life and pushed her to leave her community and family. I did so to set her up with a better life than she would ever have had. And now I am asking her to upend her world yet another time. My beloved niece followed my instructions and entered the king’s harem for the chance to live in the palace as wife to the king. She’s a beauty, yes. But she’s also wise and cunning, and she was smart enough to keep her eyes and ears open, to ask the right questions of Hathach, the harem attendant, and to follow the best advice. And so Esther became Ahasuerus’ favorite. But, living comfortably in the royal chambers with the other courtier women, does she know the great danger her people are facing? That Ahasuerus has once again failed to see through the megalomania of his chief vizier? That Haman issued a decree that all Jews must die? That if the Jewish people are condemned, her secret will be revealed and her life put in jeopardy? Is it fair of me to approach her again, to ask her to endanger herself for me and our people? Given Haman’s decree, do I really have any choice?
I pushed my beloved Hadassah to hide her Judaism behind the veils of Ahasuerus’ women, to become Esther, Queen of Shushan (1). But now, I have to make her understand that the only way she can save her people is to reveal the truth that I pushed her to ignore. Megillat Esther (Scroll of Esther)
Esther [sent] Mordecai the following reply: "All the king's courtiers and the people of the king's provinces know that if any person, man or woman, enters the king's presence in the inner court without having been summoned, there is but one law for him -- that he be put to death. Only if the king extends the golden scepter to him may he live. Now I have not been summoned to visit the king for the last thirty days." When Mordecai was told what Esther had said, Mordecai had this message delivered to Esther: "Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king's palace. On the contrary, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father's house will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis." Then Esther sent back this answer to Mordecai: "Go, assemble all the Jews who live in Shushan, and fast in my behalf; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens will observe the same fast. Then I shall go to the king, though it is contrary to the law; and if I am to perish, I shall perish!" So Mordecai went about the city and did just as Esther had commanded him. Esther Sometimes, I wonder what my life would have been like if my uncle had never heard that Ahasuerus was searching for a new bride. As a young girl, covered in dirt and burdened with chores, I dreamt of the palace and the beauty of Queen Vashti’s rooms. But now that I live within the palace walls, now that my body has been given to the king, now that there is nowhere to run, I dream of our pastures and the beauty of a single blade of grass. Now I dream of being the wife of a man who is content with my love and does not seek out or collect the love of others. Now I dream of being simply Hadassah and no longer Queen Esther.
I have just received a message from Mordechai and his words are sharp and fierce. I can hear his fear even though he has made his words ring with strength and passion.
Once again I am responsible for changing the fate of those whom I love, and this time it is not only my uncle but the entirety of my people that I must carry.
I sit amongst the women of my husband’s court and wonder whether all of us are here because our families traded our bodies for the promise of their prosperity. I imagine that the harem is a richly appointed bank and that each one of us is simply a unit of currency, locked away until our husband has use for us.
If Mordechai’s message is correct, and the Jewish people are threatened, I can at least be glad that the king has placed a high value on my currency. If the peoples of the old or unloved wives were threatened, there would be no recourse available to them.
I supposed that I have made my decision.
I will do what my uncle has asked me to do. I will expose Haman’s wickedness to my husband and will use his fondness for me to save my people.
I will use the power that Hadassah dreamt of and that Esther despises to protect the Jews of Shushan. I will once again put my life and happiness in danger in order to change the fates of the people that I love. And, if I survive this latest ordeal, I will continue dreaming about the life I could have led had if I had never been currency and was instead only a woman.
(1) Esther 4:10, 20.