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Entries in Esther (2)

Thursday
Aug312017

Points of Choice


In three of the five megillahs we find a central moment that contains a weighty choice by a woman, which is the pivot for the entire narrative and its moral messages. Two of these choices are positive ones, and one is not.

I -  In the Book of Ruth, it is that moment in which Naomi urges her daughters-in-law to return to Moab. Ruth refuses to do so (1:14):

And they lifted up their voice, and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law; but Ruth held fast to her

This choice, and Ruth's subsequent famous speech, leads to her marriage with Boaz and the subsequent birth of the Davidic lineage.

 

II -   In the Scroll of Esther, Mordechai sends Queen Esther the terrifying instruction that she must go to the King although she has not been called - which carries a penalty of death.  

Mordechai says (4:14):

For if you remain silent at this time, then shall relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but you and your father’s house shall be destroyed. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

Esther replies in verse 16:

Go, gather together all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day; I also and my girls will fast likewise; and so will I go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.

This fateful and heroic choice leads to the salvation of the Jews of the Persian Empire.

 

III -  In the Song of Songs, we see a different kind of moment. The two lovers have been seeking each other. He has finally arrived at her abode and knocks at the door. Instead of eagerly answering it, she is suddenly attacked by a moment of torpor and apathy, and makes a strange choice not to arise (5:3):

I have taken off my robe; how could I put it on? I have bathed my feet; how could I soil them?

Although a moment later, she realises her folly and jumps up, he has already gone. They do not meet.

The Song of Songs is traditionally symbolic of the relationship between God and the Jewish people. In this verse are encapsulated all those moments in which the Jewish people did not leap up to answer God's call, in whatever way that was manifest - often with disastrous consequences.

This is the negative. But fortunately, we have Ruth's shining example and later that of Esther.

Fascinating, though, is a strong textual link between the Esther and the Song of Songs narratives. We find Esther explaining to King Ahasuerus:

For how can I endure to see the evil that shall come to my people? or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred? (Esther 8:6)


The Hebrew word here for "how" is איככה. This is the very same word used by the female lover in the Song of Songs for "how could I put it on?" The word איככה appears nowhere else in the Tanach, and clearly signals a connection between the two stories.

Esther's איככה, her realisation of "I could not possibly (abandon my people)"shows that she has heard and answered the knock of destiny on her door. In doing so, she atones for and recitifies the moment of wooden-heartedness and sluggishness on the part of the lover who cannot possibly don her robe right now.

Thursday
Mar152012

Can I come to the King in the Inner Court?

This year I was reading the following verse from Esther 4:

11. All the king’s servants, and the people of the king’s provinces, know, that whoever, whether man or woman, shall come to the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is a law; to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden scepter, that he may live; but I have not been called to come to the king these thirty days.

The woman sitting next to me at the megilla reading had what looked like a children's megilla full of midrashim, and it cited a midrash that Achashverosh was indeed furious to see Esther there unbeckoned, but then he suddenly saw her and remembered how much he loved her, and could not be angry any more.

It's a well-known idea that although G-d's name is not mentioned explicitly in Megillat Esther, we can take (some of?) the references to the king as referring not, or not only, to Achashverosh but also to the King of Kings.

On a daily basis, or perhaps more powerfully on Rosh Hashanah, we feel "How can I go into the King? I am not desired. I am not in relationship. We have not communicated for many days. I have not heard Him call me." So we hesitate to enter. But know - once you enter, G-d will not be able to help Him (Her) self, but instantly fall in love with our beautiful souls.