Women Of Power: Zeresh – Megillat Esther By Vered Hollander-Goldfarb Women of Power: Zeresh

As far as biblical stories go, the story of Esther stands out in the prominent place women hold in it, as well as their sheer numbers. Both Vashti and Esther, as The Queen, hold a significant spot in the story. One cannot ignore a woman of the nobility: Haman’s wife, Zeresh. Of course, in addition to these strong ladies there are an untold number of young and beautiful women who were gathered to Shushan so that the king could decide if they are The One. (The rest spent their lives in the Harem, and returned to the king only if he remembered her by name.)

Oh, Once There Was a Wicked Wicked Woman…

Every significant man in the Megilla seems to have his female counterpart. These women are at least as strong as the men. They either work with their male partner, or highlight his follies. Vashti demonstrates what is considered proper and respectable behavior, (a woman, especially the queen, does not show herself at a party of drunken men.) presenting Ahasuerus as a drunk fool who has to be put back in line by his wife. Esther works with Mordochai for a common goal, but it is her plan that will receive our attention. And Zeresh, Haman’s wife….

Let’s study her.


What influences Haman’s decision making?

This man is above all other people in the court. He has the king’s ear, and is trusted with major decision. But he flies into a rage over a person’s refusal to move in his honor. Despite having already made arrangements for the killing of the people of Mordochai, Haman is not satisfied. Actually, his rage outweighs his delight at being honored by the queen. It can be expected that a powerful person will have formal advisors, but what role did his wife play behind the scenes in her husband’s decision making?

Who does Haman invite (v.10) and who advises him (v.14)? Pay attention to the order of the people listed.

Haman seems to have invited his close friends (or his fan club) and his wife Zeresh to hear about his greatness: His wealth, his many sons, and his high position in the court.

But what should he do about Mordochai?! Note the order of the invitees: First the “those that love him,” then his wife, Zeresh. But who pushes to the front and speaks up first with a plan? From the plural language of the rest of the verse it seems that the “fan club” agreed with her.

What is the difference between hers and Haman’s approach to handling Mordochai’s behavior?

Until now Haman has been satisfied with taking a long term revenge on the entire people of Mordochai. But that is no longer placating him. While Haman is interested in getting Mordochai out of the way, Zeresh seems to suggest making it a public punishment. Haman likes her approach. He shows up at the court in the dead of night, not waiting until morning. It turns out to be a terrible mistake, the beginning of Haman’s undoing. The reader gets the sense that Haman and Zeresh push each other in the same (destructive) direction.

Zeresh shows up again in 6:13, after Haman’s debacle. Who does Haman talk to this time? Who answers him?

Again, pay attention to the order of the people.

We get the sense that Haman’s wife and fan club from the day before are waiting for him. After all, he was supposed to come back and deliver the news that the enemy is dead. This time Zeresh is addressed first. Why? Is Haman hoping for consolation and sympathy? Is he angry at her advice that had ruinous consequences? His advisors and his wife (in that order) enlighten him; he is on his way down. Where is the fan club? What happened to the eager wife that suggested that her husband’s nemesis dangle from an extra tall gallows?

How does Zeresh view Esther (or her place)?

Her husband is invited there for private parties. Perhaps it is not only Ahasuerus who wonders what is going on. And if Haman might harbor thoughts about gaining the throne, (Ahasuerus certainly suspects him of it,) than perhaps Zeresh wonders how good she might look with a crown.

Unlike the rest of the family, Zeresh disappears from the story. Why?

This would not be an issue if we did not find out about the fate of Haman and his ten sons. (We did not really know about them until their death.) What happened to Zeresh? She is not the first woman whom the Tanakh seems to treat with silence. Rebecca is not mentioned again after she helps her son Jacob trick his aging father (her husband!) and his brother (her son.) Is the “silent treatment” a biblical way to pass judgment, especially on women who stepped out of bounds by giving ill advice?

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