Spiritual Biographies: Esther
1 א

What is her name?

2 ב
(ה) אִ֣ישׁ יְהוּדִ֔י הָיָ֖ה בְּשׁוּשַׁ֣ן הַבִּירָ֑ה וּשְׁמ֣וֹ מָרְדֳּכַ֗י בֶּ֣ן יָאִ֧יר בֶּן־שִׁמְעִ֛י בֶּן־קִ֖ישׁ אִ֥ישׁ יְמִינִֽי׃ (ו) אֲשֶׁ֤ר הָגְלָה֙ מִיר֣וּשָׁלַ֔יִם עִם־הַגֹּלָה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר הָגְלְתָ֔ה עִ֖ם יְכָנְיָ֣ה מֶֽלֶךְ־יְהוּדָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר הֶגְלָ֔ה נְבוּכַדְנֶאצַּ֖ר מֶ֥לֶךְ בָּבֶֽל׃ (ז) וַיְהִ֨י אֹמֵ֜ן אֶת־הֲדַסָּ֗ה הִ֤יא אֶסְתֵּר֙ בַּת־דֹּד֔וֹ כִּ֛י אֵ֥ין לָ֖הּ אָ֣ב וָאֵ֑ם וְהַנַּעֲרָ֤ה יְפַת־תֹּ֙אַר֙ וְטוֹבַ֣ת מַרְאֶ֔ה וּבְמ֤וֹת אָבִ֙יהָ֙ וְאִמָּ֔הּ לְקָחָ֧הּ מָרְדֳּכַ֛י ל֖וֹ לְבַֽת׃

(5) In the fortress Shushan lived a Jew by the name of Mordecai, son of Jair son of Shimei son of Kish, a Benjaminite. (6) [Kish] had been exiled from Jerusalem in the group that was carried into exile along with King Jeconiah of Judah, which had been driven into exile by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.— (7) He was foster father to Hadassah—that is, Esther—his uncle’s daughter, for she had neither father nor mother. The maiden was shapely and beautiful; and when her father and mother died, Mordecai adopted her as his own daughter.

3 ג
  • Esther comes from the ancient Persian word "star" which means the same in English.
  • She has a Hebrew name as well, the same way the heroes in the Book of Daniel also have both local and Hebrew names.
4 ד
(יט) אִם־עַל־הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ ט֗וֹב יֵצֵ֤א דְבַר־מַלְכוּת֙ מִלְּפָנָ֔יו וְיִכָּתֵ֛ב בְּדָתֵ֥י פָֽרַס־וּמָדַ֖י וְלֹ֣א יַעֲב֑וֹר אֲשֶׁ֨ר לֹֽא־תָב֜וֹא וַשְׁתִּ֗י לִפְנֵי֙ הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵר֔וֹשׁ וּמַלְכוּתָהּ֙ יִתֵּ֣ן הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ לִרְעוּתָ֖הּ הַטּוֹבָ֥ה מִמֶּֽנָּה׃ (כ) וְנִשְׁמַע֩ פִּתְגָ֨ם הַמֶּ֤לֶךְ אֲשֶֽׁר־יַעֲשֶׂה֙ בְּכָל־מַלְכוּת֔וֹ כִּ֥י רַבָּ֖ה הִ֑יא וְכָל־הַנָּשִׁ֗ים יִתְּנ֤וּ יְקָר֙ לְבַעְלֵיהֶ֔ן לְמִגָּד֖וֹל וְעַד־קָטָֽן׃ (כא) וַיִּיטַב֙ הַדָּבָ֔ר בְּעֵינֵ֥י הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ וְהַשָּׂרִ֑ים וַיַּ֥עַשׂ הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ כִּדְבַ֥ר מְמוּכָֽן׃ (כב) וַיִּשְׁלַ֤ח סְפָרִים֙ אֶל־כָּל־מְדִינ֣וֹת הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ אֶל־מְדִינָ֤ה וּמְדִינָה֙ כִּכְתָבָ֔הּ וְאֶל־עַ֥ם וָעָ֖ם כִּלְשׁוֹנ֑וֹ לִהְי֤וֹת כָּל־אִישׁ֙ שֹׂרֵ֣ר בְּבֵית֔וֹ וּמְדַבֵּ֖ר כִּלְשׁ֥וֹן עַמּֽוֹ׃ (פ) (א) אַחַר֙ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה כְּשֹׁ֕ךְ חֲמַ֖ת הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵר֑וֹשׁ זָכַ֤ר אֶת־וַשְׁתִּי֙ וְאֵ֣ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֔תָה וְאֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־נִגְזַ֖ר עָלֶֽיהָ׃ (ב) וַיֹּאמְר֥וּ נַעֲרֵֽי־הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ מְשָׁרְתָ֑יו יְבַקְשׁ֥וּ לַמֶּ֛לֶךְ נְעָר֥וֹת בְּתוּל֖וֹת טוֹב֥וֹת מַרְאֶֽה׃ (ג) וְיַפְקֵ֨ד הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ פְּקִידִים֮ בְּכָל־מְדִינ֣וֹת מַלְכוּתוֹ֒ וְיִקְבְּצ֣וּ אֶת־כָּל־נַעֲרָֽה־בְ֠תוּלָה טוֹבַ֨ת מַרְאֶ֜ה אֶל־שׁוּשַׁ֤ן הַבִּירָה֙ אֶל־בֵּ֣ית הַנָּשִׁ֔ים אֶל־יַ֥ד הֵגֶ֛א סְרִ֥יס הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ שֹׁמֵ֣ר הַנָּשִׁ֑ים וְנָת֖וֹן תַּמְרוּקֵיהֶֽן׃ (ד) וְהַֽנַּעֲרָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר תִּיטַב֙ בְּעֵינֵ֣י הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ תִּמְלֹ֖ךְ תַּ֣חַת וַשְׁתִּ֑י וַיִּיטַ֧ב הַדָּבָ֛ר בְּעֵינֵ֥י הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ וַיַּ֥עַשׂ כֵּֽן׃ (ס)
(19) “If it please Your Majesty, let a royal edict be issued by you, and let it be written into the laws of Persia and Media, so that it cannot be abrogated, that Vashti shall never enter the presence of King Ahasuerus. And let Your Majesty bestow her royal state upon another who is more worthy than she. (20) Then will the judgment executed by Your Majesty resound throughout your realm, vast though it is; and all wives will treat their husbands with respect, high and low alike.” (21) The proposal was approved by the king and the ministers, and the king did as Memucan proposed. (22) Dispatches were sent to all the provinces of the king, to every province in its own script and to every nation in its own language, that every man should wield authority in his home and speak the language of his own people. (1) Some time afterward, when the anger of King Ahasuerus subsided, he thought of Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her. (2) The king’s servants who attended him said, “Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for Your Majesty. (3) Let Your Majesty appoint officers in every province of your realm to assemble all the beautiful young virgins at the fortress Shushan, in the harem under the supervision of Hege, the king’s eunuch, guardian of the women. Let them be provided with their cosmetics. (4) And let the maiden who pleases Your Majesty be queen instead of Vashti.” The proposal pleased the king, and he acted upon it.
5 ה
(ח) וַיְהִ֗י בְּהִשָּׁמַ֤ע דְּבַר־הַמֶּ֙לֶךְ֙ וְדָת֔וֹ וּֽבְהִקָּבֵ֞ץ נְעָר֥וֹת רַבּ֛וֹת אֶל־שׁוּשַׁ֥ן הַבִּירָ֖ה אֶל־יַ֣ד הֵגָ֑י וַתִּלָּקַ֤ח אֶסְתֵּר֙ אֶל־בֵּ֣ית הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ אֶל־יַ֥ד הֵגַ֖י שֹׁמֵ֥ר הַנָּשִֽׁים׃
(8) When the king’s order and edict was proclaimed, and when many girls were assembled in the fortress Shushan under the supervision of Hegai, Esther too was taken into the king’s palace under the supervision of Hegai, guardian of the women.
6 ו
  • The King chooses Esther to be his new queen.
7 ז
(כ) אֵ֣ין אֶסְתֵּ֗ר מַגֶּ֤דֶת מֽוֹלַדְתָּהּ֙ וְאֶת־עַמָּ֔הּ כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר צִוָּ֥ה עָלֶ֖יהָ מָרְדֳּכָ֑י וְאֶת־מַאֲמַ֤ר מָרְדֳּכַי֙ אֶסְתֵּ֣ר עֹשָׂ֔ה כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר הָיְתָ֥ה בְאָמְנָ֖ה אִתּֽוֹ׃ (ס)
(20) But Esther still did not reveal her kindred or her people, as Mordecai had instructed her; for Esther obeyed Mordecai’s bidding, as she had done when she was under his tutelage.
8 ח
(א) אֵין אֶסְתֵּר מַגֶּדֶת מוֹלַדְתָּהּ. לְפִי שֶׁמָּרְדְּכַי יוֹשֵׁב בְּשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ, הַמְזָרְזָהּ וְהַמְרַמְּזָהּ עַל כָּךְ:
(1) Esther would not reveal [the identity of] her heritage. Because Mordechai was sitting in the king’s gate; he encouraged her and hinted to her about it.
9 ט
  • Mordecai has an important position in the palace. He is 'head of security'.
  • If we are to believe that the King and his advisers would not be able to know she was Jewish, then we can surmise they were also not aware Mordecai was Jewish and that it was safer then for both of them to be unknown as Jews.
  • Although it appears Jews were tolerated, clearly Mordecai is concerned that revealing her identity will also reveal his and so there is likely some anti-Jewish feeling perhaps among some elites and possibly beyond.
10 י
(מט) וְדָנִיֵּאל֙ בְּעָ֣א מִן־מַלְכָּ֔א וּמַנִּ֗י עַ֤ל עֲבִֽידְתָּא֙ דִּ֚י מְדִינַ֣ת בָּבֶ֔ל לְשַׁדְרַ֥ךְ מֵישַׁ֖ךְ וַעֲבֵ֣ד נְג֑וֹ וְדָנִיֵּ֖אל בִּתְרַ֥ע מַלְכָּֽא׃ (פ)
(49) At Daniel’s request, the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to administer the province of Babylon; while Daniel himself was at the king’s court.
11 יא
(יג) וַיֹּ֥אמֶר מָרְדֳּכַ֖י לְהָשִׁ֣יב אֶל־אֶסְתֵּ֑ר אַל־תְּדַמִּ֣י בְנַפְשֵׁ֔ךְ לְהִמָּלֵ֥ט בֵּית־הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ מִכָּל־הַיְּהוּדִֽים׃ (יד) כִּ֣י אִם־הַחֲרֵ֣שׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי֮ בָּעֵ֣ת הַזֹּאת֒ רֶ֣וַח וְהַצָּלָ֞ה יַעֲמ֤וֹד לַיְּהוּדִים֙ מִמָּק֣וֹם אַחֵ֔ר וְאַ֥תְּ וּבֵית־אָבִ֖יךְ תֹּאבֵ֑דוּ וּמִ֣י יוֹדֵ֔עַ אִם־לְעֵ֣ת כָּזֹ֔את הִגַּ֖עַתְּ לַמַּלְכֽוּת׃ (טו) וַתֹּ֥אמֶר אֶסְתֵּ֖ר לְהָשִׁ֥יב אֶֽל־מָרְדֳּכָֽי׃ (טז) לֵךְ֩ כְּנ֨וֹס אֶת־כָּל־הַיְּהוּדִ֜ים הַֽנִּמְצְאִ֣ים בְּשׁוּשָׁ֗ן וְצ֣וּמוּ עָ֠לַי וְאַל־תֹּאכְל֨וּ וְאַל־תִּשְׁתּ֜וּ שְׁלֹ֤שֶׁת יָמִים֙ לַ֣יְלָה וָי֔וֹם גַּם־אֲנִ֥י וְנַעֲרֹתַ֖י אָצ֣וּם כֵּ֑ן וּבְכֵ֞ן אָב֤וֹא אֶל־הַמֶּ֙לֶךְ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר לֹֽא־כַדָּ֔ת וְכַאֲשֶׁ֥ר אָבַ֖דְתִּי אָבָֽדְתִּי׃ (יז) וַֽיַּעֲבֹ֖ר מָרְדֳּכָ֑י וַיַּ֕עַשׂ כְּכֹ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־צִוְּתָ֥ה עָלָ֖יו אֶסְתֵּֽר׃ (ס)
(13) 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. (14) 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.” (15) Then Esther sent back this answer to Mordecai: (16) “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!” (17) So Mordecai went about [the city] and did just as Esther had commanded him.
12 יב
(א) אל תדמי. תחשבי מגזרת כאשר דמיתי ושניהם מגזרת דמיון במחשבת הנפש. דגשות צד"י והצלה לחסרון נו"ן השורש, והטעם שיעמד ריוח והצלה ליהודים מדרך אחרת ולא על ידך ואם תחשבי שתמלטי תאבדי וכל בית אביך עמך.

...Help for the Jews will come from another place, and not by your hand, and if you think you will escape, you will be killed and all your relatives, too.

13 יג
  • Ibn Ezra argues if Esther does not intercede for the Jewish people, then while God may help all the others, she and her relatives will not receive help.
  • Esther is the only person in a position to exert influence directly on the King.
14 יד
(ד) כִּ֤י נִמְכַּ֙רְנוּ֙ אֲנִ֣י וְעַמִּ֔י לְהַשְׁמִ֖יד לַהֲר֣וֹג וּלְאַבֵּ֑ד וְ֠אִלּוּ לַעֲבָדִ֨ים וְלִשְׁפָח֤וֹת נִמְכַּ֙רְנוּ֙ הֶחֱרַ֔שְׁתִּי כִּ֣י אֵ֥ין הַצָּ֛ר שֹׁוֶ֖ה בְּנֵ֥זֶק הַמֶּֽלֶךְ׃ (ס)
(4) For we have been sold, my people and I, to be destroyed, massacred, and exterminated. Had we only been sold as bondmen and bondwomen, I would have kept silent; for the adversary is not worthy of the king’s trouble.”
15 טו
  • In order to save the people, Esther must reveal the identity that Mordecai had told her to keep hidden.
  • Clearly, Ahasuerus' love for Esther must be greater than any Haman's hatred for the Jewish people, and it appears the King is not bothered in the least Esther is Jewish.
  • Rashi has an interesting take on the second part of this verse, 'the adversary is not worthy of the King's trouble'...
16 טז
(א) כִּי אֵין הַצָּר שֹׁוֶה בְּנֵזֶק הַמֶּלֶךְ. אֵינֶנּוּ חוֹשֵׁשׁ בְּנֵזֶק הַמֶּלֶךְ שֶׁאִלּוּ רָדַף אַחַר הֲנָאָתְךָ, הָיָה לוֹ לוֹמַר: מְכֹר אוֹתָם לַעֲבָדִים וְלִשְׁפָחוֹת וְקַבֵּל הַמָּמוֹן אוֹ הַחֲיֵה אוֹתָם לִהְיוֹת לְךָ לַעֲבָדִים הֵם וְזַרְעָם:
(1) For the oppressor has no regard for losses incurred by his majesty. He is not concerned about the king’s loss, for if he had sought your benefit, he should have said, “Sell them as slaves and maidservants and take the money,” or “keep them now to be your slaves, they and their descendants.”
17 יז
  • Rashi translates the second part of the sentence to mean the tzar (Haman the enemy) does not consider the nezek ha'melech, the King's loss.
  • Rashi is suggesting the King may well be angry both at the fact that Haman (if unwittingly) targeted his beloved Queen and by exterminating the Jewish people he would be passing up on the revenue from their sale as slaves.
18 יח
אשר הגלה מירושלם אמר רבא שגלה מעצמו ויהי אומן את הדסה קרי לה הדסה וקרי לה אסתר תניא ר"מ אומר אסתר שמה ולמה נקרא שמה הדסה על שם הצדיקים שנקראו הדסים וכן הוא אומר (זכריה א, ח) והוא עומד בין ההדסים רבי יהודה אומר הדסה שמה ולמה נקראת שמה אסתר על שם שהיתה מסתרת דבריה שנאמר אין אסתר מגדת את עמה וגו' ר' נחמיה אומר הדסה שמה ולמה נקראת אסתר שהיו אומות העולם קורין אותה על שום אסתהר בן עזאי אומר אסתר לא ארוכה ולא קצרה היתה אלא בינונית כהדסה ר' יהושע בן קרחה אמר אסתר ירקרוקת היתה וחוט של חסד משוך עליה כי אין לה אב ואם ובמות אביה ואמה למה לי אמר רב אחא עיברתה מת אביה ילדתה מתה אמה
§ The Gemara resumes its explanation of the book of Esther. The verse states with regard to Mordecai: “Who had been exiled from Jerusalem” (Esther 2:6). Rava said: This language indicates that he went into exile on his own, not because he was forced to leave Jerusalem. He knew that he would be needed by those in exile, and therefore he consciously left Jerusalem to attend to the needs of his people. The verse states: “And he had brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther” (Esther 2:7). She is referred to as “Hadassah” and she is referred to as “Esther.” What was her real name? It is taught in a baraita that the Sages differed in their opinion as to which was in fact her name and which one was a description: Rabbi Meir says: Esther was her real name. Why then was she called Hadassah? On account of the righteous, who are called myrtles [hadassim], and so it states: “And he stood among the myrtles [hahadassim]” (Zechariah 1:8). Rabbi Yehuda differs and says: Hadassah was her real name. Why then was she called Esther? Because she concealed [masteret] the truth about herself, as it is stated: “Esther had not yet made known her kindred nor her people” (Esther 2:20). Rabbi Neḥemya concurs and says: Hadassah was her real name. Why then was she called Esther? This was her non-Hebrew name, for owing to her beauty the nations of the world called her after Istahar, Venus. Ben Azzai says: Esther was neither tall nor short, but of average size like a myrtle tree, and therefore she was called Hadassah, the Hebrew name resembling that myrtle tree. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korḥa said: Esther was called Hadassah because she was greenish, having a pale complexion like a myrtle, but a cord of Divine grace was strung around her, endowing her with a beautiful appearance. The verse initially states with regard to Esther: “For she had neither father nor mother” (Esther 2:7). Why do I need to be told in the continuation of the verse: “And when her father and mother were dead, Mordecai took her for his own daughter”? Rav Aḥa said: This repetition indicates that when her mother became pregnant with her, her father died, and when she gave birth to her, her mother died, so that she did not have a mother or a father for even a single day.
19 יט

The three days appointed by Esther as fast days (Esth. 4:16) were the 13th, 14th, and 15th of Nisan. Mordecai sent back word complaining that these days included the first day of Passover! To which she replied: "Jewish elder! Without an Israel, why should there be Passover?" Mordecai understood and canceled the Passover festivity, replacing it with a fast (Esth. R. 8:6). Esther's motive in inviting Haman to the banquet was that he should not discover that she was Jewish, and that the Jews should not say: "We have a sister in the king's palace," and so neglect to pray for God's mercy. She also thought that by being friendly to Haman she would rouse the king's jealousy to such an extent that he would kill both of them (Meg. 15b) -- Encyclopedia Judaica Esther

20 כ
  • Esther, like Miriam, is in a unique and powerful position to intercede with the royal house on behalf Jews.
  • Like Moses, Esther lives anonymously among the natives in the royal house until a 'moment of truth' when, for both characters, the Jewish people are suffering and in need of leadership to help them.
  • With Moses, it's clear God intervenes and is the real source of saving power. With Esther, God is more hidden, some argue when Mordecai says "Help will come from another place", he means from God, but there is no direct mention of God here. The Purim story is a satire exploring Jewish identity in exile, and we may argue that Jewish ingenuity is the saving power here.
  • However, the Kabbalists maintain that when we go into exile, the Shechinah also goes into exile with us, and so although, like today, God does not seem to speak directly to us, God clearly is eternal and present. If Esther descends from Saul, chosen by God through the prophet Samuel, then Esther is also part of that tradition.