Meet Esther and Mordochai
Before we discuss Esther, we should spend a few minutes considering the reality into which she was thrust. The realization that there is no queen, leads the kings servants to propose a plan that should strike us as both as horrid and absurd. They will appoint officials all over the empire, and gather any good looking unmarried girl. At the end of this people-consuming, time-consuming, financially unsound project, one woman will be chosen. (What do you think happened to the rest?!) This is the event that Esther gets sucked into.
The Queen is Dead! Now What?!
Soon after the dispatching of the law Ahasuerus anger subsided and he ”remembered Vashti, and what she did, and what was decreed upon her.” (2:1) The words what she did are superfluous. In your opinion, what of her actions was the king thinking about?
As you continue reading the next few sentences: What was the emotion that guided his thoughts, and why? What in the text pointed you in this direction?
Starting from v.3 we get a picture of how women, in general, were valued by the court. The language in this verse is similar to one taken out of the Joseph story, Genesis 41:34-35. What is the narrator suggesting to us by this parallelism?
Notice that in the story of Joseph we are reading about gathering and storing grain, not people. What happened to the women who were not chosen to be the queen? Notice even the glaring economic juxtaposition between the plan of Ahasuerus servants and that of Josephs proposed plan for Pharaoh.
Esther: the girl was fair of form and good in looks וְהַנַּעֲרָה יְפַת תֹּאַר וְטוֹבַת מַרְאֶה (2:7)
This detail is necessary in order to anticipate Esther being taken to the harem, but it also an echo of Bereshit (Genesis) 29:17 and 39:7. Why does the narrator evoke the images of Rachel and Joseph?
(Sarah and Rebecca are also described as beautiful, but the double description goes to Rachel.)
This might be the place to consider the role beauty plays in biblical plots. It is both a tool that a person can use (see Abigail in I Sam 25, and Esther in chapters 5-7,) and a condition that makes him or her prey of powerful people (as Sarah, who is taken to Pharaoh in Gen 12, Joseph and Potiphars wife in Gen 39.) It is also positive: It draws attention to Rebecca at the well, giving her a chance to prove that her actions make her a proper wife for Isaac.
There is also a link between Esther and Rachel, which might explain the beauty. What is the link?
Note the language used to describe Esthers arrival in the harem and, later, at the palace:
(ח) וַיְהִי בְּהִשָּׁמַע דְּבַר הַמֶּלֶךְ וְדָתוֹ וַתִּלָּקַח אֶסְתֵּר אֶל בֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶל יַד הֵגַי שֹׁמֵר הַנָּשִׁים:
8 So when the king’s commandment and his decree were announced, Esther was taken to the king’s house, to the custody of Hegai, keeper of the women.
(טז) וַתִּלָּקַח אֶסְתֵּר אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ אֶל בֵּית מַלְכוּתוֹ
16 So Esther was taken to king Ahasuerus into his royal house
What have you noticed about Esthers involvement? What might be her reasons?
Passivity should not be mistaken for lack of ability to decide. Sometimes it is the only possible form of protest. Was Esther given a choice whether or not to go? While children might dream of the life of the royal family (in good Disney style), an adult woman who will have to live through it might find it repulsive and frightening. You are uprooted from your family. Your worth is measured on a sexual appeal meter. You are in constant competition with hundreds (maybe more) women. You will never go home.
How does Esther manage to conceal her nationality? (vv.10, 20) Why does Mordochai order her to conceal it?
What are the characteristics by which we identify peoples nationality/ethnic group? We are told that the Israelites were delivered from Egypt among other things because they did not change their name and their language. How important are these to a national identity? How could Esther have concealed them? (Is it any different than what Jews do all around the world today?)