No holiday has a woman play so central a role as Esther does in Purim. Not only is she the main heroine, we also call the scroll we read Megilat Esther. It could easily have been called Megilat Mordechai or Megilat Purim. Given that her name was chosen, it is worth looking into the character of Esther and understanding what it is we can learn from our heroine.
At the beginning of the megilah, we find a very passive Esther. She is under her uncles’ tutelage she does as he says. She is taken to the palace (Esther 2:8) as opposed to going. She does not tell where she is from because Mordechai told her so (verse 10). When allowed to beautify herself for a year before coming before the king, she asks for nothing, but simply does as Hagai the guard of the women tells her (verse 15). She does whatever Mordechai tells her, just as if she was still under his tutelage (verse 20). A good girl, but with no initiative, passive, does as she is told.
At the end of the megilah, we see a change. Esther, not Mordechai, is the one telling Achashverosh what she wants for her people. “Now what is your wish? Esther answered, if it please the King, let the Jews of Shushan…” (9: 12-13).She and Mordechai are mentioned to be writing about and establishing Purim as a holiday, but she is mentioned first. Her “ordinance” is ratified and “recorded in a book” (9:32). In the Talmud, Megilah 7a, it is mentioned that Esther asked the Sages of that generation to include her book in the Jewish Bible. Is this the girl who asks for nothing? Is this the girl who does as Mordechai orders her?
No. The change occurs during the megilah, after Esther is made queen. A terrible thing has happened to her people. At first, Esther does nothing (maybe she didn’t know about the edict). But what moves her to do something is hearing of Mordechai in a sackcloth. It bothers her and she sends him clothes to change. He refuses. She sends a messenger to find out what it’s about. Mordechai explains and sends a copy of the edict and asks her to appeal to the king and ask him to do something about it. But the passive Esther remains, and her response is that there are rules, that the king hasn’t called for her so she can’t go. Mordechai provides a crucial response. “Do not think that you…will escape…For if you keep silent at the time, relief and help will come to the Jews from another source, while you and your father’s house will perish” (Esther 4:13-14). His answer is not an accusation of lack of courage, but of apathy. If she really cared, she would do something. Danger would not be a consideration. He adds a further note. And know, Esther that you might not survive, but the Jewish people will, G-d will save them. The question is will you be a part of it You are in a position to do something so you should. For the timid, passive Esther this is a hard accusation.
Esther listens. She immediately calls for all to fast. Since she is coming as part of a nation, all must come together to fast and pray. She approaches Achashverosh even if it means danger. She becomes the proactive Esther that we saw at the end of the Megilah. This is the lesson Esther is teaching us. Each one of us in our own lives can take responsibility for our people, somewhere, somehow; we only need to find our place. There is much to be done for the Jewish community; there are many dangers that face it, whether it is here or in Israelor anywhere. May we all find the strength to help our people and find what we can do, rather then just feel helpless.