"Discovering Queen Esther"

by Rena Goldzweig


[Esther and Mordechai] who were descended from King Saul defied the evil Haman who was descended from King Agag of Amalek and together they thwarted his evil decree. [Manot Halevi]

Their Persian names

"Where is Esther alluded to in the Torah? 'I [G-d] will conceal My Face' (in Hebrew, Anochi hasteir astir panai; the word "astir" meaning "concealment" is spelled almost exactly the same as Esther's name)"(Deut. 31:18),
"Where is Mordechai alluded to in the Torah? As it says, 'Pure myrrh', which translates [in Aramaic to] mara dachia [the consonants of which together spell Mordechai]. (Ex. 30:23) (Sefer HaKaneh - "Sod Sheloach HaKen")

Esther and Mordechai are Persian names, reflective of the times they lived in. She was both motherless and fatherless, descended from King Saul and alone in the Persian exile. He was her cousin, the head of the Sanhedrin, the Torah leader of the generation, who took responsibility to raise her from infancy. He continued to advise her even after she was crowned Persia's queen.

The Midrash says that the Jews merited their first redemption from Egypt despite the fact that they didn't keep the commandments of the Torah and practiced idol-worship just like their Egyptian neighbors, in the merit of their distinctive names, mode of dress, and language.

Why then are our Purim heroes known to all expressly by their Persian names? Esther's Hebrew name, Hadassah, is mentioned in the Megilla only once and Mordechai's not at all. The Maharsha asks if so, how it is that they merited salvation, especially in a time of Divine concealment, outside of the land of Israel, and in the period of time when the Holy Temple - the seat of Divine presence in this world- was not even standing?

Therefore, Rabbi Nechunya found sources for these names in the Torah to show the names' integral holiness, as well as what they teach us about each person's main characteristic:

Esther's secretiveness, as well as the hidden hand directing the events of her life, as described in the verse hinting at her name in the Book of Deuteronomy, indicating that after the destruction of the First Temple G-d will conceal His involvement with existence and interact with the world in a hidden manner.

Mordechai's righteousness and leadership qualities are indicated by "mara dachya", which means the scent of musk, as Rashi explains: "The pure myrrh is referred to in this verse as 'the head of all spices.' The righteous Men of the Great Assembly are compared to fragrant spices, and their leader at that time was Mordechai."

The virtue of secrecy

Once ensconced in the palace, Esther continued to remain silent about her familial origins, as her humble forebear Saul had (originally) kept silent about being crowned as the first Jewish king.

She is compared by the Sages to the morning star ("ayelet hashachar") which rises ever so slowly in the darkest of the night, before the dawn's first light. So too the Purim miracle was slow in unfolding and took place in the depths of exile.

However, she was not silent in prayer:
"My Lord, my Lord, why have you forsaken me? My Lord [capable of such miracles such as] at the [splitting of] the sea, my Lord at Sinai, why have you forsaken me? Why has the order of the world changed concerning me? The order of the mothers? With regard to our mother Sarah, she was held captive by Pharaoh one night and he and his whole household were struck with a plague ... but I have been placed in the bosom of this wicked man all these years, for me you do no miracles. My Lord, my Lord, why have you forsaken me?" (Midrash Tehilim Buber, 22:16)

Obviously, G-d was with her the whole time, though Esther couldn't see Him at all, as indeed hinted at in her very name.

Appealing to the King

Mordechai convinces her that her mission was to appeal to the king to overturn the evil decree and she requests a 3-day fast:

[Esther said,] "And fast for me for three days, the 13th, 14th and 15th of Nissan." Mordechai said to her, "But the third day is Passover! She said to him, "Holy man of Israel, if there is no Israel, why do we need Passover?" ... And Mordechai went and abolished (for that year) the first day of Passover and made it into a fast. (Otzar Midrashim Eisenstein page 51)

Esther then enclothed herself with ruach hakodesh (divine inspiration) preparatory to approaching the king. However, the sole passageway leading to the throne room was lined end to end with idols and therefore she felt the divine inspiration leave her as she reached it. She cried out: "My G-d! My G-d! Why have You abandoned me?"

While she apparently appealed to King Achashverus, in reality she directed her prayers to G-d, "nochach hamelech" literally meaning opposite the king, but also indicating opposite the [place of the] Holy Temple .(Zohar)

The Tikunei Zohar, explaining that Yom Kipurim, the Day of Atonement, literally means "a day like Purim", and point out striking parallels between Esther's approach to Achashverus and the High Priest's service in the Temple on Yom Kippur: the fasting Queen Esther, dressed in special garments, entered the King's inner chamber at the risk of her life in order to bring salvation to the Jewish people and the fasting High Priest, dressed in special white vestments, entered the normally off-limits inner sanctum of the Temple also at the risk of his life to pray for the people's forgiveness (Tikun 21).


By virtue of her selflessness and thorough devotion to G-d, she found favor in the Almighty's eyes and was granted salvation for herself and the entire Jewish nation, even in the darkness of exile and with no other merit for the people than their very clinging to the Jewish faith.

The miracle of Purim was a miracle cloaked in nature where G-d's involvement was not obvious, and this seems to be the theme threaded thru much of Esther's personal life as well, as evidenced by her very name.


King Cyrus had allowed the rebuilding of the Holy Temple years before the Purim story, but the edict was rescinded due to the complaints of the Samarians.

According to some sources, although Esther dreaded having a son with Achashverus and did everything in her power to prevent it, by Divine Providence she had a son named Darius, who was crowned years later as the king and eventually allowed the Jews to resume the building of the 2nd Temple in Jerusalem.

Rena Goldzweig, a long-time resident of Tsfat, is the technical editor of KabbalaOnline.

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