In Hebrew, Esther means ‘Hidden One’. In Jewish tradition, the Book of Esther is retold every year during the festival of Purim.
Queen Esther is one of only two women in the Hebrew Bible who have entire books dedicated to them. Whether or not the facts are accurate is not as relevant as the lessons Jewish people learn from her story.
Esther lived in Persia at the time when Jews lived there, after their exile from Babylon. She was a beautiful woman. Esther, dark of complexion, stood out amongst the fair women of the land. Her cousin Mordechai was an advisor to the king and he adopted her after her parents’ death.
Esther was chosen by King Ahasuerus to be his new Queen, when Queen Vashti disobeyed his rule: “She pleased him and won his favour.” Esther was thus taken from Mordechai to live as a queen, adorned and served.
Upon entering the palace, Esther was given strict instructions by her cousin: “Esther did not divulge her religion because Mordechai had forbidden her to do so. Every single day, Mordechai would walk up and down in front of the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was being treated.”
For her own protection, Esther kept her Judaism hidden, yet it always remained in her heart; hence her name, the Hidden One. Esther decided to come out of hiding when she learned that Haman, the Prime Minister, planned to expel the Jews from Persia and to exterminate them. His justification was that Mordechai would not bow down before him. Unaware of his wife’s religion, the king endorsed Haman’s plan.
Esther’s position of Queen was one of power, which would not have been available to a Jewish woman. Esther decided to use her power to save her people, who faced death.
According to the king’s own rule, Esther, could not approach him unless summoned. As time was running out, she had to devise a plan for her people, knowing that her own life was also at stake. She told the Jews to fast for three days in protest against Haman’s plans. On the third day, she went to the king uninvited, to ask him and Haman to a banquet, where she would reveal herself.
Esther risked all to save her people. The king was furious when he realized that Esther was part of the people whom Haman wished to destroy. The king immediately issued Haman’s death warrant. Instead of death, Esther ordered a day of feasting for her people, who were now free from Haman.
The Book of Esther tells of a woman whose beauty and power enabled her to transcend the boundaries that Jews then faced, and save her people. Esther became a great heroine in Judaism. Upon becoming queen, Esther could not have known her destiny.
Esther’s story is the last told of a woman in the Hebrew Bible. It is one of honor, bravery and courage. Her faith in herself is what enabled her to approach her king without fear, confident that he would heed her call. Esther above all symbolizes the significance of self-preservation. She could have denied her connection to the threatened Jews when the time came, yet she revealed her identity at the threat of losing all.