15 Facts About Queen Esther - The Jewish Voice
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15 Facts About Queen Esther

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By: Menachem Posner

  1. She Was the Queen of Persia

Esther was a Jewish woman who lived in Persia during the period following the destruction of the First Holy Temple, when many Jews had been taken as slaves to Babylonia, which was subsequently overtaken by Persia. She was married to King Achashverosh, whom some identify as Artaxerxes (ארתחששתא),1 king of Persia.

 

  1. Her Story Is Told in the Book of Esther

Of the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible, two are named for women: Ruth and Esther. The Book of Esther contains 10 chapters, in which we uncover the riveting story of Esther.

 

  1. She Saved the Jews From Annihilation

Under the influence of his advisor Haman, Achashverosh decreed that all Jews in his expansive empire (which covered pretty much the entire known world) would be slaughtered in a single day. Placing herself in grave danger, Esther petitioned the King to reverse the legislation.

 

  1. Esther Was Not Her Hebrew Name

Esther is identified as “Hadassah, who is Esther.”2 Hadassah is Hebrew for “myrtle,” so that is simple enough. But what is Esther? Turns out it is a Persian name, related to the “morning star.” In Hebrew, it is related to the root word for “hidden,” as G d’s intervention was hidden throughout the entire turn of events. On the surface, all one sees is a dramatic tale of palace intrigue, but behind the scenes every development was intimately guided by His hand.

 

  1. Traditions Vary About Her Looks

Based on the name Hadassah, some rabbis teach that Esther’s skin had a greenish tone, like the color of a myrtle.3 But others count her among the four most beautiful women in the world, along with Sarah (the first matriarch), Rahab (who sheltered Joshua’s spies in Jericho), and Abigail (wise wife of King David).4

In fact, this is also reflected in the Persian name Esther, which means “morning star,” since she was as beautiful as the heavenly orbs.5

 

  1. She Was a Double Orphan

Esther was raised in the home of her relative Mordechai, who took her in after her mother and father both passed away.

Mordechai was the wise and learned leader of the Jewish nation at that time, and he continued to look out for her even after she was taken to the palace.

Contrary to popular belief, Mordechai was Esther’s first cousin, not her uncle.

 

  1. She Was of Royal Lineage

Esther was the daughter of Avichayil, son of Kish, a descendant of King Saul, whose father also bore the name Kish.

 

  1. She Kept Her Judaism Hidden

After Achashverosh deposed his first queen, Vashti, he was advised to collect beautiful women from throughout his empire. He spent a night with each woman before trying out the next “contestant.”

Esther had no interest in becoming queen, but when she was taken to the harem she had no choice. Upon the advice of Mordechai, she kept her Judaism (and her royal roots) a secret, even after the king chose her to be queen.

In order to maintain a Jewish life, she had seven maids, each of whom served her on a different day of the week. Thus, the Shabbat maid would not notice that the queen acted any differently on that day.

To keep kosher, she subsisted on seeds and other food that is inherently kosher. We commemorate this by eating poppy-filled pastries (hamantaschen) on Purim.6

 

  1. Esther Was Middle-Aged

While Esther is commonly depicted as a young maiden, tradition tells us that she was between the ages of 40 and 80 at the time she was taken to the palace!7

 

  1. She Risked Her Life to Save the People

Upon hearing from Mordechai that the king planned to kill the Jews, she consented to approach him unbidden (a breach of palace protocol, which could have cost her her life), after Mordechai assured her that he and the Jewish people would fast and pray for three days. She too, fasted, together with her maids.

Miraculously, the king extended his golden scepter to her, indicating that her visit was acceptable to him.

 

  1. She Hosted Two Parties

After the king showed her favor, Esther invited him and Haman to a private drinking party. At that party, she invited them both to yet another party. During that second party, Esther finally told the king that she was Jewish and that Haman was scheming to kill her people.

Incensed, the king had Haman killed, and issued new decrees allowing the Jews to defend themselves.

 

  1. She Is Commemorated on the Fast of Esther

The day before Purim is a fast day, known as Taanit Esther (“Fast of Esther”).8 This is one of two Jewish fasts bearing the name of an individual—the other being the Tzom Gedaliah (“Fast of Gedaliah”) mourning the murder of Gedaliah, last governor of post-First-Temple Judea.

 

  1. She Was a Prophetess

The Talmud lists seven prophetesses, Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, and … Esther!

When we read that “Esther donned her royal [garb],”9 the sages explain that to mean that she enwrapped herself in Divine inspiration.10

 

  1. Her Son Was Cyrus

Even after life returned to normal to the Jews of the empire, Esther remained tragically imprisoned, married to an idolatrous king. The Midrash11 states that King Darius was the son of Esther. According to the Talmud, Darius is the same as Cyrus, the king who allowed the Second Holy Temple to be built in Jerusalem.12

 

  1. She Was a Reincarnation of Eve and Yael

Through feeding her husband the forbidden fruit, Eve introduced death into the world. When the Jews ate at King Achashverosh’s (non-kosher) party, they brought death upon themselves. Esther rectified this when she called for a three-day fast.

Her soul also belonged to Yael, the brave woman who killed the enemy general Sisera. They both accomplished their victory by serving food to their enemies (Yael gave the exhausted general milk, and Esther invited Haman to party with her and the king) and then neutralizing them.13

(Chabad.org)

 

FOOTNOTES

  1. Esther Rabbah 1:3.
  2. Esther 2:7.
  3. Megillah 13a.
  4. Megillah 15a.
  5. Megillah 13a (see Rashi ad. loc.).
  6. Megillah 13a.
  7. Genesis Rabbah 39:12.
  8. When Purim is celebrated on Sunday, the fast is advanced to the Thursday prior.
  9. Esther 5:1.
  10. Megillah 14b.
  11. Vayikra Rabbah 13:5.
  12. Rosh Hashanah 3b.
  13. See Bnei Yissaschar, quoting Rabbi Chaim Vital and the Chida.

 

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