The story of Esther is really a continuation of the story of Vashti. The setting is ancient Persia in the palace of King Ahshuarus after the expulsion of queen Vashti.

Morechai works in the service of the king and cares for his orphaned niece, Hadassah from Jerusalem. She was named for the sweet smelling myrtle. Now that Vashti has been banished the young girl is given a new name and Mordechai asks her not to reveal her Jewish identity. Her new name Esther which means secret or concealed. It is both a Jewish and Persian name. The Persian version is Ishtar, the goddess of love and war. Ishtar is also the first planet to appear each night in the sky, signifying bravery. Her names help tell her story.

Meanwhile the king must find a new wife. All the potential beauties of the realm are assembled at the palace and groomed for the king to choose his queen. They are preparing for months, some even say for 6 months being rubbed with oils and perfumes, acquiring gowns and jewelry. Esther is selected to go to the palace for this “beauty contest”, and Mordechai reminds her not to tell anyone there that she is Jewish.

Finally it is Esther’s turn to be called before the king. When Esther is summoned she is lead through the seven gates to the part of the palace where the king resides. No one is to pass through those gates without permission. She is nervous, but unnecessarily. The king is enchanted by her and for the first time in years he laughs with delight. The coldness and anger he has felt in his heart is melted and he decides this young girl will be his new bride.

This story has many threads that wind together. Uncle Mordechai (who speaks seventy languages) overhears of a plot to poison the king for sending Vashti away. He immediately tells the king, the plotters are caught and killed, and Mordechai’s brave deed is recorded in the Book of Records.

There is a new prime minister appointed, named Haman. He is ruthless and hungry for power and Mordechai distrusts him. Haman commands that all bow down to him, yet Mordechai refuses making Haman furious. When he discovers that Mordechai is a Jew Haman determines that all the Jews should be killed. He throws dice to find out which would be the best day to destroy the Jews. On the 13th day of Adar all Jews, young and old are to be killed and their property seized.

Mordechai sends word to Esther, “do not imagine that you will be spared, you attained your royal position for this. You must go to the king to save your people”. Esther is of course still a young orphaned girl and very frightened of the responsibility laid on her shoulders. Unable to proceed, she decides to fast for three days, avoiding her destiny. Ultimately she is able to rise up past her fear and prepares herself to visit the king. She bravely passes through all seven gates wondering to herself if she is to perish for that deed. She pushes the last gate open to find the king on his throne. He asks ”my dear wife what is your wish?” Lowering his scepter as a sign for her to speak, she invites him and Haman to a banquet in her rooms that night.

At the end of the evening the king again asks, ”My dear wife, what is it you wish? That night at the banquet she is still too frightened to reveal her identity and mission. Instead she replies, ”It is my wish that you and Haman come again tomorrow night for another banquet in my room. Then I will reveal what you wish to know”.

That night Esther heard the sounds of the gallows being built for the Jews This was the sign she was waiting for to compel her to reveal herself. There was no longer any choice. The king also could not sleep that night. He sent his servant for The Book of Records to read him to sleep. He thus discovered Mordechai’s good deed of saving his life. At dawn he summoned Haman and asked him ‘How should a king reward a man he wishes to honor?” Haman thinking it for himself, replied that the king hold a great parade letting the man wear the kings robes and lead him through the streets on his majesty’s horse. Upon hearing it was for Mordechai, Haman was furious again.

At the banquet that night the king asks Esther, “My dear wife, what is your wish? Even if it is half my kingdom, it will be yours.” The gates of her heart are now opened and the words pour out of Esther in a flood. “It is my wish that you save my life and that of my people for we are to be killed on the thirteenth day of Adar.” “Who issued such an order?” Esther points to Haman saying “He used your signet ring to decree that all the Jews shall be killed. I am a Jew and I too will die.”

The king rose up in anger towards Haman. Just at that moment Haman tripped and fell on Queen Esther. The king shouting” Do you dare attack the queen in my presence?” The guards seized Haman and the king orders his death on the very gallows meant for the Jews.

Esther was known for her beauty, kindness, and bravery, but when we examine the story we see she wasn’t much different from any of us. Her reluctance to go immediately to the king, and instead fasting for 3 days and holding two separate banquets shows her real insecurity. Her struggle was to maintain her identity amid surroundings that are foreign and dangerous, and she wavered in her ability to do this although ultimately she prevailed.

Both the stories of Vashti and Esther are about control. Complete control is empty and alone as the king may have felt, and as god may have felt before giving us free will. If others only do for you or care for you because of your will then love is empty. Our love is only meaningful when we choose to give it or not. We can control through manipulation and intimidation, like Haman, but it becomes an extension of our ego and our desire rather than a connection with another. Intimacy requires two independent beings choosing to interrelate. The opposite of control is connection. We can only achieve real connection through releasing, becoming vulnerable and revealing our true selves. Thus these stories are really about the loneliness of control and the power of being true to yourself.

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