Many Mentors in Megillat Esther - Matan - The Sadie Rennert
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Many Mentors in Megillat Esther

Adina Ellis

The Baal Shem Tov has often been quoted as saying that everything we see and hear has the potential to teach us significant things along our spiritual journey. The message, however, may not always be clear, and sometimes we’re not paying attention and can miss an opportunity. Megillat Esther is a well-known story filled with various characters and an intriguing plot, and for some, it begins and ends there. However, if we look at the characters and their behaviors through the lens of this teaching, each choice and action can teach us a lesson for our own lives.

Know Your Worth

An ambiguous character, Vashti teaches us to know our worth. As the Malbim points out (Esther 1:15-16), she reminds Achashverosh of her lineage, and proudly reminds him that she is “hamalkah Vashti” (Esther 1:12,15) a queen in her own right. According to the Ralbag (Esther 2:1) she refused to parade before Achashverosh and his cohorts in a degrading fashion because of her sense of modesty. Do we each proudly recognize our lineage as the sons and daughters of prophets and kings? Do we understand that modesty, self-respect, and dignity go hand in hand?

Stay True To Your Moral Compass

Achashverosh’s behavior is an example of the dangers of drunkenness (Esther 1:10) and imparts the sobering lesson that some mistakes cannot be fixed. Particularly on Purim where the misapplication of the mandate of “ad d’lo yada,” (Orach Chayim 695:2) to not know the difference between “accursed Haman”’ and “blessed Mordechai,” can lead to poor choices, it is wise to recall the negative example of Achashverosh and heed the words of the Be’ur Halacha, who tells us that “we should not become drunk and demean ourselves….rather rejoice and delight in love for God and the miracles He has done for us”. Achashverosh thought regretfully about what he had done to Vashti (2:1) after awakening from his stupor and his wrath had faded. When deciding how to spend our leisure time, do we consider if we will feel proud and invigorated or regretful and melancholy after the fact?

Achashverosh had been guilty of depending on the advice of others (1:15-16) even though he himself knew that she was justified in refusing his orders (see Malbim 1:15). How might we develop the fortitude to resist peer pressure or societal expectations if they don’t align with our own principles?

Choose Joy

The evil Haman teaches us that there will always be obstacles to joy; if we want to be unhappy, we can always find a reason. He readily offered ten thousand kikar, or 460 ton, of silver for an edict to allow for the genocide of the Jewish people (Esther 3:9). This amount is estimated to be a staggering half a billion dollars in those times. Haman was likely one of the richest people in the world at his time. He had “every reason” to be content with his lot, yet the adage that money can’t buy happiness certainly rings true. How often do we think “if only” we had one thing or another we would be happy? How often do we forget that happiness is a choice and is not based on monetary wealth?

Haman was promoted by the king to be higher than any of his fellow officials (Esther 3:1). He had great honor and prestige, and all the king’s courtiers in the palace gate bowed down to him (3:2). He had a devoted wife, many sons, close friends and enormous wealth (Esther 5:10-11), yet he chose to focus on the fact that Mordechai would not bow to him. The fact that Mordechai would not kneel or bow (3:2) filled Haman with rage (3:5) and he let that consume him. Amazingly, he allowed this one thing to nullify the value of  all of his blessings. “And all of this is worth nothing to me- וְכׇל־זֶה אֵינֶנּוּ שֹׁוֶה לִי- as long as I see Mordechai the Jew sitting at the palace gate (5:13).” Observing this negative example, we ask ourselves, how often do we make light of the blessings in our lives?  How much energy do we spend recalling perceived insults or criticisms?

While it is so easy to find a reason to be unhappy, our heroine Esther teaches us about the power of happiness. She may well have invited Haman and Achashverosh to one mishteh (Esther 5:4) only to invite them to another mishteh the next day (5:8) in order to build tension, jealousy, and intrigue. Perhaps another reason for Esther’s delay in revealing her true identity was because, as the verse tells us, Haman was happy. “And on that day Haman went out happy and good-hearted…” (5:9). He was feeling smug for having been invited to the elite party of three and he exuded that positive energy with him at the first mishteh. Esther was prudent since positivity attracts positivity and it would make it harder for her to bring about Haman’s downfall. She waits for the protective power of Haman’s joy to subside before revealing herself as a Jew.

Between the first and second intimate parties, Haman was called upon to escort Mordechai through the streets with great honor. He hurried home in mourning while covering his head in shame- וְהָמָן נִדְחַף אֶל־בֵּיתוֹ אָבֵל וַחֲפוּי רֹאשׁ (Esther 6:11-12). It is in this despondent state that Haman was briskly brought to the second party with Achashverosh and Esther. Esther HaMalkah seized this opportunity to tell the king, “We have been sold, my people and I to be destroyed…the oppressor and enemy is this evil Haman…(7:4-6).” How aware are we of our emotional state and how it can cause a cascading effect around us? Our joy sparks joy in others and our melancholy can be silently contagious. Do we take responsibility for what we put out into the world?

Know When To Speak Up

Lastly, as the familiar song goes “v’gam Charvona zachur latov” – Charvonah is remembered for good, he is remembered for his short speech that began with the word “v’gam” – “and also.” Seemingly moments after Esther’s big reveal, Achashevrosh chastised Haman as he was caught prostrating on the couch where Esther reclined (7:8) and Charvonah, one of the eunuchs attending the king, decided to pipe up at that moment and say (7:9) “ …גַּם הִנֵּה הָעֵץ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה הָמָן לְמׇרְדֳּכַי”. The gallows which Haman made (equivalent to 25 meters high, or 8 residential stories) were visible from the king’s court. Charvonah was able to see them, as he seemed to point to the tall structure and say “here.” Perhaps he knew this very lesson of the Ba’al Shem Tov- the things we see have the potential to teach us something. He noticed the gallows and he chose to speak up. Who knows how the story would have evolved otherwise? Not all heroes wear capes. When you find yourself in the right place at the right time… do you choose to speak up?

We are exposed to positive and negative role models on a regular basis. There are individual behaviors that we choose to emulate and others that we observe and try to avoid. We can learn from many day-to-day experiences and observations if we open ourselves to the messages before us. Megillat Esther was written for all generations (Megillah 7b), for it teaches us, among many things, how to learn from everyone. As Ben Zoma taught (Avot 4:1) Who is wise? One who learns from every individual. Let us take this Purim as an opportunity to discover the unspoken messages from the people in our lives and the individuals in Megillat Esther and use them as a springboard for our personal and spiritual advancement.

Adina Ellis

Adina Ellis

is a graduate of the Matan Bellows Eshkolot Educators Institute. She has been teaching Tanakh and machshava over the last two decades, initially on college campuses and in Hebrew Schools in the New Jersey area. Since making aliyah in 2005, she has given weekly shiurim in Hebrew and English to women in her community. Adina has taught in the ALIT program and Rosh Chodesh seminars run by the OU Women's Initiative as well as in the mother-daughter "learn and art" program of OU Israel. She is known for her unique ability to facilitate in-depth textual learning along with engaging and relevant discussions. Adina lives with her husband and children in Yad Binyamin.