- Social & Humanitarian
- The Rebbe
READING BETWEEN THE LINES OF ESTHER'S STORY
March 9, 2017
"Open Happiness," one of Coca Cola's wildly successful advertising campaigns, can be aptly used to describe the month of Adar and specifically the joyous holiday of Purim.
The Book of Esther is read every year on this lively day. It is named for the Queen and heroine, a woman whose very power and essence were concealed. The Hebrew wordhester, meaning “hidden,” is camouflaged in the name Esther, sharing the same root and meaning. G-d’s overt presence is also shrouded in the Purim drama.
All of Torah is a lesson and guide book containing relevant wisdom for our modern lives. What can we learn from the connection between Queen Esther, that which is unseen, and joy?
My favorite verse, at the conclusion of the Megillah, describes the state of joy and happiness that the Jewish people experienced when their fate completely turned around with a dramatic and triumphant close. “The Jews had light and joy, and gladness and honor.” ( Esther 8:16)
If this verse is describing the emotional gratitude, and jubilation that the Jews experienced, what is the word light, “orah” referring to? (Did they see or feel light? As opposed to darkness?)
Imagine a sumptuous feast laid out on an exquisitely set table in a room where every detail contributes to its perfection, but the blinds are drawn and the light is out. A person standing in this room sees nothing, even though absolutely everything is there. And yet it might as well not be, as the darkness obscures the beauty.
What happens when the light goes on? Nothing! And yet everything changes because now the extraordinary details can be seen and appreciated.
Esther gifted her descendants in every generation with a unique ability, a feminine sixth sense of sorts, to see what isn't always obvious at first glance. She paved the path with the ability to shine a light of warmth and positivity by pointing out and complementing the goodness and wonders in the people and circumstances around us.
The greatest happiness is realized when one can perceive the potential in a child, the positive qualities in a spouse, or the opportunities for growth in a challenging situation.
Many times in our lives the blessings are there in reality, but unless we turn on the light and focus--we may not see them.
It’s not what is, but how we perceive what is, that makes all the difference. For me, that is Queen Esther’s secret legacy: to know how to radiate true Joy.
Miriam Lipskier is the co-founder and director of the Chabad Student Center at Emory University. Together with her husband and seven children, they have created a vibrant community of Jewish life and learning. She is a teacher of Jewish thought and spirituality and lectures around the country.
As we follow Esther in the Megillah, she moves from total anonymity--“she does not divulge her lineage and her nationality” (Esther 2:20)--to high visibility. She becomes an influential leader who saves the Jewish nation.
But Esther didn't embrace this process. In fact, she resisted it. She resisted it until the moment that Mordechai cautioned her:
"Who knows if you have not been put in the palace for this very purpose? If you are silent now help will come to the Jews from some other place."
Mordechai calls upon Esther to break her silence, to come out of hiding so that she can fulfill her purpose and save her people. She must recognize her role "in the palace," to act and be impactful.
Today, we attempt to simultaneously remain hidden and stay visible.
What is “assimilation” if not the desire to be absorbed into what surrounds us? To blend in as Jews and maintain our “silence,” our anonymity? Perhaps we need to beckon one another as Mordechai did Esther, and remind each other that we have been put here for a purpose that does not allow us to hide. We too must dare to make ourselves visible as Jews: The world, our fellow Jews, and G-d need us.
And yet, we live in a highly visible, "connected" culture. There really is no place to hide. As women, we have moved from largely supportive, "hidden" roles to the forefront of the workplace and community leadership. No one is "silent" anymore. In some ways, we have all lost our anonymity. The question is, at what cost?
When we are rooted in a mission that needs us, our visibility is warranted. And like for Esther, with this heightened visibility comes the responsibility to be authentic. Vulnerable. To have the the courage to take risks.
Six years ago, a small group of us set out to build a school that would create a paradigm shift in Jewish education. In the process, I lost the safety of being an unknown. As fellow educators and leaders can attest, there is great sacrifice in losing our anonymity while trying to effect change. Out in the open, we are vulnerable to others' opinions, our successes and failures revealed. Yet even with challenges, we cannot be silent. There's no value in staying hidden. We need to be willing to take risks when our future, the future of our children is at stake. For this is an unmasking-of-self for the greatest good: to assure the continuity of our people.
Mother, photographer, filmmaker and educator, Yocheved Sidof is the co-founder and Executive Director of Lamplighters Yeshivah, a lab school that blends Chasidic ideals, Montessori methodology and behavioral science.