Esther Cards

Esther Cards

Ahead of Purim, let’s take a look at Esther Cards and discover surprising details about the book’s star – Queen Esther!

Ahead of Purim, let’s take a look at Esther Cards and discover surprising details about the book’s star – Queen Esther!

One Hundred and Twenty Seven

"How could Esther rule over one hundred and twenty seven?"

One Hundred and Twenty Seven

Even the most scintillating lecturer in the world,
may find himself facing an uninterested crowd.
And what will he do when heads before him start nodding, and eyes are closing?
He will unleash surprising information and amazing anecdotes!
This is what Rabbi Akiva did,
as told in the following Midrash:

In the middle of a lesson on Megillat Esther
he noticed that the audience was not entirely there
so  he surprised them with a question:
Why does the Megillah mention the number
one hundred and twenty-seven – the number of countries
ruled by Ahasuerus, destined to (eventually) be ruled by Esther?
If this number sounds familiar
it is because it is also mentioned in the Tanakh:
It is the lifespan of Sarah,
who died at one hundred and twenty-seven!
This now all fits nicely:
Sarah was Esther’s great-great-great grandmother!

Dr. Gila Vachman, Lecturer on Midrash and Legend at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies; Program Director, ‘Torah Lishma’ at Neve Schechter

Rabbi Akiva was once sitting and lecturing, and

Rabbi Akiva was once sitting and lecturing, and the community [his students] was falling asleep.

To awake them, he said: How could Esther rule over one hundred and twenty seven provinces?

It is as it should be that Esther, a descendant of Sarah who lived to one hundred and twenty seven, would rule over one hundred and twenty seven provinces.

Bereishit Rabbah 58

"How could Esther rule over one hundred and twenty seven?"

The Bells of Esther and Vashti
The Bells of Esther and Vashti

The bells are a novel ceremonial item that seeks to mark the standing of the Megillah’s heroines, Esther and Vashti, during the reading of the Megillah. The ringing of the bells, as their names are being read, is done in a pleasant manner, in contrast with the sound of the grogger.

The design of “The Bell of Esther and Vashti”, crafted by the jeweler Iris Tutnauer, includes lines of circles that create some sort of a kirtle (woman’s gown). Tutnauer’s bell seeks to mark the Megillah heroines during Purim’s traditional reading of the Megillah. The bell is constructed in a form that conceals it, revealing it only as soon as the reader reads out the names of the heroines in the Megillah. The jeweler chose a kirtle as the symbol of Esther and Vashti’s bravery. Using a female garment, overturns the alleged symbol of oppression and places women at centerstage.

Shira Friedman, Schechter Gallery Curator

Iris Tutnauer 
Esther and Vashti’s Bell, 2014 
Brass, silver and material

Queen of the Anusim

"Queen Esther also, being in fear of death, resorted unto the Lord"

Queen of the Anusim

The text known as Queen Esther’s prayer is not part of Megillat Esther. Researchers believe that it was originally drafted in Hebrew in the Land of Israel in 2nd century BCE. The prayer can be found in Midrash Esther Rabbah and in Midrash Lekah Tov, and also appears in the Vulgate – the Catholic Latin translation of the Hebrew Bible (the Miqra).

In Christian-controlled Spain, following the Alhambra Decree, access to the Hebrew Bible was denied to the Anusim (Jews forced to abandon Judaism against their will) who remained on the Iberian peninsula.The Anusim who sought to continue their forefathers’ tradition in hiding and stay connected to the holy scriptures, read and studied the Vulgate. This text was slightly different than the Jewish Bible and included some texts that were not part of Jewish canon, including these additional segments from Megillat Esther.

The Anusim adopted the image of the heroic Jewish queen who did not leave her people and country. In Spanish, the heroine came to be referred to as La Santa Reina Ester – Queen Esther the Saint. The prayer, which does not appear in our Hebrew version, reveals a gentle soul who feels her own connection to the Anusim and begs God to save the people from Haman’s evil decree. It was easy for the Jewish Anusim to identify with Esther’s character and embrace the prayer that laments their condition, from then and until their final days.

Rabbi Dr. Roberto Arbib, Rabbi of The Conservative Congregation of Neve Tzedek

[1] Queen Esther also, being in fear of death, resorted unto the Lord:

[2] And laid away her glorious apparel, and put on the garments of anguish and mourning: and instead of precious ointments, she covered her head with ashes and dung, and she humbled her body greatly, and all the places of her joy she filled with her torn hair.

[3] And she prayed unto the Lord God of Israel, saying, O my Lord, thou only art our King: help me, desolate woman, which have no helper but thee:

[4] For my danger is in mine hand.

[5] From my youth up I have heard in the tribe of my family that thou, O Lord, tookest Israel from among all people, and our fathers from all their predecessors, for a perpetual inheritance, and thou hast performed whatsoever thou didst promise them.

[6] And now we have sinned before thee: therefore hast thou given us into the hands of our enemies,

[7] Because we worshipped their gods: O Lord, thou art righteous.

[8] Nevertheless it satisfieth them not, that we are in bitter captivity: but they have stricken hands with their idols,

[9] That they will abolish the thing that thou with thy mouth hast ordained, and destroy thine inheritance, and stop the mouth of them that praise thee, and quench the glory of thy house, and of thine altar,

[10] And open the mouths of the heathen to set forth the praises of the idols, and to magnify a fleshly king for ever.

[11] O Lord, give not thy sceptre unto them that be nothing, and let them not laugh at our fall; but turn their device upon themselves, and make him an example, that hath begun this against us.

[12] Remember, O Lord, make thyself known in time of our affliction, and give me boldness, O King of the nations, and Lord of all power.

[13] Give me eloquent speech in my mouth before the lion: turn his heart to hate him that fighteth against us, that there may be an end of him, and of all that are likeminded to him:

[14] But deliver us with thine hand, and help me that am desolate, and which have no other help but thee.

[15] Thou knowest all things, O Lord; thou knowest that I hate the glory of the unrighteous, and abhor the bed of the uncircumcised, and of all the heathen.

[16] Thou knowest my necessity: for I abhor the sign of my high estate, which is upon mine head in the days wherein I shew myself, and that I abhor it as a menstruous rag, and that I wear it not when I am private by myself.

[17] And that thine handmaid hath not eaten at Aman’s table, and that I have not greatly esteemed the king’s feast, nor drunk the wine of the drink offerings.

[18] Neither had thine handmaid any joy since the day that I was brought hither to this present, but in thee, O Lord God of Abraham.

[19] O thou mighty God above all, hear the voice of the forlorn and deliver us out of the hands of the mischievous, and deliver me out of my fear.

Additions to the Book of Esther, 5 

"Queen Esther also, being in fear of death, resorted unto the Lord"

"Instead of the thorn shall the cypress come up, and instead of the nettle shall the myrtle come up"

Myrtle and Nettle

"Instead of the thorn shall the cypress come up, and instead of the nettle shall the myrtle come up"

Myrtle and Nettle

The Midrash hints that Esther serves as a correction to Vashti. The Rabbinic Sages quote a verse from Isaiah, in reference to the four central characters of the Megillah – Haman, Mordechai, Vashti and Esther: “Instead of the thorn bush the cypress tree will grow, and instead of the nettle the myrtle tree will grow.” Meaning, Esther replaces Vashti, and the feminine model represented by Esther brings about the desired results.

Two feminine models are represented in Megillat Esther: Vashti and Esther. In contemporary terms, Vashti is perceived as a feminist warrior, whereas Esther is seen as a woman who internalizes masculine hegemony. Vashti refuses to appear before the King and his court “with a royal crown”, which some interpret as nudity, and in any case in a manner that objectifies her appearance – and therefore loses her place in the kingdom.

Then comes Esther, a quiet and passive young girl who turns into a woman who takes action. But she acts only behind the scenes, pulling strings, and using trickery, typical of  women in ancient times. Esther, according to the societal norms, knew how to maneuver the world of men and get what she desired.

Toward the end of the Megillah, this is also the reason why she not only became the savior of her people, but also a historian: (9:29 “Now, Queen Esther, the daughter of Abihail, and Mordecai the Jew wrote down all [the acts of] they had to perform, to confirm the second Purim letter.”). The use of the verb “wrote” indicates that Esther became the writer or record keeper, meaning, the one responsible for the narrative; the storyteller. It is known that history is written by the victors; in this sense, Esther is the true victor of the Megillah.

Shiri Lev Ari – Journalist and Literary Critic , MA in Religious studies

Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani introduced this passage with an introduction from here: “Instead of the thorn shall the cypress come up, and instead of the nettle shall the myrtle come up; and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 55:13). Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani interpreted the verse homiletically as referring to the righteous individuals who superseded the wicked ones in the book of Esther.

“Instead of the thorn”; this means instead of the wicked Haman. He is referred to as a thorn because he turned himself into an object of idol worship, as he decreed that all must prostrate themselves before him. The Gemara cites proof that the term thorn is used in connection with idol worship, as it is written: “And upon all thorns, and upon all brambles” (Isaiah 7:19), which is understood to be a reference to idol worship.

The next section of the verse discusses what will replace the thorns, i.e., Haman: “Shall the cypress [berosh] come up”; this is Mordecai. Why is he called a cypress [berosh]? Because he was called the chief [rosh] of all the spices, as it is stated: “Take you also to yourself the chief spices, of pure myrrh [mar deror]” (Exodus 30:23), and we translate “pure myrrh,” into Aramaic as mari dakhei. Mordecai was like mari dakhi, the chief [rosh] of spices, and therefore he is called berosh.

The verse continues: “And instead of the nettle [sirpad],” this means instead of the wicked Vashti. Why is she called a nettle [sirpad]? Because she was the daughter of the son of the wicked Nebuchadnezzar, who burned the ceiling [saraf refidat] of the House of God, as it is written: “Its top [refidato] of gold” (Song of Songs 3:10).

The next section of the verse states: “Shall the myrtle [hadas] come up”; this is the righteous Esther, who was called Hadassah in the Megilla, as it is stated: “And he had brought up Hadassah; that is, Esther” (Esther 2:7). The concluding section of the verse states: “And it shall be to the Lord for a name”; this is the reading of the Megilla. “For an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off”; these are the days of Purim.

Megillah 12

Morning Star

"For though it is night, one has the light of the moon, the stars, and the planets. Then when is it really dark? Just before dawn!"

Morning Star

How moving is this image in the following Midrash about Esther, who is compared to the Morning Star, the Gazelle of the Dawn! When she is thirsty, she digs a hole, and her horns get stuck inside the darkness. How painful is this moment, where the reservoir filled with water of life becomes a source of danger and destruction, and all that remains is the yearning towards God.

I thought about the Gazelle of the Dawn within me, maybe within all of us, that digs her way toward the light, and htheer horns – her most important defense against outside enemies – that might sometime entangle us and prevent us from escaping these inner places.
I then considered – ihow lucky we are that we have these powers that raise the water level in these moments, so that we may see the light, when the stars and constellations are gone, and know that they shall return.
I hope that during this period, while waiting for the Morning Star – we can remember that Esther’s redemption was also the result of small steps, thesame as the rising dawn.

Amen.

Elena Arons, Teacher, Educator, Group Facilitator, Bibliotherapist, Social Activist, and Head of the “Tikun Olam.Adam” Beit Midrash at Neve Schechter

In the Days of Mordecai and Esther 12. In the verse “For the Leader; upon the hind of the dawn” (Ps. 22:1), Scripture speaks of the generation of Mordecai and Esther, (a time that was more dark than] the night. For though it is night, one has the light of the moon, the stars, and the planets. Then when is it really dark? Just before dawn! After the moon sets and the stars set and the planets vanish, there is no darkness deeper than the hour before dawn, and in that hour the Holy One answers the world and all that is in it: out of the darkness, He brings forth the dawn and gives light to the world. 

Then, too, why is Esther likened to the hind of the dawn? What is true of the light of dawn? Its light rays out as it rises; at the beginning, light comes little by little; then it spreads wider and wider, grows and increases; and at last it bursts into shining glory. So, too, Israel’s redemption through Esther came about little by little. At the beginning “Mordecai sat in the king’s gate” (Esther 2:21); then “the king saw Esther the queen” (Esther 5:2); then “on that night the king could not sleep” (Esther 6:1); then “Haman took the apparel and the horse” (Esther 6:1 1); then “they hanged Haman” (Esther 7:10); then Ahasuerus said to Esther and Mordecai, “Write concerning the Jews as you see fit” (Esther 8:8); then “Mordecai went forth from the presence of the king in royal apparel” (Esther 8:15); and at last “the Jews had light and gladness” (Esther 8:16). The sages said: When a hind is thirsty, she digs a hole, fixes her horns in it, and in her distress cries softly to the Holy One. The Holy One causes the deep to come up, and the deep causes water to spring up for her. So, too, Esther: when wicked Haman decreed cruel decrees against Israel, she, in her distress, began to cry softly in prayer to the Holy One, and the Holy One answered her. R. Assi said: As the dawn ends the night, so all miracles [recorded in Scripture] ended with Esther.

The Book of Legends (Sefer Ha-Aggadah). Legends from the Talmud and Midrash
Edited by Hayim Nahman Bialik and Yehoshua Hana Ravnitzky. Translated by William G. Braude 

"For though it is night, one has the light of the moon, the stars, and the planets. Then when is it really dark? Just before dawn!"

Illustration: mok-studio.com