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Baby Haddasah, of the Jewish tribe of Benjamin, is orphaned at birth; her mother dies delivering her and her father died just months before, during her mother’s pregnancy. She is then adopted by Mordecai, her older cousin. He calls her Esther and raises her as his own daughter in the city of Susa, a conjointment of Persia. She grows to be known for her beauty, obedience, and wisdom. The king of that area, Xerxes, has tension in his palace – his queen has offended and embarrassed him and he has decided to choose a new queen. Esther is collected along with hundreds of other virgins by local commissioners, to be considered for his new wife. Mordecai instructs her to conceal her heritage. Upon arrival at the palace, she wins the favor of Hegai, who has charge of the harem. Immediately he provides her with royal beauty treatments and special food. He assigns seven female attendants to her, selected from the king’s palace and moves her and her attendants into the best place in the harem. She spends over a year preparing in this way to see the king for just one night.
The night she goes to see King Xerxes, he finds her more impressive than any other and he embraces her as his new queen. From the time Esther enters the palace, Mordeci has been inquiring after her and corresponding with her through the palace guards and messengers to make sure she is at ease. From his waiting place at the palace gate, he hears of a plot to kill Xerxes and he warns Queen Esther. In this way, he saves the king’s life.
Not many years go by when a man named Haman comes to power under King Xerxes. He hates the Jews and creates a plan to kill them all – in one day. With the king’s permission, he sends out a proclamation to the whole empire, preparing the people to obliterate the Jews and claim their possessions. Mordecai warns Esther and begs her to go to the king to save them. Fearing for her life, she reminds Mordecai that presenting herself to the king without invitation is punishable by death. Mordecai sends her a message which becomes the most famous verse in this book: “...who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
Gathering her courage, Queen Esther wisely instructs Mordecai to tell all the Jews in Susa to fast for three days and three nights in spiritual support of the task ahead of her. Her and her attendants fast as well. During this time Esther develops a strategy for approaching the king with her request. On the third day of the fast, Esther enters the inner court of the palace wearing her royal robes, ready for the king’s wrath. Xerxes receives her warmly. He heartedly accepts her invitation to have a private banquet with her and Haman. At the banquet, Xerxes inquires of Esther as to her reason for approaching him, but she does not answer him directly. Instead, she asks him to return the next day for a second banquet. That night, the king can’t sleep, so he orders the book of the chronicles of his reign to be read to him, which reminds him of Mordecia’s role in saving his life years before. King Xerxes asks Haman how he should show honor to “a man the king wishes to honor.” Haman gives his answer, thinking the honor is meant for him, but he quickly learns that it is meant for Mordecai. Haman is humiliated and this causes him to burn with so much hatred that he has a gallows constructed specifically for Mordecai to die on. At her second banquet the following day, Esther pleads for her life and the life of her people. She exposes Haman’s plot to wipe out the Jews and finally reveals her Jewish heritage. The king is outraged and uses the gallows that Haman had constructed to kill Mordecai on, and kills Haman there instead.
A new decree goes out to the entire empire in every province – the Jews are given permission to defend themselves against their attackers. They celebrate their victory every year with a feast, giving of gifts of food, and giving to the poor, preceded by what is known as “Esther’s Fast”. This tradition is still observed to this day. It is called Purim.
As I read the book of Esther, I asked myself this question: What story was Esther telling herself to conjure so much courage? From where did she derive her wisdom? What mantra was written on her heart? Queen Esther is considered a leader of her community, yet she had no direct contact with them while she led them. She saved her people with only a few days notice and what equates to a weekend spent with King Xerxes. Her role was instrumental, but her presence within the storyline is sparce. I craved to hear her thoughts, to witness the streak of emotion that must have flashed over her face when she heard the news of her people’s sealed fate. I reminded myself that this short account of her story of courage is actually the product of years of practicing obedience and self-control. To be able to focus on problem-solving “for such a time as this” didn’t happen spontaneously. She didn’t suddenly start praying and reading her Bible the minute she heard the news that she was needed on the front lines, hoping that the character and revelation she needed would fall from the sky. No. Within hours, she was able to change the fate of an entire race of people with calculated timing, two meals, and genuine humility. This readiness is the direct fruit of diligently staying grounded in integrity and selflessness, day in and day out. She was meant for this role because she was a woman who stayed ready. She was given the crown because she was worthy of its calling. She was qualified for the responsibility that came with the position. Her inner story had been forming her motives, her attitude, and her daily decisions since childhood. What makes her a leader? She took an action of sacrifice and was willing to face the consequences, whatever they may be.
Her inner story was the one she had invited God to write on her heart, and she allowed it to mold her, even when it hurt.
The leadership she exemplified was a direct result of her willingness to be lead. She disciplined herself to listen and obey from the time she was a little girl. She trusted the guidance of God and of her cousin, Mordecai. She leaned into that trust as she carried out his instruction.
Leading a community is not for the faint of heart. The instant prowess and inevitable sacrifices needed to lead with integrity demand rigorous killing of the flesh, that is, a routine of discipline. The hardest part is becoming prepared for something that hasn’t yet revealed itself.
What defines a leader is their mental shift – from an existence of complacency, into a life activated by an urgency of preparedness. There is no adequate substitute for consistent discipline.
Hold yourself to a higher standard and find someone who does as well, ask them to mentor you and hold you accountable.
Don’t do it alone.
Esther’s parent's death:
Meir, Tamar. "Esther: Midrash and Aggadah." Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 31 December 1999. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 1, 2022) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/esther-midrash-and-aggadah>.
Map of ancient Susa/Persia:
X, A, ( March,2020).Iran Historical Maps Achaemenid Persian Empire: Boyndaries Map. Iran Politics Club. Retrieved April , 2022
Laws of Purim:
(January,2021).Laws of Purim. OhrSomayach. Retrieved April , 2022
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