Sometimes Nice Girls Finish First

Today is Purim, the day that the Jews were saved from destruction in Persia thousands of years ago. It is a holiday that can be enjoyed on many different levels. The children love dressing up in costumes and eating the copious amounts of junk food that are exchanged back and forth. The men (usually) enjoy the opportunity to drink and dance and be silly. I personally love the junk food (especially if we receive chocolate), and a bit if chocolate licquer always puts me in a good mood, but as the years go by I find that another enjoyable aspect of the holiday is the story of Purim itself.

Esther fascinates me. As children we identify with the good guys in the story, and in this case there was a female hero in addition to a male one. As an adult I came to understand on a deeper level the kind of sacrifice that she had to make to save her people. As someone who has lived in Israel for a number of years, and has followed the kind of political maneuvering common here, I have come to appreciate her “street smarts”. This year I’ve come to admire her middot (good character). What seems pretty simple at first, that she is a good Jewish girl, is not really simple at all, and I think that this is what ultimately saved her and all of the Jews.

King Achashverosh was impulsive and easily manipulated by those around him (not to mention that he was drunk most of the time). He had his first queen beheaded because she disobeyed him, at the suggestion of others, and then spent months sleeping with the prettiest girls in his kingdom in order to find a new queen. His advisor, Haman, was rich and powerful in his own right, and was an egomaniac. He decided to kill all of the Jews because one Jew refused to give him the honor he felt was due him. These were the two people Esther was up against. She had to find a way to get the better of both of them. She did it, brilliantly, but at great personal risk.

The megillah makes much of the point that someone approaching the king without being summoned first could be killed, according to the Persian laws at the time. Esther was taking a big risk going to Achashverosh. This is true, but I think the greater risk came after this point. Here she is, dressed in her finest, and when the king asks her, “what do you wish, anything, even half my kingdom”, she answers him, “come to a private party, just you, me and…..Haman”.

At the party the same scene repeats itself. The king wants to impress his queen, and generously offers her anything. She again repeats the wish to invite him to a party, with…….Haman too. No wonder the king had trouble sleeping that night! Esther has set up in his mind that Haman is a potential rival for her affection.

When they are at the second party, and Achashverosh repeats the request a third time, Esther sees that the time is right, and she makes a dramatic statement. “Someone is trying to kill me and all of my people, and I want you to save me.” When the king demands to know who this evil person is, she points to Haman.

As a child I assumed that of course Achashverosh would take Esther’s side at this point. She is his wife after all. But as an adult, I see that this is by no means a given. Achashverosh, in a drunken state, had previously had his wife killed just because she refused him one request. In this case, Esther is asking him to take her side against a powerful, and rich, advisor.

Esther is beautiful, no doubt, otherwise she wouldn’t have been chosen to vy for the king’s affections in the first place. But so was Vashti, the previous queen. What makes Esther stand out, was the fact that she was good. She impressed the head of Achashverosh’s harem from the start, and he took care of her because of it. And she was chosen by the king to be his queen, not because of her beauty, but because of her middot (good character).

Now it is a few years later. We all know that we feel differently for our spouses years into our marriages than we did in the first few months (hopefully we feel a deeper, if different, kind of love). If her good middot wore off by being exposed to the negative influences of living in the palace, then this would show up now, when the king had to make a choice. If he wanted an excuse to get rid of Esther, then this would be a perfect time to do so. He could even have repeated the past way of choosing a new queen.

But he doesn’t. He chooses his wife over Haman. Sometimes nice girls finish first, and they become heroines because of it.

Happy Purim everybody.

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Shira Salamone
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 07:48:37

    Wow, I never though of that! Hot stuff, almost literally. 🙂

    And Esther had to spend the rest of her life with a man whose first reaction to her telling him that a man was trying to kill her entire people was to walk out of the room and leave her alone to deal with her would-be killer. Some husband. 😦 Gutsy lady.

    Definitely link-worthy.

  2. YK
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 03:53:34

    Nice site, and nice dvar torah!


  3. Iris
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 14:01:33

    Part of our discussion of the Purim story this year was along the lines of “Let me see if I have this right, Mordecai, who was looking after his orphaned cousin, encourages her to enter the harem of a non-Jewish king, who she later marries (whatever that meant to a king with a harem), and we now regard her and Mordecai as heros.” While Purim certainly fits into the Jewish holiday theme of “They tried to kill us. They didn’t. Let’s eat.” the story itself certainly has some problems.

    There’s also a lot of wine in the story, and the bloody body count at the end.

  4. Trackback: Jewess » Blog Roundup: Purim Talk, Loss and Love, the New Feminism and the God-Body connection
  5. westbankmama
    Mar 07, 2007 @ 09:02:14

    Shira – thanks, and thanks for the link!

    YK – thank you too, and welcome to my blog

    Iris – first, Mordechai did not “encourage” her to enter the harem – it was completely out of their control. He did ask her to keep her Judaism a secret. Second, there is nothing wrong with the body count at the end. The Jews killed those who would have killed them – nothing to be ashamed of.

    Jewess – thank you too for the link.

  6. Financer
    Aug 16, 2007 @ 18:21:59

    That\\\\\\\’s very interesting. I hope to read more later.

  7. Motorola Sprint Info Zone
    Oct 11, 2007 @ 20:20:45

    Really nice site you have here. I’ve been reading for a while but this post made me want to say 2 thumbs up. Keep up the great work

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