Why Jews Celebrate Queen Esther on Purim

The Fellowship  |  March 2, 2018

Painting of Queen Esther

The Fellowship‘s Ami Farkas shares why Esther is such an inspiring female character in the biblical story that Jews reflect on and read out loud during Purim, a holiday celebrated yesterday by Jews around the world.

On Purim, the Jewish people celebrate events that took place during their exile following the destruction of the First Temple, and just a few years before their return to the Holy City and the rebuilding of the Second Temple.

The story takes place in Persia, where King Xerxes – following his advisor Haman’s plan – decreed that all Jews residing in his vast kingdom would be killed on the 14th of the month of Adar, the day on which we now celebrate Purim.

At the beginning of the Purim story, Haman had risen in wealth and power. His political maneuvering had borne fruit, and he had climbed the bureaucratic ladder to serve as King Xerxes’ right-hand man. But then the story unraveled, and Haman’s genocidal plan for the Jews, along with his fortune, turned upside-down. Not only did his plot to kill all the Jews fall apart, but the tree from which he had planned to hang his Jewish rival Mordechai is where he and his ten sons were hung.

But the most intriguing character in the Purim story is Queen Esther. Little is known about her before her ascent to power except that she was an orphan raised by her illustrious uncle, Mordechai. Her role in saving the Jewish people – and her desire to have the story recorded and celebrated through the generations – was placed in the Bible and the Purim holiday observance was placed into Jewish Law.

Esther’s story took place at a time when divine providence was very much concealed. The Jews, God’s chosen people, were living in exile, and their Temple in Jerusalem lay in ruin. These conditions made all the more miraculous the actions that overturned the genocidal decree and brought down Haman from his position of power.

With the fate of the Jewish people on her shoulders, Esther confronted the two most powerful and dangerous men in the world at that time – Xerxes and Haman. To do so, Ester depended on God. She prayed, she fasted, and she inspired a mass movement of repentance among the Jews.

And to this day, Esther is an incredibly important and inspiring figure, especially for young girls. There she was, not searching for fame but thrown into royalty, not digging for riches but finding herself in a palace. Esther never forgot her roots, and she never turned away from God, understanding that the sole purpose of her life, and the sole reason for her rise to power, was to be God’s vessel for salvation.