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Esther: Hidden Beauty

Esther: Hidden Beauty

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Reserved. Modest. Quiet. Humble. Self-controlled. Hidden. These adjectives probably don’t conjure up images of a heroine. They don’t seem to describe the type of person who would put her life on the line for others, be a public figure, a political entity, and a person of control and power. But they are. These are the very words that describe Queen Esther, a woman whose body, mind, soul and actions affected reality and changed the world.

While she had the help and support of Mordechai in fighting the decree that was aimed at destroying the Jewish people, it was Esther who was able to implement the plan and who had the foresight and insight to know how it had to be done. And it was she who insisted that the story of Purim be written It was what the king didn’t see that attracted him to her down and read, year after year, for she knew that its relevance to the Jewish people will always be pertinent. This is why the Megillah, the “Scroll of Esther” that became part of the Torah and from which we read during the holiday of Purim, is called after her.

Esther was taken as the queen against her will. She was chosen for her exceptional beauty, and yet it was actually what the king didn’t see that attracted him to her. The former queen, Vashti, was a woman who garnered her attention by displaying her undressed body at royal gatherings. While her body itself was attractive, that was her only positive quality. When she was unable to flaunt her figure due to a horrific skin rash and boils, she had nothing to show for herself, and in her refusal to display herself lost not only her position as queen, but her life as well.

While Esther was supposedly chosen as queen because of her external beauty, the commentators note that it was miraculous that she was found to be attractive, as her physical appearance actually was quite unflattering. The Talmud1 tells us that Esther was actually of a greenish complexion, but that she had a “thread of grace” that was upon her. We are taught that when the internal is elevated and beautiful it will show through to the external, so that she can be seen as nothing other than beautiful. This is one of the main themes throughout the text of Eishet Chayil, “A Woman of Valor” from Proverbs, which teaches us: “Grace and beauty are false; it is the woman who has awe for her Creator that is blessed.”2

We even see that Esther went to great lengths to hide her physicality, as she did not want the king to be attracted to her. And had she not had a holy reason and need to be in the palace, then most likely she would have been seen only from the outside, in which case she never even would have been chosen. But being that she most definitely had a job to do, one in which G‑d chose her as the conduit to fulfill this mission, her internal aspect was seen; and that being the case, no other woman could possibly have competed with her.

So from the beginning of Esther’s involvement with the king, it is clear that he was attracted to a depth within her, and it is through this that she is ultimately able to maneuver what needs to be done to save her people. While Esther is in the king’s palace, however, she is not allowed to reveal to anyone that she is Jewish. Under Jewish law, if one’s life is in danger, there are allowances for being able to break Jewish law. Yet Esther ensured that she keep not only the spirit of the law in her circumstances, but the letter of the law as well. She managed to create a schedule so that she would always have different maids on Shabbat, so that no one would become aware that When the internal is elevated and beautiful it will show through to the external during this time period she was doing anything different. Through her desire to maintain her Jewishness, she discovered a way to do what she needed to do. In this she beautifully fulfills the Torah principle that “nothing can stand in the way of will.”3

This is also how Esther was able to approach the king directly, even though he hadn’t called for her. She knew that she was taking a risk, she knew that he could have had her killed for her lack of obedience; but she knew that it was necessary, and she knew that G‑d would protect her. But even though Esther needed to act on her own, she never felt that she was a one-woman show. She knew that she was given a mission and was chosen as a vessel, but that it was not something in which she could feel that she therefore didn’t need the help of anyone else. Not only did she confer throughout with Mordechai for advice and direction, but before she approached the king, she asked that the entire Jewish people fast and pray for her success.

As a queen, she understood the true meaning that the only way to rule is not when you control others, but when you represent them. She could take such a life-threatening risk only if she was acting as the body for the will and desire of the entire Jewish people. If she were to merely act alone, for her own motives and desires, and thinking that she needed no help from others, it is questionable whether she would have been successful.

And so, when she did enter the king’s chambers, she was accepted, and not only was she accepted, but she was granted the ability to ask for anything that she wanted, up to half of his kingdom.

The name Esther itself is an indication as to how she led her life and fulfilled her role. The root of Esther in Hebrew is hester, meaning “hidden.” Often we think that when someone is hiding something, it is out of a situation of embarrassment or discomfort. The modern day concept is “if you got it, flaunt it.” Show the world what you have to offer, be out there, be public, the more the better. It just isn’t so exciting to be the heroine behind the scenes. But one’s motives then need to be carefully examined.

The only way to rule is not when you control others, but when you represent them

If one’s desire is to show to everyone else what you have to offer, what you are capable of, then yes, it better be out there and public. But if one’s desire is to use one’s capabilities for a higher purpose, to achieve a greater good, not just for one’s ego, then the best way to do this is to begin in private, in a hidden way, so that the goal can be accomplished.

Ironically, Vashti represents in many ways the way we view the modern-day woman. She is confident, attractive, outgoing, fearless, and bold. She has no problem showing off her undressed body to a room full of people, to tease them, taunt them and amuse them. However, her goal is purely self-oriented. She cares for nothing other than her ego. This is why, as soon as her body doesn’t look good, isn’t attractive for a public viewing, only then does she hide.

Esther remains hidden throughout, but for the purpose of being able to be seen. And when she is able to be revealed, she is not seen as a mere body for others to use and abuse, but as a heroine, as one who represents what is holy and as one who thinks not only for herself, but for her people. As the Talmud teaches us, “A blessing rests only on something that is hidden from the eye.”4

While it may be real exciting to be in the newspapers and magazines showing off what you accomplished, the greatest accomplishments are kept secret. The most important innovations and creations, be it in medicine, technology, science or the military, are “Top Secret,” “Strictly Confidential” and under the tightest of wraps.

While Vashti may have made the cover of every magazine, it was Esther who was behind the scenes being the woman who was really changing the world. Esther epitomized the statement, Kol k’vudah bat melech penimah, “The true honor of the princess is within.”5 The word for “within,” penimah, is the same as pnimiyut, one’s internal, one’s spiritual makeup. This is Esther. Through understanding the true meaning of being hidden, she revealed an everlasting message to the Jewish people for all time to come.

FOOTNOTES
1. Megillah 13a.
2. Proverbs 31:30.
3. Zohar II:162b.
4. Taanit 5b.
5. Psalms 45:14.
Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the Co-Director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org and wrote the popular weekly blog, Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Discussion (25)
February 12, 2013
Esther: Hidden Beauty
Awesome! Esther was an excellent example of a daughter of Torah. We can all see her in ourselves, The timing of her preparation was"SPOT-ON." Esther didn't have to compete, she just needed to be complete. "If G-d is for us, who can be against us? Beautiful!! One of my favorites,
Michele Francis
USA
February 12, 2013
beautifully written and really interesting
btw ester is the name i've chosen for my now 4 yr old daughter, when her older brothers tell her anything unkind or laugh at her, she says "hey, don't you know i am a queen" :)
vera
italy
January 17, 2013
Beautiful
Wow, just this week I felt I needed to separate 3 days to simply get closer to G-d and not even text my friends, to remind myself that my dependence is in G-d not people or myself, funny thing is my middle name is also Esther and something was pushing me to look up my middle name and then I find this, it's amazing how Esther was reserved for the right purpose till her time came to literally change the world and just today my sister and I were also talking about how we feel like G-d has kept us hidden and almost working for his kingdom in secret. I am just amazed of how much the Lord has been talking to me just because I separated a little time only for him. Thank you so much for sharing this with us, it has blessed me so much!
Grace
May 25, 2012
taking "parts"
I just came to this again, being high over seeing a play I directed and co-wrote come to the stage, to great applause and delight. Our cast of children were magnificent.

At the very last minute, in fact, the day before we were going on stage with our play, a little girl named ACACIA came up to me in the school playground to ask if she could have a part in this play.

I was really floored, because I had just written on line about the Burning Bush, as in Moses, and it is believed to be an Acacia!

So of course I said, YES, and she was amazingly adaptable and able to fit right in, becoming one of the "villagers" in our play that is about having a HEART.

I do believe there is something deep happening, and I am seeing it, and recording this, and that this has everything to do with Purim, the interechangeability of parts, and Shakespeare's all the world's a stage.

And G_d is ever, "in the wings"
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
May 24, 2012
I am impressed by the writer and GOD given insights.
Raj Pun
Pokhara, Nepal
February 16, 2012
what a beautiful and inspiring article!
Laura Swift
Essex, England
March 17, 2011
The Esthers of this world: Make it LOVE!
Esther is also a word that is redolent of aster, or STAR. We are all the stars of our own stories. Esther is a beautiful name, and when i regard the asters in my garden, I see these perfect stars, as are so many flowers in their pointed petals. Particularly the tiny wildflowers, we have to bend down to appreciate. They are so, perfect.

My mother in law was Louise Michelle. She was, deeply beloved. She was named for the activist. Michelle is a beautiful name, so redolent for me, of the sea shell, of being at the beaches of the world, and picking and holding a shell to my ear, and hearing the sound of sea itself. This Michelle was a beautiful woman who loved birds, and who taught science in the New Beford schools after being a principal in Harlem. She taught my children well, about love itself.

The story of Purim is purely magic, about identity itself, and it's a story that turns today on acting, on playing parts. I think the greater mirror here has to do with a cosmic story: Love!
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
March 16, 2011
Esther is a beautiful name... as is Michele.
My grandmother was a perfect Esther, as she quietly used her family's wealth to help Jews escape Germany. I did not even know of this until I was married and my husband asked my grandmother a direct question about the war. Esther is a name filled with gracefulness and beauty.

I can also point to many Micheles (Michelles) who are very meaningful to this world, including one of my best friends who makes a daily difference in my life. I believe we are given the name that befits us, and that if we live up to it, no name is meaningless, as no person is meaningless.
Debbie
New City
March 14, 2011
Esther, my heroine
Thank you for this article, which describes exactly what I believe, so beautifully. Esther seemed just an ordinary woman, but when she was needed,she rose to the occasion.To me she is a picture of the ideal woman. Quiet, demure, intelligent and emotionally strong. She knows what is needed and does it. She is the perfect role model for all women and her success teaches that we too can face and conker the obsticles in our lives.
Ms. Tana Goodwin
March 14, 2011
Uplifting article
Thank you for this mind opening insight to these two woman and the meaning behind them. Its amazing to see the comparisons to todays life.
Sheleen Addison
Beira, Mozambique
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