The brown-haired girl stood out amongst the heads of blond hair. You could tell that she was not like the rest of her classmates. The physical differences were obvious, but there was something else that marked the difference, something that you couldn’t quite put your finger on, but you knew was there. She was different.

For example, at the beginning of the school year her classmates noted her absence. First she was gone for two days, and then a week later she missed another day. “Why did she get to miss so much school?” they wondered? What were all these “holidays” anyways? The little girl herself didn’t want to miss those first days—the excitement of a new teacher, a new grade. But she accepted.

She was different, all right, and everyone knew itThere was also that week in spring, the week when she brought matzah and cream cheese sandwiches to school while her peers munched on Wonder Bread with peanut butter and jelly. That special week in spring when on Pizza Day she didn’t touch a slice as everyone else gobbled down seconds. She was different, all right, and everyone knew it.

They called her names. They wanted her to believe that the thing which made her different from them was terrible. They told her that she was “weird.” They called her ugly. It would be a lie to say that the words didn’t hurt. Those words did have some power over her. It would have been impossible for them not to have affected her self-esteem to some extent. But her mother whispered other words into her ears. Her mother told her that yes, she was different, but this difference made her special. She whispered to her that she was beautiful, graceful. Her mother told her over and over to be proud of who she was and never to run away from it. In the end, the internal whispers prevailed over the external shouts.

The girl grew up; she excelled and blossomed in everything that she did. She held on to the whispers of her mother. She discovered that time expanded for her and bowed to her whim. Her peers asked her how she could manage and do so well, how she could work, have to time to hang out and still get good grades, while taking every Saturday off—for what? To rest, to eat, to pray?

She grew more and went on a journey. Wherever she went she managed to prepare or arrange for kosher food, because after all, “she was different, she was special,” the whispers reminded her. She was the daughter of the King, and princesses don’t just eat “anything,” they don’t just wear “anything.”

The orphan Esther grew up under Mordechai’s care. He was like a father to her. Then one day came a knock on the door. The king’s ministers took the graceful Esther away from her home, away from Mordechai. Before she left he whispered into her ear, “Don’t forget to keep the Jewish commandments and customs.”

Esther found herself in the royal palace surrounded by luxuries and delicacies beyond anything she could ever have imagined. They anointed her queen over the Persian Empire, wife to the ruler of 127 provinces. Despite the opulence and temptations, the Midrash tells us that Esther only ate vegetables and garbanzo beans. She never once ate nonkosher food, and she kept the holy Shabbat. How did she manage? How did she find the means to keep the commandments in the palace? I always wondered: from where did she get the strength to not succumb to those loud voices?

From where did she get the strength to not succumb to those loud voices?Haman told King Achashverosh, “There is one nation in your realm. They have strange and different laws…They are a blight to your empire, and there is no reason you should tolerate them!” The king handed over his signet ring and the decree was sealed. Death to the Jews! Now the external voice was very loud, very powerful. How could she resist it?

She had whispers.

Mordechai told her, “You must do it. You must try to save your nation. You are a Jew. You are special, the daughter of the King.”

The whispers prevailed. She didn’t succumb. Esther fasted and prayed for three days. On the third day she donned her royal gown and approached the king. In the end she revealed her identity (and also helped save her nation). She was a Jew. This is what made her different, this is what made her was special.

Yesterday my son came home from school. I was in the middle of mopping the floor, surrounded by soapy water. The door burst open. “Mommy, I don’t want to go back to class!” I dropped the mop, left the water. I walked over to him and hugged him. “What happened?” “David called me terrible names! I don’t want to go back. He makes fun of me . . .”

“That must hurt so much. Let’s try to think of a solution.”

We talk. I make some suggestions. I tell him to look at me in the eyes and I whisper in his ears. “You are the best. I love you. You’re special.”

Every night I whisper in his ear. “You’re wonderful. I love you, Papi loves you. Most importantly, know that G‑d loves you.”

I pray that with the right whispers, he’ll grow to have self-love and confidence. I pray that the whispers always prevail.