Queen Esther is the reluctant heroine of the Purim story. Taken to the palace of King Ahasuerus of Persia, she exposed the plot of the evil Haman, who had convinced the king to allow the annihilation of all the Jews in his extensive empire.

Her Name

Esther is clearly identified as “Esther, who is Hadassah.”

Hadassah is Hebrew for myrtle, and the rabbis teach that Esther’s skin had a yellowish tone. They also see this name as an indication that her actions were as pleasing as the fragrance of myrtle.

Esther, on the other hand, is a Persian name, related to the “morning star.” In Hebrew, it is related to the root word for “hidden,” as G‑d’s intervention was hidden throughout the entire turn of events. On the surface, all one sees is a dramatic tale of palace intrigue, but “behind the scenes” every development is intimately guided by His hand.

Read: Are Esther and Mordechai Named for Persian Gods?

Early Life

Doubly orphaned as a young girl, Esther was raised by her cousin Mordechai, a wise and saintly Torah scholar and the leader of the Jewish people.

After King Ahasuerus dismissed his wife Vashti for insubordination, agents were sent out to find a replacement. Yet out of the many candidates not one found favor in his eyes. Despite Esther’s efforts to remain hidden, she was discovered and taken to the palace against her will.

Read: How Could Esther Marry a Non-Jewish King?

Palace Life

The girls were offered an array of oils and perfumes with which to prepare for their rendezvous with Ahasuerus. Not wishing to call attention to herself, Esther took only that which was given to her, requesting no extras of any kind, in the hope that she would not be chosen by the king.

Before she left, Mordechai told Esther not to reveal her Jewish identity. Wishing to maintain a Jewish lifestyle, Esther arranged to have seven maids, each of whom served her on another day. This allowed her to easily keep track of the days of the week and celebrate Shabbat properly. She also stuck to a vegetarian, seed-based diet, which enabled her to keep kosher.

Her natural beauty and charm caused her to find favor in the eyes of all who saw her, including the staff of the harem. And when her turn came to be presented to the king, he was taken by her natural allure, and chose her to be his queen consort.

Esther and Mordechai Save the King’s Life

While Esther was confined inside the palace, Mordechai was outside the palace gates, eagerly seeking information about her whereabouts. He thus overheard two palace guards, Bigtan and Teresh, plotting to kill the king. Mordechai told Esther, who told the king, and the coup was thwarted.

Haman Rises Against the Jews

In a turn of events that is not immediately connected to Esther, Ahasuerus elevates Haman, a notorious Jew-hater, to be his prime minister. Enraged that Mordechai refused to bow to him (Haman wore an idol on his body, and Mordechai did not wish to appear to worship an idol), Haman asked the king to allow him to have all Jews killed on a single day.

Upon learning of the plot, Mordechai asked Esther to intercede on behalf of her people. “Who knows?” he urged her. “Perhaps for this very moment, you have been brought to royalty.”

Esther agreed to speak to the king, but only if Mordechai and the Jews would fast and pray for three consecutive days. Esther bravely approached Ahasuerus without prior appointment—an act punishable by death—and invited him and Haman to a private party, at which she invited them both to a second party.

The Turning Point

That night, upon the advice of his wife, Haman arranged to have a giant gallows built, from which Mordechai would be hanged. The king, meanwhile, unable to sleep, was reminded that he had never rewarded Mordechai for saving his life, and he commanded Haman to parade Mordechai around town, dressed in royal clothing, riding the king’s horse.

At the second party, the time was right for Esther to reveal her true identity to the king and the threat of annihilation her people were facing. Haman fell onto Esther’s couch to beg for mercy, which enraged the king, who ordered Haman be strung up on the very gallows he had prepared for Mordechai.

The king gifted Esther with Haman’s mansion, but her mission was not complete. The royal edict regarding the Jews’ annihilation remained in effect because the king said it could not be repealed. She wept before the king, and he allowed her and Mordechai to craft whatever legislation necessary to save the Jews.

They therefore sent royal decrees to all provinces declaring that the Jews had the right to defend themselves and kill any enemies who rose against them. In Shushan, the capital, there were so many evildoers that Esther requested an extra day for the Jews to ensure that all threats were eliminated, and so it was.

Esther and Mordechai Declare Purim

Since then, Jews have celebrated the day they rested from the battle (Adar 14 in most places, and Adar 15 in Shushan) as Purim, a day of feasting, gift-giving, and celebration.

Esther had the entire turn of events recorded in a scroll (known as Megillat Esther or the Book of Esther), which is read every Purim eve and again on Purim day.

Read: How to Celebrate Purim

There are many lessons to be learned from Esther, who displayed such humility, bravery, faith and devotion.

One deeply telling facet of her brilliance is how she prepared to meet the king and beg for the life of her people. She knew that she was entirely at his mercy, yet instead of preening or otherwise working to amplify her charm, she fasted and prayed. Esther knew that as important as it is for us to act, G‑d’s help is what really matters. With G‑d on her side, even an unadorned and weak woman could sway the mind of an all-powerful monarch.