The story of Purim is a grand one. And like any grand story, ours has a superhero. And, of course, like any other self-respecting superhero, ours has an alter ego. A completely different persona kept cloaked and under wraps until she was needed to save the nation.

There has always been a roaring debate amongst comic-book aficionados as to whether Clark Kent is the disguise to Superman’s true identity or vice versa . . . So what about our heroine? When we are first introduced to her in the beginning of the megillah, we learn that her name is “Hadassah, she is Esther.”1 Some may wonder whether this queen of ours was truly Esther or Hadassah at heart. So, we must explore why the megillah tells us of the existence of Esther’s two names—of her dual identity, so to speak.

Esther’s evolution seems to be one of a different natureThe Hebrew origin of the name Esther can be traced to two sources. R. Judah, in the Talmud, says: “Hadassah was her name. Why then was she called Esther? Because she concealed (masteret) the facts about herself, as it says,2 ‘Esther did not make known her people or her kindred.’”3 The second meaning comes from the phrase “Anochi haster astir panai” (“I will hide, hide Myself . . .”).4 These Hebrew phrases both allude to the secrecy, the hiddenness, and the dual identities of Queen Esther, and convey the essence of the Purim story.5

It is not uncommon for women (or men, for that matter) in the Torah to have multiple names. Avram became Avraham, Yiscah became Sarai and then, ultimately, Sarah. Miriam and Yocheved, according to some sources, were also none other than the midwives Shifrah and Puah. But Esther’s evolution seems to be one of a different nature. Her second name does not, on the surface, bring her closer to G‑d or to her people. It puts her into hiding.

Queen Esther, as she is most commonly known, was born neither to the role of queen nor to the name of Esther. She was born to the to the Jewish nation and to the tribe of Benjamin, a lowly Israelite girl in a big, bad Persian world. She was given the Hebrew name Hadassah, named for the myrtle or hadas.

It is well known that the myrtle emits a scent only when crushed. Fragrance has always been linked to the highest levels of the worlds. It is said that the heavens have a scent that can be detected by some people with lofty and holy souls. So the idea that the hadas is associated with fragrance is telling. Hadassah would become the embodiment of her true self, and fulfill her destiny, only when she was crushed and incognito—as someone else. Sometimes it is only when we find ourselves surrounded by unfamiliarity that we discover who we really are. When we are in the midst of the “other,” the “I” is able to fully reveal its self.

So, Hadassah was able to tap into her soul’s potential and live on the level of unity with the shechinah (divine presence) when surrounded by the unholy, and certainly un-Jewish, world that was the palace life. She was able to live on the level of yechidah—the part of the soul that is united with the shechinah at all times. This is how she was able to have prophecy and “speak with G‑d.”

If we explore the properties of the myrtle a bit further, we discover that it has another interesting, if lesser known, property. Taste. It is commonly said that the hadas is flavorless. However, it has been used in Middle Eastern cooking for centuries as a flavor-enhancing herb—much in the way that we use the common bay leaf to give a dish a depth of flavor and aroma. It has never become popular outside the Middle East, though, because if misused or overused, it becomes bitter, pungent and too intense.

Our Hadassah, too, accessed this property. This was her secret weapon of sorts. She was able to use it on Haman, and even against her husband, the king. Esther was beautiful and sweet, yes. But we cannot gloss over the fact that it was Esther who brought about Haman’s death, and it was Esther who managed to get weapons into the hands of the Jews in order that they be able to defend themselves. It was not a passive but an active defense that Mordechai and Esther organized. She just did so using her “feminine wiles.”

According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, men often choose to influence their environment by force. Thus, although they may attain their goals, the manner in which they secure their conquest may cause friction with those around them. In contrast, the inner dimension (pnimiyut) which characterizes a woman’s approach makes the ideas which she presents attractive to others, and causes them to be accepted as part of their own perspective.6

Esther’s beauty makes her queen, it is true, but it doesn’t help her to influence the kingPhysical beauty is an external quality. It can certainly be used to open doors, but what happens once you walk through those depends on something much deeper. This is where pnimiyut, or essence, comes in. One can connect with someone else truly, fully and completely only when one is willing to give from one’s essence. In order to truly connect or truly influence, we must do so from our core—from our pnimiyut. Esther’s beauty makes her queen, it is true, but it doesn’t help her to influence the king; it is rather from her pnimiyut that Esther is able to draw the strength she needs to do so. And this is what ultimately brought the destruction of her enemy and the enemy of her people, Haman.

So, about that ongoing debate amongst comic-book enthusiasts. Clark Kent or Superman—who was the “real” man? Apparently it comes down to the question of when the issue was published. From 1938 to 1986, it would appear that the Man of Steel was “legit,” but post-1986 Clark Kent seems to be the persona he most identifies with. In our heroine’s case, the “real” woman would always be Hadassah. But, of course, in the megillah, all is not always what it seems.

The story of Purim is the tale of a nation in exile, a G‑d in hiding, and the beautiful and meek concubine who was not all she seemed. The megillah is about things hidden. It is the only book in the canon of Jewish writings that does not mention the Almighty. It is a book about secret vendettas, assassination attempts discussed under the cover of darkness, a queen hiding her heritage. But it is also a story of truth. Because some truths cannot be revealed in the open. Because sometimes it is not what is said but what is omitted that is important.

Our heroine is best known as Queen Esther. And while her essence remained Hadassah throughout her days, it is not a contradiction to call her by her royal title. According to Kabbalistic teachings, the divine attribute of malchut, or royalty, is a feminine attribute.7 Furthermore, it is through the queen that the light of G‑d is revealed, because it is through the queen that the wishes of the king are revealed.8 Once she tapped into her essence and accepted her destiny as the savior of the Jewish nation, Hadassah then also became the embodiment of a queen—not just a Persian queen, but the queen of the Jewish nation. She became Esther HaMalkah.