On the surface the book of Esther reads as a fable of sorts, filled with drama, suspense and a happy ending. However, keeping in mind that it was written under the rulership and scrutiny of the Persian king, care had to be taken to tell the story without offending sensibilities. A secret tradition passed down orally tells the real story. The following has been drawn from our rich tradition of the Talmud, Midrash and commentaries through the ages.

The snake is striking at King Saul mercilessly. King Saul cries out to me, pleading with me to help him . . .

I jolt awake, in a cold sweat, the haunting image of my ancestor seared in my mind. It’s that dream, the one I’ve had many times before.1

When King Saul was commanded by G‑d, through the prophet Samuel, to eradicate Amalek, he was told to leave no remembrance. Yet King Saul was swayed by his own reason The snake is striking mercilesslyand emotions, and failed to carry out his Divine mandate. He spared Agag, the king, and some animals.

In my vivid, recurring dream, Agag turns into a deadly snake and strikes at King Saul. A shiver runs down my spine as I recall King Saul’s pleading eyes, his cries for help. What could it mean?

Shulamit enters my chamber, breathless.

I breathe a sigh of relief. Thank G‑d, she is safe.

She kneels before me and kisses my hand. “Your message was received, and I have been entrusted with a reply. I have memorized it word for word.”

I stand up to receive the message, trembling. “You may begin.”

Shulamit clears her throat and, eyes closed, starts reciting Mordechai’s message, mimicking his mannerism, cadence and inflections. A deep crease forms between her eyebrows as she concentrates.

“Tell the queen as follows: As soon as I became aware of the decree, I stopped children coming out of school and inquired as to what they had learned today. I wanted to discern whether there was still hope for the Jewish nation as a people of G‑d. One child quoted Proverbs, saying: ‘Do not fear sudden terror, nor the destruction of the wicked when it comes.’ A second child quoted Isaiah: ‘Contrive a scheme, but it will be foiled; conspire a plot, but it will not materialize; for G‑d is with us.’ A third child said: ‘To your old age I am with you, unto your hoary years I will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and deliver you.’ They are all prophetic answers to Haman’s threat. We only need to repent and return to G‑d, and salvation will come. But you, Esther, what will become of you? If you remain silent at this time, you and the house of your father will be lost. Perhaps it was precisely for this moment that G‑d has made you queen of Persia and Media.”

If you remain silent at this time, you and the house of your father will be lost. What does Mordechai mean by that? Mordechai feels that I am precisely the one to fulfill this task, and if I were to refuse, I and my ancestors would be lost? I reflect on those words, tossing them around from every angle, endeavoring to uncover their implications.

“Your Highness?” Shulamit’s arms are outstretched, a scroll in her open palms. She raises it toward me like an offering. “Mordechai thought that within these words you would find the resolve you seek.”

I roll it open. It contains Jeremiah’s prophecies.

So says the L‑rd: I remember the loving-kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, your following Me in the desert, in a land not sown. . . . What wrong did your forefathers find in Me, that they distanced themselves from Me, and they went after futility? . . . Truly, as a woman betrays her beloved, so have you betrayed Me, O House of Israel . . .

Indeed, when we accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai, we were bound with G‑d like a woman to her husband. We swore our undying devotion and faithfulness, yet we have betrayed Him by placing our trust in idols or humans. The truth is that our betrayal is only skin-deep. Yes, Jews have bowed to idols, but not sincerely; they have sought to ingratiate themselves and seek protection and security from a human king, and affronted G‑d’s honor by doing so. Even so, I believe that deep inside every Jewish heart beats that same unwavering loyalty of a star-struck newlywed. It only needs to be revealed.

You will seek Me with all your heart, and I will be found by you, says G‑d.

Is this why Mordechai asks me to endanger my life? For only an extraordinary act of sacrifice will bring to the fore the unbreakable bond we share with G‑d?

I pause; the intensity of that thought overwhelms me. Then, as if calling to me, the words draw me in again.

The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream, and who has My word, let him tell My word as truth.

Like a flash of light in the darkness, I have an epiphany. All is crystal clear: my dream, its meaning and Mordechai’s words.

Agag, king of Amalek, striking King Saul . . . and now a descendant of Amalek is poised to strike all Jews . . .

I must correct my great-grandfather’s mistake. And it must be me, for if I refuse, I and my ancestors will be lost. I will have forfeited the opportunity to rectify King Saul’s fault.

The musty scroll beckons me once more. Is this why Mordechai asks me to endanger my life?

A voice is heard on high, lamentation, bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, for they are not. So says the L‑rd: Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for there is reward for your work, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.2

I recall the days when Mordechai and I, poring over the scriptures, would recount the lore that lies between the terse verses. How I loved to hear the deeds of our matriarchs, and how I wished to emulate them.

The patriarchs and matriarchs went to appease the Holy One, blessed be He, concerning the sin of Manasseh, who placed an image in the Temple, but He was not appeased. Rachel entered and stated before Him, “O L‑rd of the Universe! Whose mercy is greater, Your mercy or the mercy of a flesh-and-blood person? You must admit that Your mercy is greater. Now, did I not bring my rival into my house?

“For all the work that Jacob worked for my father, he worked only for me. When I came to enter the nuptial canopy, they brought my sister, and it was not enough that I kept my silence, but I gave her my password. You, too, if Your children have brought Your rival into Your house, keep Your silence for them.”

He said to her, “You have defended them well. There is reward for your deed and for your righteousness, that you gave over your password to your sister.”

Was that the reason Rachel was buried on the road to Ephrath, alone, so that she could intervene on behalf of her children when they were being exiled? Did she know she was the only one who could? Did she foresee in the throes of labor that her children would need her, and that is why, as she was dying, she named her child “Ben Oni,” son of my sorrow?

The magnitude of her sacrifice moves me to tears, and I know without a doubt what I must do. But I will not act alone. I find Haman’s letter and reread it with care. The answer to our predicament is to be found in his accusations. He calls us “a people scattered and dispersed”—so we must come together in unison. He deems us “arrogant”—so we need to humble ourselves through fast and prayer. Haman cast a pur, lottery, surrendering his scheme to a plane of inescapable fate, beyond calculations or logic.

We, too, must employ effort beyond reason, and prove to G‑d that our commitment and relationship with Him reaches far beyond sense. No matter what the cost, we shall not give up our Jewish identity. That is why I will go before the the king, unannounced. I will reveal to the king that I am a Jewess, and I will plead for my people.

One late night in 1942, in Hamadan, the local rabbi was approached by a Muslim who owned a coffee shop next to Esther’s Tomb. “There is a lady trapped in your building. I can hear her crying. Why don’t you take care of her?” he complained. The rabbi was confused. Usually, Esther’s Tomb was kept locked before nightfall, after ensuring everyone had left. He went to investigate, but there was no one to be found. Queen Esther must be crying for her children, he felt. Shaken, the rabbi called the community together: “Let us fast and pray to G‑d for the safety of the “There is a lady trapped in your building . . .” Jews.”

When the long night and day of fasting were over, the news was heard that Germany had suffered its first defeat at Stalingrad, and was beginning its retreat.3

The Talmud praises Esther for striving to be like the matriarchs. Considering that Esther was a descendent of Rachel (from the tribe of Benjamin), I find that this story movingly echoes Rachel’s crying for her children.

Excerpted from the The Gilded Cage: Esther’s Untold Story.