Today, Jews around the world will read the biblical Book of Esther as part of the holiday celebration of Purim. For those of you who don’t know the story (or have forgotten it), here it is in a nutshell…
In the ancient kingdom of Persia, a girl named Esther hid her Jewish identity and entered a royal beauty pageant. Her attractiveness and charm enabled her to win and become queen. Eventually she uncovered the evil plot of the king’s chief advisor, Haman, to annihilate the Jewish people. With both trepidation and conviction, Esther devised a strategy to approach King Ahashverosh and secure his support for her people. She bravely confessed to him that she was Jewish, revealed Haman’s anti-Semitic plan, and implored, “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated” (Esther 7:3). Fortunately, the king agreed, intervened on her behalf and Haman himself was killed.
This story is poignant and powerful for two reasons.
To start, it is interesting (and scary) to note that ancient Persia is in the geographic location of the modern-day Iran; the Haman of the past, who called for death to the Jews, has been replaced with the Ahmadinejad of today who calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. The liaison between Esther and the king is analogous to the today’s relationship between Israel and the United States; a partnership that must commit to ensure that Iran and Ahmadinejad do not build nuclear weapons that could destroy millions of innocent Jewish – and non-Jewish – lives. Who doubts that history repeats itself?
Political comparisons aside, the story of Esther is one of female empowerment. After she got her foot in the castle door, Esther came to realize that she had to act on behalf of her people. Her uncle, at one point in the story, asked her “who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). She boldly took charge of a dangerous situation by demonstrating that she was resourceful, strategic, and skilled at setting and achieving her goal. First, she carefully selected the timing, location, and means necessary to maintain control and properly unveil her plan. Then, with an insider’s understanding of how to influence the king, she used the correct words and approach to broach the subject, build her case, make her request, and secure his support and action. Throughout, her commitment was unwavering. Her skills, abilities, courage, and unique opportunities enabled her to save a nation.
So what exactly is empowerment? While we can debate whether it must be given or taken, acting empowered requires an internal motivation that includes: gathering and synthesizing information to make constructive and logical decisions; having an attitude and a desire to promote and implement change for the better; educating and engaging others in ways that encourage positive progress; and exhibiting a postive self-image and confidence. However, it’s important to note that with empowerment comes responsibility and accountability too.
In the words of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, “In my family, if you want to get something done, you take it to the Jewish women relatives. Jewish women, by and large, know how to get things done.” Now that’s what I call Esther-gen!