In addition to relating a tale, the Book of Esther serves as a self-help guide to personal growth. Through analysis of the text, one will detect five key components in overcoming any personal struggle. The root כ.ת.ב, writing, repeats itself throughout the Book.
A decree has power once it is written down. When an experience is written it becomes a concrete reality. When writings are shared with others they become universal and are open to individual interpretation.
Recognize the necessity for change and decide to take action.
ויכתב בדתי פרס-ומדי ולא יעבר אשר לא תבוא ושתי לפני המלך
In the beginning of the story King Achashverosh recognizes the need for a change. Vashti is no longer fit to be a queen, and it is time to find a replacement.
In Esther’s struggle, too, she starts off by taking this first step. Reality hits her when Mordechai urges Esther to recognize that her role as queen may be a way in which she can, from within, save her People.
כי אם החרש תחרישי בעת הזאת רוח והצלה יעמוד ליהודים ממקום אחר ואת ובית אביך תאבדו ומי יודע אם לעת כזאת הגעת למלכות
Mordechai’s encouragement is not enough. He admits to Esther that if she chooses not to act, God will save the Jewish people in a different way. She will lose the opportunity to be His messenger; but the fate of the Jewish people is not entirely in her hands.
What is in her hands is the fate of Queen Esther. Will she make use of the opportunity she has been given to save the Jewish People, or will she succumb to inaction and neglect the chance she has been given to make a difference?! The decision to change must come from within. It is only when Esther realizes this and decides to take action, that her story begins.
Esther takes three significant steps that allow her to make this drastic change and switch from a state of passivity to an active one.
לך כנוס את כל היהודים […] וצומו עלי
Esther turns to Mordechai and the Jewish people for support. She will not struggle on her own; she will gather them so that she knows that people care about her, are praying for her success, and backing up her every move.
ובכן אבוא אל המלך אשר לא כדת וכאשר אבדתי אבדתי
Esther agrees to take a risk; the greatest risk of all. She is willing to die in an attempt to make a difference.
ותלבש אסתר מלכות
Before making her first move, and taking the biggest risk imaginable, Esther dresses the part; adorning her royal clothing. The third prerequisite to success is to know your worth. Esther must acknowledge her role as queen; she must be confident in her strengths and abilities.
Accept that it is a slow and gradual process.
ויכתב ככל אשר צוה המן […] להשמיד להרוג ולאבד את כל היהודים
Once the need for change has been established and Achashverosh finds himself a new queen, it is time to say that they “lived happily ever after.” In a fairytale this may work, but not in real life. King Achashverosh knows that finding a new queen only represents the need for change. The real change will happen slowly and with time. A lot more action needs to be done before he can tell his scribes to conclude in his diary that they “lived happily ever after.” Vashti has been replaced; being a crucial first step. Now his kingdom needs cleansing. The time has come to wipe out the Jewish people. Although not a simple task, Haman insists that exterminating the Jews is what will eventually lead to the desired “happily ever after” ending.
Esther’s struggle too is a gradual process. After Haman is hanged and the Jewish people rejoice, there is still a need to wage war against Haman’s sons and the remainder of the enemy. It is written:
ליהודים היתה אורה ושמחה וששון ויקר
before the enemy is destroyed; before the eventual victory. However, the Jewish People are grateful to God for every small miracle He performs along the way.
Such an approach is what will ultimately motivate one to keep pushing forward. It is crucial to focus on the positive and appreciate every small step that is made towards improvement. One must always keep moving forward, regardless of an end result.
Know your inner voices and work on trying to distinguish right from wrong.
בלילה ההוא נדדה שנת המלך […] וימצא כתוב אשר הגיד מרדכי […] אשר בקשו לשלוח יד במלך אחשורוש
King Achashverosh is struggling between two forces; Haman and Mordechai. Achashverosh cannot distinguish the antagonist from the protagonist. He has reasons to believe in both Haman and Mordechai. He is conflicted as to whose advice he should follow. His inner conflict keeps him up at night and he seeks an answer. Opening his diary he is reminded of a good deed Mordechi had done for him long ago, and remembers that he never properly thanked Mordechai for saving his life.
וכל זה אינו שוה לי בכל עת אשר אני רואה את מרדכי היהודי יושב בשער המלך
Haman is recognized and honored by every person alive. He has everything he could possibly need and want. But he does not appreciate it. None of this is worthwhile to him if it is not 100% perfect. As long as there is one man who refuses to give him the honor he feels he deserves, Haman sees no value in all that he has. He believes that anything less than perfect is worthless.
כי מרדכי היהודי משנה למלך אחשורוש וגדול ליהודים ורצוי לרב אחיו דורש טוב לעמו ודובר שלום לכל זרעו
Mordechai is in a position of authority and is respected in Achashverosh’s kingdom and among all the Jews; well not exactly all, but most… Mordechai is not “perfect,” not everyone respects his opinions. Regardless of such Mordechai continues to thrive. He teaches and inspires his followers while being at peace with his entire nation; even those who are not following in his ways. Mordechai recognizes that he cannot achieve perfection, but nonetheless appreciates his achievements.
Uncover the masks of your יצר הרע and יצר טוב.
יכתב להשיב את הספרים מחשבת המן […] אשר כתב לאבד את היהודים
איש צר ואויב המן הרע הזה
First Achashverosh must conclude that Haman, his greatest advisor, is actually the villain. Only after unmasking the true enemy will he manage to fight against him. Only then he may proceed on his quest for a fairytale ending.
(This reminds me of the story of Repunzel who was hidden her entire life in a tower that her mother claimed was for her safety and protection. Repunzel considered leaving the tower, but was torn between her desire to explore and her commitment to her mother. Only once Repunzel learned that her mother WAS NOT HER MOTHER; when she discovered that she had been taken captive by a selfish, evil woman; when she became aware that the tower was not as safe as she had grown to believe; only then was she able to begin her life.)
One must be aware of the complexity of his inner world. What is right for one person may be wrong for another. What is helpful in one situation may be destructive in another. Speaking in religious terms, the יצר הרע and יצר טוב are often hard to tell apart. If we examine the Haman vs. Mordechi conflict we see that it is more complex than it seems. Everyone knows ארור המן, ברוך מרדכי; but what are the differences that lay in the depths of their personalities?
Haman believes in something and does everything in his power to reach his goal. He is so passionate about his beliefs and insists that he achieve perfection. Likewise, Mordechai has a set of beliefs and morals. He too has a clear agenda which he is passionate about. Haman was destined to ride the royal horse and Merdechi was to be hanged on the gallows. What caused their fates to flip? Their differing perspectives are what set them apart.
Haman only sees two extremes; black or white; perfection or failure; all or nothing. Mordechai takes a multifaceted approach. He recognizes complexity and sees the gray areas. He rejoices upon minor achievements even during a crisis. Mordechai believes that even if Esther would fail at her attempt to annul the decree, merely a minor improvement in the fate of the Jews would have been worth her troubles.
Share your story; write about your struggles and your achievements. Inspire others who may relate to what you have experienced.
ויכתוב מרדכי את הדברים האלה וישלח ספרים אל כל היהודים […] וקיבלו היהודים […] את אשר כתב מרדכי אליהם
ותכתוב אסתר המלכה […] את כל תוקף […] וישלח ספרים אל כל היהודים […] דברי שלום ואמת
The saga is over. Mordechi beats Haman. Esther is the hero. The decree against the Jews is annulled. A holiday is established in commemoration of the victory and in appreciation to Hashem for, once again, saving His Chosen People.
In the reoccurrence of כ.ת.ב there is a message to be learned about the power of written words. Mordechai and Esther both make an effort to write their story and share it with their fellow Jews. This is what I believe life is all about; striving for growth and helping others along the way. I am currently on a journey, as we all are, to better myself. Esther’s narrative of her experience in Shushan resonates with me in so many ways. The Purim story allows me to formulate my thoughts about what, for me, are the five essential steps in personal growth; to me the message is loud and clear.
I am tempted to keep these thoughts to myself; merely scribbling a few notes in my Tanach so I can remember all of this next time I’m seeking guidance and inspiration. But that would be counterproductive in my personal journey. My “Haman” voice, the one that seeks perfection, warns me that if I share my thoughts with others I may face disappointment, criticism, and mockery. But I tell my “Mordechai” voice to dominate; it reinforces my belief that there is tremendous value if one sentence I write touches one person. Esther inspired me with her story. I will follow her lead and I too will share my thoughts in an attempt to inspire others.