Q ueen Esther’s invitation to her three-person party set in motion the chain of events that brought about Haman’s downfall and the salvation of the Jewish nation. But what, exactly, did Esther do?

How, exactly, did Queen Esther save the Jewish People of her time? If you read the Megillah closely, and especially if you study it with the classical commentaries, it turns out that she actively did very little in contributing to the sequence of events that brought down Haman and his evil, genocidal plans. The major turning point in the drama of the Megillah is the moment when, at Mordechai’s behest, Esther “dons her royal robes,” and goes to the king to plead with him to annul the wicked Haman’s decree of genocide. Her heroism was in her total mesirus nefesh, putting her life on the line by approaching Achashveirosh, but in terms of activating events, if we follow the drama from that point on, we discover that in terms of a plan of action, all Esther does is invite the king and Haman to come around to her best sitting room for afternoon tea on two successive days. Here is a short recap of events, divided into three acts.

Act I: Esther is the gracious hostess at the small party she is giving for no express purpose, and on short notice. Three people are sitting there, and each has his own thoughts about the reason for the gathering.

Achashveirosh is in suspense. He is indeed wondering why Esther has gathered them all here today.

Haman is pleased as punch. All that interests him is that he alone, aside from the king, has been invited to have tea with the queen, and he is consumed with his own self-importance.

Esther is harboring a bombshell of a secret in her heart.

What did the queen and her two guests talk about at that intimate gathering? We don’t know. No one was taking minutes of the meeting, and no one took out a cell phone to take a video.

Act II: Once the first party is underway, the rest of the story seems to unfold of its own accord. A series of events follows quickly, one coming on the heels of the other. While each event seems to stand alone, in the end they all fall into place, forming a complete jigsaw puzzle that no one could have foreseen.

After the party, the king is no wiser than before as to what it was all about. He returns to his palace feeling vaguely threatened. He tries to settle down for the night, but sleep evades him. Our Sages explain that there was an undercurrent of jealousy that Haman was invited along with him to the queen’s private party. A certain air of mystery hung over the whole affair, and Achashveirosh suspects that court intrigues may be going on behind his back. How can he be sure that Esther is completely loyal to him, or that his closest advisor isn’t plotting to seize the throne from him? (Chazal tell us that on another level of meaning, the King of the Universe was preoccupied that night as well, but as they also teach us, the plain meaning of scripture always remains intact.)

Unable to quiet his brooding mind, Achashveirosh asks a servant to read the chronicles of his reign to him. Is he seeking a clue to the mystery, or just hoping to be put to sleep? We only know that in the course of the reading, the old story of Bigsan and Seresh comes up, and the king is reminded that it was Mordechai who saved him from their murderous designs. And what reward, the king asks, did Mordechai receive for his act of loyalty? None, the servant replies. What a terrible oversight, the king suddenly realizes, and he is determined to redress it.

While Achashveirosh has been brooding and delving into the royal archives, Haman has been feeling particularly jolly. He comes home bursting with good news: His status in the kingdom has risen even higher, and there is only one stain on his bright picture of success — Mordechai the Jew. By the end of that night, Haman’s servants have erected the tall gallows on which he intends to have Mordechai hanged. With that task complete, all that’s left is to get Achashveirosh to rubber-stamp the plan, and his problems are over.

Now the drama shifts gears. A fascinating encounter takes place between the two highest-ranking men in the kingdom, whose interests are at odds. The king is seeking a fitting way to express his belated gratitude to Mordechai, just as Haman arrives, full of spiteful plans to eliminate that very same Mordechai. The ensuing dialogue is the ultimate in irony. When the king asks his advisor to suggest a fitting way to honor someone who has earned his high regard, Haman in his hubris cannot imagine that the king could have anyone but him in mind. The plot takes a sharp turn when Haman is disabused of his delusion.

At the same time, Achashveirosh, whose trust in Haman has already been weakened, finds confirmation of his suspicions in Haman’s megalomaniac visions of honor. Royal raiments? One of my own horses? His wrath is aroused, and he kills two birds with one stone by sending Haman to carry out his own scheme, thereby punishing one while rewarding the other.

Haman, who thought he was about to relish his ultimate triumph, now suffers a knockout punch to his pride.

Esther has no part in any of this. She didn’t plan it, and she isn’t even aware of what has happened overnight to ensure her success in Act III.

Act III: Our three actors are back in their places for a second banquet. But at least two of them are in a very different frame of mind than they were yesterday.

Haman is now feeling utterly downhearted. Achashveirosh, having discovered Haman’s insatiable craving for power, is furious. The stage is set for the deathblow to fall on Haman when Esther reveals his plan to wipe out her people.

Until now, Haman was the king’s closest confidant and advisor; now Achashveirosh has no one to consult on how best to deal with this latest revelation. He goes out to the garden to think.

Desperate, Haman decides to throw himself, literally, upon Esther’s mercy. The king’s jealousy boils over when he returns from the garden and misinterprets what he sees. And with perfect timing, Charvona pipes up just then and tells him about the gallows that Haman prepared for Mordechai. The order is given: “Hang him upon it!” and the scene is complete.

You, my dear readers, all know the story of the Megillah, and my purpose here has not been to simply recount those events, but rather, to highlight the fact that Esther actually had no part in planning them. She risked her life and sealed her fate by approaching Achashveirosh, but in terms of manipulating the plot, she just made one small move, setting in motion a Rube Goldberg machine, an amazing assembly of mismatched parts which brought the drama to its spectacular conclusion. Had Esther been emboldened to make her request of the king at her first little tea party, she surely would have been refused, for at that point Haman was still the king’s most trusted and favored advisor. It was only afterward that misgivings began to surface in Achashveirosh’s mind, and during that busy night between the two get-togethers, everything fell into place to ensure the Jewish People’s salvation.

As the Ramchal writes in Daas Tevunah, the will of Hashem is done, whatever the circumstances. It matters not at all what human beings do. Human activity only provides the raw material that will inevitably be woven, in one way or another, into the result desired by HaKadosh Baruch Hu behind the scenes, where the true reality is concealed. All He asks of man is to act uprightly — that is, by the dictates of the Torah — while the final outcome remains in the safe hands of Divine Providence. History has borne out this truth again and again. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 699)