Esther HaMalka: Robed in Royalty| November 22, 2015
Esther was prepared to sacrifice everything—her very life and even her portion in Olam HaBa—for the sake of the people
Flouncy dresses of pink and white, silver-painted scepters, crowns covered in rhinestones. Every Purim, it seems like another wave of five year old girls have decided exactly what Queen Esther looked like when decked out in her royal garments.
Adorable though they may look, Chazal find a deeper dimension in the words: “Vatilbash Esther Malchus.” The “garments of majesty” that Esther wore was the gift of prophecy. How was Esther’s gift of prophecy connected to her royal status? And how does Esther’s majesty connect to us in our own lives as contemporary women?
Children of Hashem
When the Jews were exiled from Eretz Yisrael after the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash, they wailed: “We are like orphans! We have no father!” In the merit of this lament, the Midrash tells us, Hashem granted them a savior who was an orphan. Rav Matisyahu Salamon in Matnas Chaim explains the meaning of this midrash. The highest level of emunah is the understanding that salvation comes only from Hashem. As the navi states: “Ashur will not save us; we will not ride upon horses; no longer will we call the work of our hands our gods—for in You the fatherless find mercy” (Hoshea 14:4).
When a person realizes that there is no other address to turn to—whether horse and idol, bank manager or doctor—he places his trust in Hashem. And who knows this secret better than the orphan? Without father or mother to provide for him, the orphan is forced to turn to Hashem. And Hashem promises that when an orphan cries out to Him, He will respond immediately: “For in You the fatherless find mercy.”
After experiencing the vicissitudes of the Persian exile, the Jewish people were able to internalize this lesson. With Haman’s harsh decree, backed by the Achashveirosh who was effectively dictator over the entire civilized world, all hope was lost. Only Hashem could save the people. And to mirror this spiritual realization, Hashem sent Esther to save the people. Paradoxically, it is when we feel the most helpless that we manifest the midah of majesty. For it is then that we are sheltered by Hashem, drawn close to Him in a relationship of child to Father, and thus are garbed in royal robes.
This depth of emunah is bound up in a woman’s essence. In fact, the very word emunah is related to the word em, mother. But at times, faith and trust seem amorphous, they flit out of reach even as we stretch out our hands.
One of the ways to plant emunah in our hearts, says the Chazon Ish, is through tefillah. By davening for everything we need, we internalize that Hashem provides everything and is the source of all salvation. Of course, formal tefillah is the most obvious way to achieve this. But even something small and simple, like saying brachos out loud, has a profound effect. In fact, Rav Wolbe notes that by saying brachos aloud, a mother wordlessly teaches her child that Hashem exists, that He is the source of everything, and that we must relate to Him with gratitude. Our tefillos should be constant—asking Hashem for help for everything from the success of a cookie recipe to a throat culture, from success in school to a positive outcome from a job interview; the more we daven, the more we feel and understand how Hashem is the Source of all.
Leader of a Nation
When faced with Haman’s decree, Esther gave firm instructions: gather the people and fast for three days. Esther was prepared to sacrifice everything—her very life and even her portion in Olam HaBa—for the sake of the people. Esther’s instruction galvanized that nation, it unified them into a community—and we know that unity is a prerequisite for receiving Torah. Their fasting led a special dimension to their prayer for salvation. The combination of unity and prayer that both Esther and the nation displayed were key elements in invoking rachamei Shamayim. It formed a spiritual atom bomb. We know that “Hashem, His Torah, and Yisrael are one”—and Esther modeled that interconnectedness. No wonder that, as a result of this miracle, the people came to reaccept the Torah from love.
This beautiful message of connectedness is actually hinted at in the food that we eat on Purim. The three-sided hamantasch is not just a triangle—the shape can be conceptualized as three vavs, placed at right angles.
What do these vavs seek to tell us? The Shevilei Pinchas, Rav Pinchas Friedman, shares that kabbalistically, the vav is referred to the os emes, the letter of truth. The letters of Esther’s name: alef, samech, taf and reish, stand for emes: sof, toch, rosh—emes [is found at the] end, middle and beginning. Indeed, the Megillah starts and ends with the letter vav, and the very middle of the megillah is the vav in the words: “and she sent divrei shalom v’emes.”
Not only is vav the letter of truth, it is also the letter of connection. “Bevavim eskaser,” we sing in Askinu Seudasa, which can be understood as meaning, with the letter vav, we crown Hashem. Rabbi Dovid of Lelov brings the following astounding explanation: vav connects Hashem, the Torah, and the Jewish people. Fascinatingly, there are three ways of spelling the letter vav. The first—vav, alef, vav—has the numerical value 13, representing echad, the oneness of hashem. The second—vav, yud, vav—equals 22, the letters of the aleph beis found in the Torah. The third spelling is vav, vav—12 hinting at the 12 tribes of am Yisrael. So within the letter itself, we find a hint to the connections that form the bedrock of our existence: Hashem, His Torah, and Am Yisrael are one.
Returning to the hamantasch, these three letter vavs make up the edges. But there’s a filling. The filling is our personal link to Hashem, Torah, and am Yisrael. Just like the filling can come in numerous flavors and textures, our approach to avodas Hashem will differ from that of other people. Some people graciously open their homes to strangers—they are connected with Yisrael. Others focus more on their own internal relationship with Hashem. And others still build homes where limud haTorah is paramount. Poppy or jelly—no matter. What matters is the unity we achieve: with others, within ourselves.
And when this is achieved, the silks and velvets of Esther Hamalka won’t be just the domain of little girls on Purim. The garments of majesty will enrobe every Jew, and lead us to the ultimate Redemption.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 468)
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