Friday, February 22, 2013

Esther: Some Things You Should Know

Art: John Cox


Reprinted with permission from Tzaddik Magazine

written by Esther Bashe

Esther is a ''precious stone''.  She descended into the depths on a secret mission.  Her very name means ''hidden''.  Only when her mission was accomplished did she and Mordechai record the events on a scroll called Megillat Esther.  Written with ruach haKodesh [Divine inspiration] the contents of this scroll are read every Purim around the world, testifying to the hidden and miraculous presence of G-d in the darkest of moments.  A prototype of hidden redemption, the Purim story is especially relevant to our generation.

Sometimes there are dilemmas so enormous that the mind cannot fathom a way out.  In this case, there is only one solution to circumvent everything.  Go to the microcosmic source that holds the root of everything.  The Foundation Stone [Even HaShetiyah] in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem had this quality, lying beneath the Holy of Holies - a place radiating unparalleled spiritual symmetry and beauty of irresistible attraction.  This innermost point was hidden inside Esther, as well as other great tzaddikim and tzidkaniyot throughout history. Redemption during periods of great peril is sometimes brought about through a lone individual.  Other times it involves the interaction between a pair of redeemers, as in the case of Mordechai and Esther.

The potency of Esther's power lay in its hiddenness: it flowed from the all-inclusive good point she possessed.  It wasn't just any good point, it was the microcosmic hub found within every woman who played a redemptive role in Jewish history - for instance, the three matriarchs Sara, Rivka and Rachel, as well as Ruth, Devorah, Yael, Rabbi Meir's wife Bruria, Rabbi Akiva's wife Rachel, and many others who remain hidden.  Evil individuals seeking to harm or destroy the Jewish people often met their downfall through women who put their body and soul on the line for the sake of the Jewish people.  Esther cried out in profound distress: Hatzila M-cherev Nafshi - Save my soul from the sword!  [Psalms 22:21 This entire chapter in the Book of Psalms is attributed to Esther] The first letters of this verse spell ''Haman''.

Since Esther's innermost point included the root of every soul, she is said to have encompassed Klal Yisrael.  She was also the living spiritual paradigm of ishah yirat Hashem - the ''G-d fearing woman'' [Proverbs 31:30] spoken about extensively in our holy writings.  Her humility formed the basis for every salvation, and allowed her to resist the empty lure of fame and recognition - something that would have undermined her success entirely.

A Timeless vs Time-Bound Beauty
There is another deeper aspect to Esther's powerful influences that involves time itself. [Toras Noson on Esther]   All suffering is the result of existing in a realm bound by time. Exile in particular personifies the pain and anguish of life under the constraints of time. We are unable to see the whole picture, something reserved only for the higher timeless consciousness of the World to Come. [Berakhot 34b et al]

But at extraordinary moments in history the two realms intersect, bringing redemption.  The reality that exists above time is miraculous because it suffers no lack or damage of any kind. Everything is whole and complete, and as such, holds the key to all healing and perfection. The essence of the Purim miracle [as well as that of Chanukah] came from this timeless realm and penetrates deeply into our world every year during Chanukah and Purim.  It is the same place from where Mashiach pulls down his strength to repair a very troubled and diseased earth. Because Esther possessed this microcosmic good point in her generation, by straddling both realms, she was the conduit of salvation for the entire Jewish people during Purim.

When she descended into the depths of evil, the Other Side rejoiced, figuring it had won the biggest prize by capturing the ishah yirat Hashem, the quintessential G-d fearing woman herself. She now would be lost along with everything else she held within her.  Vi-ka asher avaditi avaditi - And if I perish, I perish - she wept [Esther 4:17].  Taken into the inner chambers of Achashverosh, she was submerged in the constraints of time - the ultimate expression of exile.  However, the profound humility and righteousness of Esther prevented the wicked Achashverosh from accessing her inner essence. [R'Chaim Vital: Etz Chaim, Sha'ar Klipat Nogah 4-5; Ma'amar Ha Nefesh 11:3].  She nullified herself entirely and remained unaffected by any contact with him.  Her purity protected her during her descent, enabling her to elevate and restore the sparks of holiness that fell into the lowest time-bound realm of evil.

Esther's ''capture'' and exile to the lowest time-bound realm of Haman and Achashverosh was intended to suppress all hope for redemption rooted above time.  This supra-temporal level is where the Jewish people draw their strength.  Therefore, since the dimension of time had engulfed Esther, to prevail over her meant prevailing over Israel - since they were all rooted in her soul.  Yet she overcame everything through her heroic efforts on behalf of the Jews.  In so doing, she prevailed over the time-bound astrological calculations of Haman to annihilate the entire people on the 13th of the Hebrew month of Adar [the day preceding Purim, observed as the 'Fast of Esther' today].  Instead, the tables were completely turned on Haman and his supporters when the day earmarked for the destruction of the Jews brought devastation to Israel's enemies.  The redemptive light of the timeless realm converted everything into good - all in the merit of Mordechai and Esther, the redemptive duo of Purim.

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''For the Jews there was light, gladness, joy, and honor - so may it be for us.'' [From the prefatory verses of the Havdalah ceremony recited at the conclusion of Shabbat, based on Esther 8:16]
by Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz From "Manos HaLevi"

Translation by R. Carmel Kehati [words in brackets are the translator's additions]

"And thus I [Esther] will approach the king." [Esther 4:16]

Rabbi Yosef Gackon writes, concerning Esther's three-day fast, that Esther [in fasting for exactly three days] had the following kabbalistic intention. Namely, that three days and nights contain seventy-two hours, and "B'chen" ["thus", in 4:16] equals seventy-two numerically [in letter-gematria], corresponding to the [exalted 72-letter] Name of G-d hinted in the three verses [that begin], "Vayisa", "Vayavo","Vayet" [Exodus 14:19, 20, 21, each of which contain seventy-two letters precisely]. It was with the power of this Name that G-d split the [Red] sea and had the Israelites cross over, and He guided them in His protection and they had no fear [of the enemy].

From that Name, [the flow of] the Divine life-force comes to Esther's supernal [corresponding]sefira; for Esther [as our Sages say] was greenish [olive skinned] in complexion [green is a color associated with the sefira Chesed, Divine kindness, as the life-flow descends through the upper worlds]. Esther, with the power of these seventy-two hours, approached [G-d], King of the world, in her prayers; for she was sure of His help [that He would answer her and save the Jews]. Then, in this [lowly physical] world, she approached King Ahasuerus.

Much more at: Secrets in the Book of Esther

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