Esther Shows How to Speak Your Mind Without Undermining Social Order

The star of this week’s Purim story gets her point across because of the way she tells certain truths.

An early 3rd-century CE painting of Esther and Mordecai found in the Dura-Europos synagogue in Syria. Wikipedia.

An early 3rd-century CE painting of Esther and Mordecai found in the Dura-Europos synagogue in Syria. Wikipedia.

Atar Hadari
Observation
Feb. 24 2021
About the author

Atar Hadari’s Songs from Bialik: Selected Poems of H. N. Bialik (Syracuse University Press) was a finalist for the American Literary Translators’ Association Award. His Lives of the Dead: Poems of Hanoch Levin earned a PEN Translates award and was released in 2019 by Arc Publications. He was ordained by Rabbi Daniel Landes and is completing a PhD on William Tyndale’s translation of Deuteronomy.


As we approach Purim and the reading of the book of Esther, it strikes me that the story in it is very much one about the limits of different kinds of authority: that of the Persian king who drunkenly requests that his wife appear in front of his equally drunken courtiers, that of his queen who rebuffs his request and thereby kicks off the story, that of the Persian vizier Haman who demands that everyone bow to him, and indeed that of Mordecai who defies Haman and does not bow but is in turn defied by his own cousin Esther, who not only displays greater sensitivity to Gentile sensibilities, but is the sole person in the story to draw on a religious precedent. At the heart of these conflicts is the tension between the social order—which entails hierarchy, authority, deference, and acquiescence—and standing up for what is right; that is, for defending the truth even when those in positions of authority are wrong. These tensions are inescapable because those who have the most authority are not necessarily the wisest, and sometimes even the wise aren’t always right.

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More about: Esther, Purim, Religion & Holidays