While I try whole-heartedly to get through each fast until it's over, there are times that I break it in the late afternoon because of a raging headache, even if it's just for a drink of water or a bite of a cracker. But I always make a special effort to get through the entire fast of Esther without breaking it. There's something about Esther's bravery and her courage that makes me want to stand in unity with her. It's not that I'm such an ardent feminist, but there's something empowering about a woman having lived in ancient times, who bravely stood up against the men who ruled her and exhibited her quiet strength and courage that ultimately saved our nation.
Besides the age-old story of good rising up over evil, there's another deeper lesson that every girl can learn from the megilla. There are two prominent women featured in this dramatic event: Queen Vashti who was the wife of King Ahashverosh, and Esther, a young orphaned Jewess, living with her uncle in Shushan, the capital of the Persian Empire. Obviously, Esther has become a role model for all young Jewish girls. After all, she was a queen, heroine and savior of our people.
But she was much more than that.
She was a modest woman who didn't set out to grab the attention of the King. The Talmud alludes to the fact that in reality, Esther was not a very attractive woman, but that she had the 'thread of grace' upon her. She was such a beautiful person inside that as a result, it shone through her exterior, making her beauty apparent to all those who cast eyes upon her. Despite her attempts to hide her beauty from the King, he was instantly smitten by her quiet demeanor, her grace and her modesty. Even after being crowned queen, she didn't allow her lofty position to go to her head. She remained modest, faithful to her religion (she was careful to eat only kosher even in the palace) and treated her handmaidens with compassion and respect.
Vashti, in comparison, was overconfident, haughty, immodest, egotistic and quite an extrovert. She didn't seem to have any issue baring her body to a ballroom full of people. In fact, her parading around naked was a regular occurrence. The only reason she refused to in the story portrayed in the megilla was because she was suddenly stricken with boils and scars and was too vain to reveal her body in that state. Ultimately, her refusal caused her demise.
Unfortunately, many of today's young women follow Vashti's 'if you've got it, flaunt it' trend, be it in clothes or behavior. The more public, the better. The more revealing, the better.
The young women of our generation could stand to learn a lot from our Queen Esther. The root of her name comes from the word 'hester' - meaning hidden. Being taken by force to be the wife of a powerful man who was not from her people, a man she did not love and a man capable of killing his own wife must have been terrifying for a young powerless girl like Esther. But she kept her fear hidden and courageously put her life on the line, using the power of her beauty to lead a prominent man like Haman to the gallows and to ensure the continued protection of her people under the rule of Ahashverosh. She kept not just her beauty and her identity hidden; she kept her ultimate plan to destroy Haman and his nefarious scheme to destroy the Jewish people hidden until the last moment when it would have the greatest impact. She epitomizes what it means to be a true woman of valor.
This is the Esther for whom we fast...