This week our discussion has centered around the “Becoming” qualities necessary to have an impact on our lives and those of others. On this edition of “Becoming Today” we’ll turn our attention to the story of one particular young woman, who against all odds, personified a life of achieving, exceeding and leading in ways that she was uniquely created for.
This is not a modern tale, it’s been retold around the world. In fact some even honor this woman with festive meals and acts of charity, teaching their families and others about her brave and selfless acts.
In fact she is the foundational reason for a Holiday. Which just so happens to be celebrated today.
As the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews explains, “Purim is one of the most joyous holidays on the Jewish calendar. During the Purim holiday celebration, Jews participate in a boisterous public reading of the biblical book of Esther, deliver baskets of food and drink to friends, eat hat-shaped cookies called Hamantaschen after the villain in the story…”.
So while I am not wearing the Mardi Gras-like masks that are often associated with this event, I am thinking about making what look like so delightfully delicious cookies I watched their President and C E O Yael Eckstein make, and she shares the recipe and images of her family’s celebratory events in the short video on the linked page.
The reasons they do so are because of the brave, selfless, truly death-defying actions of Esther, that are found also in the Christian Bible.
While Purim is considered a joyous time, the rejoicing comes from the overcoming of evil. As our heroine and her people were facing an imminent purging, it was Esther who saved the day and the generations of families to come.
So how did an orphan girl from a disenfranchised minority single handedly lobby a king to stop an ethnic cleansing?
Let’s begin at the beginning.
Well, after this “Ro-notation”. Throughout the Bible, a cultural and historical trend is noted repeatedly. This is the changing of people’s names. Not as a way of hiding their lineage or because of entering a witness protection program, rather because of life-altering events that changed who they were “Becoming”.
Some notable instances were when Abram “Becoming” Abraham, Naomi wanting to be “Becoming” Mara, and perhaps most dramatically Saul of Tarsus “Becoming” the Apostle Paul.
We learn that Esther was assigned at birth the name of Hadassah. She was born into a family of Jews, who were exiled from Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar. So they were refugees who found political asylum in Persia.
Obviously travel was far more difficult in those days, as Esther’s story takes place during the reign of Xerxes between 485—465 B C E. So sent away some nearly seven-thousand miles or more than 11-thousand kilometers, from their homeland, as a tender aged child she is orphaned.
The details and her age at the time are not recorded in the scriptural record, however she was adopted by a benevolent uncle Mordecai, who raised her up like his own daughter.
Despite living in exile as the story continues we’ll see that Mordecai did not lose his sense of identity and was not afraid to boldly declare his beliefs and take very public actions in defense of them. No doubt these qualities were instilled in young Esther.
So there came a time when the King who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India into an area in Africa that today we call the Northern Sudan, wanted to show off his wealth.
About six months into his period of partying, he decides to wrap it up by declaring seven days of feasting to honor him including a command that all participating,drink with no restrictions.
His wife Queen Vashti was off doing her own thing,… in similar fashion. This is where the consequences set in, starting the events that lead to Esther’s life “Becoming” unlike anything she ever imagined.
On the seventh day of this bender, as it’s reported, “when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine”, he called his eunuchs. In other words, he’s stoned and says to his boys, go tell the Queen to come here, perhaps for a little something-something.
Vashti, after raising that finger to wag, says something probably like ‘uh-uh, I ain’t going. You tell that drunken fool I said, “NO!”.
So the King is outraged. He’s madder than h-**.
There’s nothing to suggest they stopped their drinking, as the King and his crew huddle up and get to talking. Now the other boys are worried, what if our wives, who saw this, decide to try the same thing!
Suddenly “Becoming” fearful Vashti would be ushering in a time in which “There will be no end of disrespect and discord”, this room full of men, apparently too hazy to remember they’ve just been on a seven-day binge, following six months of partying, which undoubtedly involved some dissing and friction, come up with a plan.
This is where Vashti exits the story.
By royal decree, he throws her out, not only of the house but the kingdom. Then to the delight of the boys, he goes even further to help them out, “when the king’s edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest.”
There is no recorded comment about what the women thought, looking at this proud group of drunken fools, proclaiming, what?
Anyway, surprise surprise, The King’s single again, and wants another honey.
So the boys are sent out looking for him.
Mordecai hears about this, and hmmm… I’ve got this niece / step-daughter Esther who,“had a lovely figure and was beautiful”.
So he sends her off to the palace and the King agrees she is the finest of them all. Then begins being groomed to be “Becoming” his wife, though she has a secret. One her uncle told her not to reveal.
Esther is successful in “Becoming” the Queen however because of the “secret”, …I feel the want to call him “Uncle Mordi”, so I will,… (audibly giggling); Uncle Mordi does not turn his back on her.
As we read in Esther chapter two verses 10 and 11, “Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so. Every day he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her.”
So while Uncle Mordi is hanging near the intersection of Palace and Harem, he hears something. Two of the corner boys are planning to take out the King.
He tells his niece, who warned her husband, giving Uncle Mordi the credit. No unsolved mystery here, the King gives the order and disloyal crew members are “impaled on poles”.
The King then needs to reorganize his crew and he makes this guy Haman, his top lieutenant, his chief of staff.
Now by this time “Uncle Mordi” is on the inside. He’s highly respected for saving the King, when people start looking at him, because he refuses to kneel down before Haman.
So Haman is getting mad about this. Madder and madder, wondering just who does this Mordecai think he is! He better kiss my ring…. Hey what? Mordecai’s people, are who?
Found out. Mordi’s not passing anymore, and Haman wants revenge. So he decides the best way to stop feeling dissed, is to develop a plan to kill all the Jews in the Kingdom.
Motivated by revenge and jealousy, as we read in Esther chapter three verses eight and nine,
“Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will give ten thousand talents of silver to the king’s administrators for the royal treasury.”
So Haman offers up some tribute to King offering to buy a law authorizing him to have these minorities killed. Xerxes answers immediately, in verse ten, “Keep the money,” the king said to Haman, “and do with the people as you please.”
Then the two went to celebrate, by drinking together…
News spread fast and Uncle Mordi is outraged, ready for a fight so “he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly”.
Taking it to the streets he protested right outside the palace gates. His niece’s crew heard about it and told Esther. Uncle Mordi sent word to her about the ‘executive order’ and even supplied copies of the official statements. Plus he instructs her “to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people”.
Uncle Mordi, remember he was also Esther’s adoptive father not only releases her from the promise he swore her to obey, but gives her a patriarchal blessing that she can now truly be “Becoming” a queen for her people.
“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape.
For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish.
And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
Perhaps For A Time Such As This, Esther was created to fulfill her purpose according to God’s plan. Would she step out in faith and put her values and belief in action?
Absolutely. That’s why she’s remembered and celebrated to this day.
So with the assistance of her feminine wiles, she puts her own course of action into play.
Now my Grandma taught me the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and it also aided Esther’s cause that she was by all accounts serving it up from a place of being a brick house.
So she did herself up and went to see hubby at work. “When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold scepter that was in his hand. So Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter.”
Then he asked what’s up?
“What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you.”
If it pleases the king,” replied Esther, “let the king, together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for him.”
Looking fine and setting the table…
So they set down to supper, and the record reveals, “As they were drinking wine, the king again asked Esther, “Now what is your petition? It will be given to you. And what is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.”
Esther replied, “My petition and my request is this: If the king regards me with favor and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet I will prepare for them. Then I will answer the king’s question.”
Xerxes is thinking…What now! Another home-cooked meal we’ll be here.
She had them right where she wanted them.
At the end of the night, “Haman went out that day happy and in high spirits. But when he saw Mordecai at the king’s gate and observed that he neither rose nor showed fear in his presence, he was filled with rage”.
As Haman went home to sleep it off, Uncle Mordi wasn’t backing down and would not let him forget it. Mordecai’s secret revealed he was out of the shadows and stepping into the light in defense of truth and justice.
Feeling no pain Haman goes home to his wife and starts bragging about what a man he is, but still he just can’t let go of that image of Uncle Mordi smirking at him. Esther Chapter five ends with these words,….
“And that’s not all,” Haman added. “I’m the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow. But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.”
His wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Have a pole set up, reaching to a height of fifty cubits,and ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai impaled on it. Then go with the king to the banquet and enjoy yourself.” This suggestion delighted Haman, and he had the pole set up.”
Meanwhile back at the palace, the King couldn’t sleep so he started reading about himself. In the palace records he recalls when Uncle Mordi saved his life.
So come morning, the King can’t get that off his mind.
Esther chapter six reports, he asked his servants ,
“What honor and recognition has Mordecai received for this?” the king asked.
“Nothing has been done for him,” his attendants answered.
The king said, “Who is in the court?” Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the palace to speak to the king about impaling Mordecai on the pole he had set up for him.
His attendants answered, “Haman is standing in the court.”
“Bring him in,” the king ordered.
When Haman entered, the king asked him, “What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?”
Now thinking it could only be him, that the King would want to honor so greatly, Haman dreams up a way of his being shown off to all.
“So he answered the king, “For the man the king delights to honor, have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head. Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king’s most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!’”
Sounds great, the King declares. Now do everything you just said “for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Do not neglect anything you have recommended.”
So he did. Haman himself put the robe on Uncle Mordi and then himself because he obviously believed he was the most noble of princes, “led him on horseback through the city streets, proclaiming before him, “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!””
Afterwards, Haman ran home crying to his wife, grumbling to everyone he knew about it. Then he was reminded he needed to have dinner with the King and Queen.
“As they were drinking wine on the second day, the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what is your petition? It will be given to you. What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.”
Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.”
King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?”
Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!””
I imagine she pointed a finger directly at that rat, seated at her dinner table, right where she wanted him.
The king is mad, it says he stormed out of the house in a rage. Meanwhile the weasel stayed behind to beg the Queen’s forgiveness. She wasn’t having any of it and just went and put her feet up on the sofa, I imagine arms crossed, so Haman tried to cozy up a bit, and the King walked into the room…
“Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?”
So remember that 75 foot pole Haman and his boys put up outside his house to display Uncle Mordi on?
Well one of the Queen’s crew did and as chapter seven of the book of Esther ends:
“Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, said, “A pole reaching to a height of fifty cubits stands by Haman’s house. He had it set up for Mordecai, who spoke up to help the king.”
The king said, “Impale him on it!” So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided.”
After the king settled down a bit, he got busy stopping the slaughter.
First he gave Esther all the property that belonged to Haman. Then he called Mordecai in and the “ king took off his signet ring, which he had reclaimed from Haman, and presented it to Mordecai. And Esther appointed him over Haman’s estate”.
Even more importantly Esther reminded Xerxes he had more to do and he better get the paperwork in order.
Not only did he spare the lives of the Jews, “The king’s edict granted the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate the armed men of any nationality or province who might attack them and their women and children…”
A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so that the Jews would be ready on that day to avenge themselves on their enemies.”
The book goes on to record how Purim was established.
While a reminder of some frightening, unjust and bloody events, in the end all was well. Good triumphed over evil and light defeated darkness.
That’s why the Jewish people continue to celebrate Purim.
Doing so today they’ll read the Book of Esther aloud from their scriptural records and without any of my “Ro-notations”. Though since they tend to do so boisterously, I’m hopeful they (and you) enjoy the humor I added.
They’ll also feast with their families and practice acts of charity. All very “Becoming: ways of honoring a woman who came from ‘the streets’ to perhaps for a time such as this, truly become a benevolent, fierce Queen, who not only cared for but saved her people.
We need more Esthers and Mordecais. Those willing to step forward into the light of day and lead based on their values and beliefs.
Despite all odds, even at the risk of losing their lives, they were steadfast, forbearant and firm in resolve sustained by hope and faith, seeing through to the end that all could continue to be guaranteed the opportunity to live out their inalienable rights endowed by the Creator… life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Perhaps you are “Becoming” one.
Perhaps For A Time Such As This it’s your turn to rise and shine.
Tomorrow is another holiday in many places. Celebrated in different ways to honor an individual who is both real and imagined. I’ll explain when you join us on our next edition of “Becoming Today”.