The sage Rambam tells us that all the books of the Hebrew Bible will be nullified after the coming of the Messiah except for the Five Books of Moses and the Book of Esther (aka The Purim Story). On a Kabbalistic level, the five books of Moses are said to contain all the wisdom that ever was or ever will be, so their persistence is understandable. But why are we to continue reciting the Purim story even after the arrival of the Messiah? The rather brief Book of Esther seems an odd choice, especially as it doesn’t mention G-d’s name even once.
(Rather listen than read? Click here to hear me read the story via Youtube.)
For some years now I’ve been enamored of Esther’s story. (Read my earlier exploration here.) Reading the Purim story this year, I was excited to stumble upon a few more clues as to why the Book of Esther may be so vital to our ongoing story. I already loved Esther for her courage and wisdom. I saw in her a model for creating miracles in our lives, as she walked the steps from orphan to queen, to hero, all the while creating miracles for herself and her people.
As I read again of how Esther stood before the king, and how he extended his scepter to her in support of her petition, my mind traveled back to the many interviews I conducted this year on the topic of the Divine Feminine, and in particular to my interview with Carla Sanders.
Carla spoke of what women’s empowerment and a re-conceived role for men might look like. She shared a painting in which women stood in a great circle, with four men in four corners, each holding a staff, functioning as ‘pillars of support’ for the women (imagery also found in Native American and Inuit ceremony and art).
For the first time this Purim I noticed that King Ahasuerus extended his golden sceptor to Esther not once, but twice, each time increasing his support for her requests. I was intrigued to take a closer look at the delineation of leading and supporting roles of men and women in the drama.
The story opens with a scene of lavish feasting and drinking, with the men firmly in charge.
The king commands his queen, Vashti, to appear before the crowd, as he wishes to show off her beauty. When she refuses, the king’s advisor, Haman, urges the king to kill her, lest the king become a laughingstock, and the queen become an example of impunity to the other women of the realm. For his advice Haman is raised to the position of Chief Advisor, whereupon he declares that all must bow down to him in acknowledgment of the king’s power.
On the other side of town, we see Esther, coached by her Uncle Mordechai, being groomed to take a leadership position. We will also see Mordechai refusing to bow down to Haman, a transgression for which he is later thrown in jail.
So far, the Haman/King partnership holds sway, Haman with a new and powerful position, the king with a new wife (Esther), and full confidence in his top advisor. Yet Haman cannot rest, for Mordechai still refuses to bow down to him. Haman’s lust for power knows no bounds; not only does he want Mordechai brought low, he asks the king for 10,000 silver talents to pay for the annihilation of all of Mordechai’s people. He appeals to the king’s ego: citing Mordechai’s refusal to bow, he tells the king “they do not observe even the king’s laws; therefore it is not befitting the king to tolerate them.” The king acquiesces to this astonishing request and quickly grants the money and permission to act against Mordechai’s people as Haman sees fit.
Together on this moral precipice, Haman and the king stand ready to take their quest for domination to its ultimate, horrendous conclusion.
This ego-fueled situation seems to call forth a shift towards the feminine. The story juxtaposes two examples of feminine self-determination. In the first, Vashti refuses the king’s summons. In the second, Esther determines to “go in to the king, even though it is unlawful” [to appear before the king if not summoned].
How is Esther’s disobedience different from Vashti’s? Both women risk their lives yet they reap opposite results.
Vashti’s act is a contest of wills, and her only possible gain is in terms of controlling the relationship. In contrast, Esther puts aside personal welfare (“If I die, I die”) in service to a cause greater than herself.
Vashti’s power play costs her her head; Esther’s action occasions the king’s first offering of his scepter – his staff of support – saying: “What is your petition, Queen Esther? Even if it be half the kingdom, it shall be granted to you.”
With this, the balance shifts.
The king first lent his backing to Haman, and now he lends his support to Esther. The king is, in a sense, serving two masters, one male and one female, both of who are vying to grab the reins and steer the drama their way. It is a contest played out on that dizzying precipice, with both sides parrying back and forth right up to the story’s conclusion.
Esther requests only that the king and Haman be her guests at a banquet she will prepare for them the next day. Haman is elated to be thus honored (one of many instances in which appearances mask the truth, hence the custom of wearing masks on Purim). However, his buoyant mood is spoiled when he espies the unbending Mordechai at the gate.
Holding back his wrath, he rushes home to complain bitterly to his wife, Zeresh, about Mordechai’s infuriating refusal to bow down to him. His honors, he tells her, mean nothing to him while Mordechai still stands.
Why, in this action-packed saga, does the story take time out to drop in on this domestic conversation between Haman and Zeresh?
Earlier in the story, the king extended his staff to Esther and we saw a demonstration of masculine strength supporting feminine leadership. It is written that Esther dons her malchut to stand before the melech. This is often translated as Esther dons her royal robes to stand before the king. However, kabbalistically speaking, malchut represents the feminine aspect of divine power, and Esther is, in essence, appearing, not before King Aheuserus but before the melech, the divine masculine aspect of kingship. In other words, it is the union of the divine masculine and divine feminine aspects of power that creates the miraculous pathway to the resolution of the story.
The scene with Haman and Zeresh offers a contrasting example of female support in service to male ego-based leadership. Zeresh fans Haman’s sense of indignation and fuels his drive for vindication by suggesting that he build a gallows 50 cubits high on which to hang his enemy the next morning.
Zeresh has abdicated her moral compass, if she had one, in favor of being Haman’s enabler. The 50-cubits high gallows is, essentially, a parody of the earlier scene of the king’s support in service to a righteous cause, and the gallows is a staff on steroids in service to the inflated male ego.
The twists and turns of the plot continue, with a slapstick of cross-purposes that would be funny if not so deadly serious:
Haman prostrates himself before Esther to beg for mercy and is caught seemingly inflagrante by the king; the honors prescribed by Haman with himself in mind are conferred upon Mordechai, and the gallows prepared for Mordechai becomes the instrument of Haman’s demise, upon which he and his ten sons end up swinging. Feminine leadership has gained the battle, and the war is decisively won when the king extends his golden scepter a second time and supports Esther’s request to reverse the order to destroy her people.
We have located two kingly scepters, and one puffed up staff (the gallows). Is there a fourth staff, to complete the foursome detailed in Carla’s painting? In the final closing poem, read only at the evening megillah, it is written: “A blossom bloomed from a lulav branch [frond of the date palm tree] – behold! Hadassah [another name for Esther] stood up to arouse the sleeping!”
Esther herself blooms from the fourth staff. Perhaps this hints that Esther, and by extension all of us, contain within us both male and female principles and energies. We each have within us both the moral compass and the support we need to act.
The final line of the poem emphasizes the thematic importance of the contrast between Zeresh and Esther:
“Accursed be Zeresh, the wife of my terrorizer, blessed be Esther [who sacrificed] for me.” Zeresh, a relatively minor character, gets this extraordinary last word, a final slap-down for failing to be the guiding feminine force, the ezer kenegdo [the helper that righteously stands opposite the husband] within her marriage. In her failure to speak truth to power – contrasting so vividly with Esther’s courage in doing just that – she has let down all of womankind. Surely, Megillat Esther’s depiction of the right and wrong uses of masculine and feminine power contains lessons for us all.
At odds with the strict code of Jewish behavior, we are enjoined on Purim to drink until we can no longer tell the difference between Haman and Mordechai. That’s a whole lot more than raising a festive cup!
Via the ‘wine of forgetfulness,’ we are asked to become like the old man who can’t recall a lifetime of activities and dwells again in his earliest childhood memories. In the end, that which was first is what will remain last. And in our long story of life on earth, what was first?
In the beginning, there was G-d. And G-d was One.
And then creation began. And there came differentiations between light and dark, water and sky, sun and moon, and between all living things.
When we are enjoined to drink until we can no longer tell the difference between Haman and Mordechai, we are being asked to go back to the beginning, to the Source, wherein the duality of light and dark, good and evil, is subsumed in the original state of Oneness.
Like the old man who must leave behind his colorful life and return to his Maker, so must we release the story and cleave only to the spark of light at its core. We dive past the outlines of the story, until even its inspiring contours are obliterated in the glory of Oneness.
We are asked to forgive and forget on an epic scale. For the Purim story is not just a heroic tale, nor only a manual on creating miracles, nor just a treatise on masculine and feminine power, though it certainly is all that, and all that is certainly more than enough.
The Purim story is the continuation of a multi-generational conflict that began when Mordechai’s ancestor, King Shaul, refused – against G-d’s direct command – to kill Agag, King of Amalek. Thus Agag lived to bear a son who became the great, great grandfather of Haman.
This family feud has passed down through multiple generations on both sides of the conflict. It defines us.
So when we drink to obliterate the difference between Haman and Mordechai, we are being asked to move beyond the pain of the past. Our differences are to be subsumed in the glory of Oneness, to a state before differentiation. We travel back to Source, even past the beginning of light and darkness. We are no longer living ‘under heaven’ with its maya of dualities, we are no longer defined by our differences. After the Messiah, the curtain of maya, illusion, is lifted. We are in, not under, heaven, where all is One. Our drinking on Purim gives us a glimpse of that Oneness, before we wake up the next morning and don our differences and definitions once more.
The Book of Esther remains after the coming of the Messiah for it is the vehicle designed to transport us beyond the book itself.
Every year we practice releasing the words on the page, the chapters, the history, the past, and all the differences between good and evil, happy and sad, and masculine and feminine. We practice moving beyond the stories.
Only what is first, will remain.
We are returning Home at last.
Reba Linker is a bestselling author, life coach, and host of the Youtube interview show, Paint Yourself Into the Picture: http://bit.ly/1rq0fWy.
She is the Founder of a new online community, www.AtoZHealingSpace.com, a membership site, that celebrates the idea that many different modalities lead to a greater awareness of the self and our partnership with Spirit.
Learn more with a sampling of gifts from some of our featured healers: http://www.atozhealingspace.com/free-gift/