Rebecca Herman is a 2021-22 Tzedek Fellow, learning about global poverty and international development with a diverse cohort of students and young professionals.

Here are her thoughts on what we can learn from the story of Esther:

The story of Purim begins and ends with a party, which is not surprising considering the vast Purim celebrations which take place annually, all commemorating how the Jews narrowly escaped death… once again.

The party animal of the time, in fourth century BCE, King Achashverosh was throwing the biggest bashes out there. The King, who ruled over the Persian empire, decided to throw a 180-day party for his empire as well as a short seven-day party for those living in the capital – Shushan. However, the story really begins on the seventh day of the last party when the King summoned his wife, Vashti, into his chambers to parade her around in front of all his acquaintances. Naturally, Vashti refused to succumb to this act of misogyny. Her stand for justice unfortunately marked the end of their marriage as well as her life.

After the King sent Vashti to her death, he began to search for a new wife. Despite the King’s behaviour, there was still a magnitude of singletons ready to step-forward for the royal position. To find his Mrs, the King threw a pageant.

When Mordechai, the leader of the Jewish people at the time, heard of this contest he immediately thought of his niece Esther, although she was not as keen herself. Esther did not want to marry the King so when his uncle convinced her to go, she put little effort into her appearance. Yet, as soon as Esther stood in front of the King, he instantly wanted her as a bride.

Meanwhile, as Mordechai was waiting to get cosy with the King, he overheard some staff plotting tyranny and so reported it, sparing the King from his own death. As was seen as fair at the time, the plotters were hung.

Another vital character of this story is Haman, the prime minister, and believe it or not, he was worse than the King. Haman decided that he wanted to kill all the Jews in the empire, and he used his position of power to achieve it. He somehow convinced the King that murdering all the Jews would be beneficial and so his planning begun. He particularly hated Mordechai though because he refused to bow down to Haman. Infuriated by this, Haman built gallows specifically for Mordechai.

“There are countless lessons that can be learnt from the Purim story but the most blatant one is so often forgotten.”

When Esther, found out what was going on she was shocked. Even though it was so hard and dangerous as a Jew, she knew she it was the right up to stick up for what was right and to protect her people. With the support of the Jewish community who fasted and prayed for three days before hand, Esther took a leap of faith and spoke to the king. The King was shocked. Not only was he appalled that the people of his wife were in danger, but he was also furious at Haman for plotting the kill the man who saved his life; so Haman was hung on the very gallows he had built for Mordechai.

There are countless lessons that can be learnt from the Purim story but the most blatant one is the importance of standing up for yourself, yet it is so often forgotten. Esther in theory could have ignored her uncle and watched her community perish whilst she continues to live a life of luxury, but she didn’t. We are all guilty of turning a blind eye to global issues, even when it could affect us but giving issues the attention they deserve can make a world of a difference.

Standing up for one another is pivotal in global development to ensure no one gets left behind. We must recognise unfairness and support those around us. No one said it’s easy, especially not Esther- but it’s necessary for survival!

Happy Purim.

To learn more about acting on global issues and Judaism, consider signing up for the next cohort of the Ben Azzai Programme. Deadline to apply: 4th April 2022. Alternatively, read about the World Day of Social Justice in our previous blog.


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