With Purim two weeks away, its spirit is already in the air. Costume planning, mishloach manot, hamantaschen baking and Purim banquet menus, all underway.
Of course, at the center of it all is the Megillah. The story of Purim itself. We’ve all known it since we were little children, a wonderful tale with the perfect symmetry of bad to good. There’s a sense of justice: the bad guy is punished, and the good guy is not only rewarded but replaces him. The dark threat of genocide ends in joy and honor and relief.
In the great tradition of the ultimate Book, most literature does not conclude with a tidy, happy ending. More often than not, it is messy, unsettling and more complex. There is no pat resolution to tie everything together perfectly. How often have you reached the final page of a book fantasizing about a sequel to dispel the dark or amorphous ending?
But the Megillah is a fairytale of sorts, in the sense that it provides a rare happy ending written to perfection. The true story of Purim is the model of a story that does render a redemptive end. Hence all the Purim hoopla we celebrate until this very day.
But this happy ending was no foregone conclusion. It is Esther, the heroine, who is the transformational figure, the woman who brings about the change. How so? Whatever her inner process of transformation, there are three Hebrew words that encapsulate her astonishing resolve and bravery: “Veka’asher avadeti, avadeti.” “And if I perish, I perish.”
Whenever the Megillah reader intones these words with the accompanying cadence of doom, heard most notably during the recitation of Eicha, something inside me breaks for Esther.
This young woman understands the stakes. She understands the cost of saving her people: the sacrifice of her own life. Avedati can connote perish, it clearly implies death, but it can also connote loss.
Esther comes to understand that she can be the Purim story’s pivot, the change agent in this unfolding tragedy — the catalyst in averting the potential catastrophe. Her actions can result in joy, relief, and honor on the collective level.
But the result can also be her own pain and loneliness, not to mention loss, whether in her physical annihilation, or loss of self.
If I perish, I perish.
If I am lost, I shall be lost.
Esther comes to an understanding that a redemptive ending for the Jewish people will exact a personal price — and she embraces it. With her acceptance of her fate, a bargain of sorts that she strikes with her life, Esther chooses her people over herself.
As the merriment for the Jews commences, the life sentence of Esther — the price she must pay, a life with Achashverosh — begins.
In a sense, Esther does pay the price that she understood would be the currency for Purim’s happy ending. She recedes to the background, literally locked up in a palace, as joy proliferates. Yet, at the same time, the opposite of loss becomes her legacy.
She is the ultimate “found” woman. She lives on, generation after generation, as the heroine whom we all love and remember.
Esther — from potentially lost to unforgettable.
Copyright Intermountain Jewish News