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Esther, How Could She Do It?
The Esther who saved the Jews by pleading with King Achasverous has become a stereotype for Jewish heroines. This is especially apparent on Purim when most young Jewish girls who dress up in costumes choose by a large majority to be "Queen Esther".
But in reality there is much to be considered when we recall the story of Esther. Especially in regards to the Talmud in the Tractate of the Megillah, page 13a, where the famous Rabbi Meir explains that Esther was in reality the wife of Mordecai.
Rabbi Meir was one of the greatest of the Rabbis from the Talmud. We can not ignore his remarks. There are implications to what he says that we must deal with as we will shortly relate.
The story of Esther tells us that after King Achasverous had Queen Vashti killed, his advisors made a competition between the young unmarried women to find the most beautiful and desirous person to become his queen. Although the contest was originally intended to include only unmarried women, Achasverous was not particular if the woman was married; to him her attractiveness was the most important factor. If the women had a husband, he would be gotten rid of easily. It was for this fear, that Esther did not declare to the authorities that she was married to Mordecai.
Esther was taken into the competition. Unlike the other girls who busied themselves with pretentious clothing and cosmetics to appeal to the eye of the king, Esther asked for nothing and went in to the king as she was - a beautiful soul. The king fell in love with Esther and immediately declared that only Esther was worthy of becoming his queen.
Esther refused to tell the king of her heritage or that she was married.
At this point we must ask the question that bothered the rabbis in the Talmud. If Esther was married to Mordecai, then sexual relations between a man and a married woman are forbidden. How could Esther who was considered a great Jewish personality live with Achasverous if she was married to Mordecai?
There are three cardinal sins: Promiscuity, Idolatry, and Murder. It is forbidden to commit one of these three cardinal sins even at the expense of one's own life. If a person is put into a position in which he is forced to commit one of these three cardinal sins, then he must sacrifice his life rather than trespass.
As an example, if a group of thugs come to a man and tell him they will kill him unless he has sexual relations with this specific married woman; he is not allowed to have sex with her. He must let himself be killed rather than sin.
Similarly, if a group of idolaters come and tell him that if he does not bow down to an idol he will be killed, he must not bow down to the idol, but rather let them kill him. There are some who say that this only applies if ten Jews are present.
The third cardinal sin is that of murder. If a group of thugs come and tell a man that he must kill another person, he must decline even though it means that they will kill him.
Esther presents a serious problem. How could she have sexual relations with Achasverous? According to Rabbi Meir she was married to Mordecai at the time!
The rabbis in the Talmud explain that Esther was not active. She was passive. It was Achasverous who was active; Esther had no choice. Had she resisted his advances she would have faced the same death that Vashti faced.
This is similar to the case of a rapist who comes upon a married woman. If the married woman is unwilling to have relations with him, but rather is forced, she is still permitted to her husband. It is only in the case of a married woman who is desirous of extra-marital relations, that she is forbidden to her husband and according to Jewish law faces the death penalty.
Until this point Esther was not guilty of a sin. Her relations with Achaverous were always when he called her.
The real question comes later when Esther and Mordecai discover Haman's wicked plot to kill all of the Jews. At Mordacai's insistence Esther is instructed to go to King Achasverous to intervene on the behalf of the Jewish people.
The rabbis in the Talmud note that until now Esther never went to Achasverous of her own volition. Rather, she would only go if he called for her. Because of this, she was considered a forced woman. However now that she must take the initiative to go to him, she leaves the category of being forced into relations with Achasverous. She now is considered consenting to be with him. This is eluded in the words that Esther says, "I will go into the king, not in accordance to the law, and as I am lost, so, I must be lost." (Esther 4:16) Esther in effect is saying to Mordecai that she realizes that what she is doing is not correct, and she stands the possibility of being totally lost forever to Mordecai, but she has not other choice.
The rabbis explain that this is called a sin for the sake of heaven. When people sin, they do it in order to derive some personal benefit. In this case, Esther sinned, but not for her own benefit, but for the benefit of the entire Jewish nation. This is considered a case of "mesirat nefesh", giving one's total being over for the sake of the glory of G-d.
This was the price that Esther had to pay to save the Jewish people. She was willing to sacrifice herself for the good of others. From this selfless act, she secured a place in the hearts and souls of all the Jewish people for all time. However, she became forbidden to her real husband, Mordecai for ever. Such was the self sacrifice that made her the all time Jewish heroine.
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