Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The nation of Israel owes a huge debt of gratitude to Mordechai’s’ cousin, Esther. After all, she pretty much single-handedly saved all of them, men, women and children alike.

She bravely approached – at a real risk to her life – the king. Yet she said something that is very puzzling for a Jewess who was well versed in Jewish history. For the moment when Queen Esther approached her husband, (bolded to emphasize that she should have been more comfortable) to beg him to not let the Jews be annihilated by Haman’s machinations to erase the Jews, she was quick to mollify him that “had we been sold as slaves and servant girls, I would have kept quiet, for the adversary is not worthy of the kings’ damage” (Artscroll translation, chapter 3, verse 7).


There are various ways of interpreting this enigmatic statement, but one of them makes the most sense to me – that Jews being sold as slaves didn’t merit the king’s attention. It wasn’t worth bothering him and wasting his time on such an insignificant matter.

Why in the world would Esther say that? Why minimize the Jewish people; why be self-effacing by proxy, that her people weren’t worthy of her running interference and prevent them from being enslaved?

Hashem went to a lot of trouble to take the Jewish nation out of Egypt. We mention that fact constantly when we daven, when we make kiddush, and celebrate our holidays. Judaism revolves around yitziat Mitzrayim, our exiting from Egypt, and at our Pesach tables, that is what we discuss and teach our children. The Haggadah provides a historical backdrop to how the children of Yaakov ended up in Egypt in the first place, and their exodus from servitude to freedom, and ultimately becoming a nation returning to their homeland.

Obviously, slavery was not in the best interests of Am Yisrael, and so Hashem intervened and launched numerous assaults on the Egyptians – all obvious miracles (because they were outside the status quo of nature – when does water turn into blood?) that led a very stubborn Pharaoh to change his mind and let them go.

And yet centuries later in Persia, Queen Esther is reassuring her husband, the king that she would not have bothered “bending his ear” and wasting his precious time if it was just a matter of the Jews being enslaved.

She has to know that a slave or servant girl was just as likely a toxic existence as it was in Egypt.

Loss of personal freedom; physical and emotional abuse; separation of spouses who were sold to different households; children being torn away from their parents; backbreaking labor; and worse, no freedom to practice Yiddishkeit, and conversely, being exposed to and absorbing pagan practices and lifestyle.

As free citizens of the Persian empire, the Jews were able to live Jewish lives. In fact, Haman points out to Achashverosh during their frequent binge drinking, that “there is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your realm. Their laws are different from every other people’s.”

Jews had freedom of religion and were able to avoid assimilation no matter where they lived in the empire. They had no legal restrictions to live Jewishly.

Slaves had no voice, or freedom to protect themselves!

I am not a psychologist, but could Esther’s forced marriage and isolation from everything familiar cause her self-esteem to plummet, so that she felt she was a “zero” and not deserving of being heard? Was this very sheltered “Bais Yaakov” girl, torn from the only home and community she knew, and put into a hedonistic environment, suffering from PTSD, post-traumatic stress? As Mordechai reminded her when she was reticent to leave her “safe place” and wanted to avoid approaching the king uninvited, “Do not imagine that you will be able to escape in the king’s palace any more than the rest of the Jews (chapter 4, verse 13).

Esther very reluctantly approached the king, and it was only because of an existential crisis.

But yet she felt she had to justify her presence by pointing out that if the decree had been “just” slavery for the Jews, she wouldn’t have distracted the king. After all, she was being a “party pooper” by bringing up a serious topic in the middle of a feast.

I couldn’t help equating Esther’s, “We are not worthy of bothering you” attitude to my father’s, a”h, a Holocaust survivor from Poland who suffered the incredible loss of countless family members, and the psychological impact of being made to feel he, like all Jews, were garbage and thus expendable.

He would miserably complain to my mother when he didn’t feel well, yet as soon as the doctor asked, “How are you,” he would wave his hand dismissively and say, “ I’m fine” to my mother’s chagrin. It was as if he felt he didn’t merit or was entitled to the doctor’s time and help.

We can’t let the devious Jew-hatred of the Hamans of the world gaslight us into believing we are worthless and thus not deserving of life or freedom. May the words of Haman’s wife, Zeresh, come to fruition, “If Mordechai, before whom you (Haman) have begun to fall, is of Jewish descent, you will not prevail against him, but will undoubtedly fall before him. Amen b’karov.

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