“Did You Know?” and Reflection
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Did You Know? —Source, “The Jewish Study Bible,” Adele Berlin and Mar Zvi Brettler, editors
- The Book of Esther in the First Testament provides the reason for the Jewish annual celebration of Purim. This celebrates the triumph of the community over evil as told in the story of Esther.
- While the story and the celebration are marked by levity, there is a serious side in the promotion of Jewish identity and strong connections to Biblical traditions.
- The book addresses the problems of a minority people and their vulnerability to ruling forces and edicts.
- Esther is believed to have been written between 400 and 300 BCE toward the end of the Persian period.
The Book of Esther is the story of a Queen of Persia who becomes queen because of her great beauty. Esther conceals her Jewish heritage, because it was not acceptable to the ruling court. Ultimately it is her courage and intelligence and fidelity to her heritage, that spares her people from harm. The text is the foundation for the annual Jewish celebration of Purim. It marks a community remembrance of justice and courage and one woman taking a stand for what is right at great personal risk.
Esther underscores these qualities today. Esther reminds us there are traditions of a culture that can be destructive. We don’t hear a great deal about women leaders in Scripture, but Esther is one of the times that we do. The story is sometimes presented as a woman using her great beauty to accomplish something in a patriarchal time. Today, as many strive to approach life respectively from the perspective of a person rather than a specific gender, Esther underscores the culture of even recent years where delineations of either male or female have accorded specific powers.
Reflecting on the story of Esther, I thought about a high school experience of what it meant to be a queen in a culture that often treated and valued girls and women based on their appearance. For example, when I was in high school we had an annual tradition called the “Posture Queen Contest.” All the girls would be screened in each physical education (PE) class. We would line up, shoulders squared, and be judged by our teacher for the best posture. Apparently, this was a way to check for spinal issues such as scoliosis. Finalists would move on to an even more public competition. There was no similar public contest for boys that I am aware of. The evaluation was intimidating for young people often insecure about their bodies. We were told publicly (in the girl’s locker room in front of the entire PE class), what was wrong with us.
Finalists then competed in a school-wide competition in an event in the auditorium. I remember the Varsity Football Team decided after each finalist stepped forward on the stage and was evaluated. A class mate recently shared with me that contestants wore black leotards for the final decision. In reflection, there were so many things wrong with this “competition.” Why did the school sanction girls being singled out in front of the entire school with their bodies on display and judged by males? The words dreadful and archaic come to mind. Boys, too, were caught up in a misplaced teaching. They, too, deserved better.
Throughout time, girls and women have found themselves in situations that are demeaning and have been treated badly and less than because of their gender. In our lives today, the story of Esther evokes thoughts around our own traditions and how they affect children. What are we and our institutions teaching our young people about what it means to be a whole, healthy and holy person? This is not a lesson in physical beauty or status or gender. These are lessons in growing up to fully realize the sacred worth of all people…something Jesus taught. Are we listening to him today? How do we put this into practice?
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Pam Brokaw pastors both the Rochester and Oakville United Methodist Churches.
She is a graduate of the Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry, where she earned her Masters in Divinity.