With Purim two weeks away, its spirit is already in the
Costume planning, mishloach manot prep, 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.
It’s a wonderful tale. A short story so to speak, with the perfect symmetry of bad transforming to good.
There’s a sense of justice to it, the bad guy is punished, and the good guy is not only rewarded but actually replaces the bad guy himself.
The plot twist of a dark threat of genocide that threatens to wipe out the Jewish people ends in joy and honor and utter relief.
Following in the great tradition of the ultimate book, the Tanach, most stories in literature do not conclude with tidy, happy endings. More often than not, the ending is messier, unsettling and more complex. There is no pat resolution that ties everything together so perfectly at the end. How often have you reached the final page of a book, tears in your eyes, fantasizing about the sequel that can follow and dispel the dark ending, or at least the amorphous one.
But the Megillah is a fairy tale of sorts in the sense that it provides that rare surprise happy ending written to perfection.
The true story of Purim is the model of a story that does render a redemptive ending.
Hence all the Purim hoopla we celebrate until this very day.
This happy ending was no foregone conclusion, however.
It is Esther, the heroine, who serves as the transformational figure, the woman who brings about the change.
Whatever her inner process of transformation, there are three Hebrew words that encapsulate her astonishing resolve and bravery: “Ve-ka’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 beauty understands the stakes. She understands the cost to 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 potentially 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, be it in her physical annihilaton or loss of self.
If I perish, I perish.
If I am lost, I shall be lost.
Esther comes to an internal understanding that a redemptive ending for the Jewish people will exact a personal price.
And she embraces it.
As expressed in three deceptively simple words.
With her acceptance of her fate, a bargain of sorts that she strikes with her very life, Esther knowingly chooses her people over herself.
Just as the merriment for the Jewish people commences, the life sentence of Esther — the price she has to pay, that is, her life sequestered with Achashverosh, begins.
In a sense, Esther does pay that 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 precise opposite of loss becomes Esther’s legacy.
She is the ultimate “found” woman. She lives on, generation after generation, year after year, as the heroine whom we all love and remember.
Esther — from potentially lost to unforgettable.
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