This week I offer Derech Tzofeh in memory of my parents, Ethel and Norman Block, of blessed memory, on the 50th anniversary of my bar mitzvah.
On Saturday night we celebrate Purim and read Megillas Esther (the Book/Scroll of Esther).
Of the many things to admire about our heroine, one that stands out is her understanding of when to speak, and when to be silent.
Early in the story, when Esther competes in the royal beauty contest to replace Queen Vashti, the Megillah tells us “Esther had not told of her people or her kindred, for Mordechai had instructed her not to tell.” (Esther 2:10)
The rabbis have given many reasons for this silence, including that if she revealed that she was Jewish, King Ahasuerus would not have chosen her as queen and she would have lost the opportunity to save the Jewish people. She kept silent about this for nine years.
Even after she became queen, Esther did not reveal her background. Immediately after telling us that (Esther 2:20), the Megillah relates that Mordechai began sitting at the gates of the city, where he would learn of any news that would be important to the Jewish community. He overheard two royal servants plotting to kill Ahasuerus. Mordechai told Esther and Esther told the king “in Mordechai’s name” (like, “Mordechai told me of a plot to kill the king …”). Ahasuerus investigated the plot and found it was true. The plotters were punished, and the whole story was recorded in the royal chronicles.
Later, when Haman had convinced the king to permit him to order that the Jews be killed, it was time for Esther to speak. She revealed to the king that she would be killed because she was Jewish. (Esther 7:8)
Just then, another royal servant, Charbonah, reminded the king that Mordechai, a Jew, had saved the king by revealing the assassination plot and that Haman had built a gallows to hang Mordechai. The king ordered Haman be hanged there.
So, by telling Ahasuerus about the plot in Mordechai’s name, Esther showed that Mordechai was important to the king and helped to save the Jewish people.
Our sages so admired what Esther did, they described her selfless act in the Mishna’s book of ethics, Pirke Avot, and said: “Who repeats a thing in the name of its source brings deliverance to the world.” (6:6)
We would all do well to use Esther as an example, and be careful about when we should speak, and when we should be silent.
Shabbat shalom and Happy Purim!
©2014 Nelson R. Block