Esther and Easter: How One Human Being Can Change The World
Posted by E on March 27, 2016
By a conspicuous alignment of calendar dates, 2016 is a year when the Jewish holiday of Purim, a holiday that commemorates the saving of the Jewish people by Queen Esther, coincides with Easter Week (and also with Holi in the Hindu faith – the Festival of Love). Only this week, when the stars have aligned Purim and Easter, does it strike me how many parallels there are between these ancient holidays. Not just in the acts of charity toward the less fortunate that both Jews and Christians engage in, but also in the flourishing spirit of hope that surrounds us all.
It was a couple of summers ago, when I was visiting an old friend from university at her place in Cornwall, that I rediscovered the story of Esther. It was the summer I was studying in preparation for my conversion to Judaism, but that week religious texts were the last thing on my mind. I had stopped for an overnight visit at Joseé-Anne’s house on my way to Massachusetts, where I planned to spend the better part of a week in Provincetown and Cape Cod. I hoped to find inspiration for my new book Daughters of the Air, a retelling of The Little Mermaid, along the grassy dunes of Provincetown’s beaches.
We had just finished dinner and were sitting out in her backyard, sharing a bottle of red wine, as twilight painted mauve streaks across the skies. Joseé-Anne was chain-smoking, as she always did when we talked poetry. We gossiped about old schoolmates and professors and chatted about how hard it is to get published these days. I had just told her of my Judaism course when she turned to me and asked abruptly, “Do you know the story of Esther?”
I nodded yes, although at the time it was just a passing familiarity. An orphan raised by her uncle, kind-hearted Mordechai, in many ways Esther was the original Cinderella – chosen above all other maidens as the king’s new bride. Chosen for her beauty and quiet intelligence, Esther not only captured the king’s heart but was able to spark his compassion and thereby save her people from being put to death after an evil plan had been hatched by the king’s close advisor, vizier Haman.
“You need to learn about Esther,” Joseé-Anne repeated. “You need to absorb her spirit into yourself. This was a young girl who had nothing, whose people were persecuted, who was secretly Jewish and in danger. And yet she saved the nation of Israel. She didn’t do this with connections or money; she had nothing but her desire to change the world and save her people. And she did it.”
We fell quiet. Joseé reached over and wrapped her arm around my shoulders. “Find the courage that Esther had. If she could find it within herself to stand up against a king and be so brave, any of us can do whatever we put our minds to. It’s a matter of faith – being alone in the world and having faith that something greater than yourself is there, watching for you. Even in the darkest moments, when there is no light or hope on the horizon, if you believe as Esther did, you will find the strength.”
Both Easter and Purim are about hope. About rising out of the ashes of humanity’s frailty and finding kindness and compassion when faced with hatred, which almost always stems from fear of the unknown, of things and people who we perceive are different from us. Whether it was Jesus forgiving his Roman executioners, or Esther who managed to save the Jewish people from their executions, both holidays depict the triumph of a single person’s empathy and fortitude over the hatred of the many.
Purim and Easter both signify a new beginning, as well as the end of winter and the birth of spring. Along with Holi in the Hindu religion, they celebrate love toward all human beings. Together, they are holidays infused with happiness and hope for a new future.
This is a message I need to take to heart more than ever before – I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s disease back in December and survived a major depression and suicide attempt this January. A symbolic spring – the rebirth of dreams and possibilities – is something I need more than ever before.
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