Let’s hear it for the Ladies

Avoiding the kvish on my walking commute to work, I usually take a shortcut through the courtyard of the National Buildings, known as Binyanei Hauma.

I trudge up a steep staircase and shuffle through a parking lot, then cut across a small plaza, ignoring the glass doors and making for the strip of sidewalk that will lead me to the corner.

Delegations and schools use this optimal space, and I’m used to seeing people lining up outside.

Today, three lines of young people waited, several pulling out intense costumes of futuristic looking bobbles.

There was a young teenager, getting a peck on the cheek from his mom, carrying a metallic foam monstrosity that could have been anything between robot and steampunk nightrider.

Another line had a beige uniformed soldier amongst its ranks.

As I passed the bench area, another soldier in green bent over a suitcase and was painting a fake sword that looked like it was a replica of one from an obscure fantasy fandom.

She smiled at me after noticing my impressed stare.

We’re all just women warriors underneath, aren’t we?

Or we aspire to be.

Or we dress for the job we want.

That’s what I call a purim costume.

~

Purim is a time where we stamp, shout and boo for Haman.

Rise up, let your feet rebel, and make his name shudder under your footfalls forever.

There are no *snaps,* no claps, no hurrahs, for Esther.

Mordechai gets his narrations.

But Esther?

She sort of just…evanesces.

Esther was never my favorite heroine from Jewish canon.

The holiday isn’t about her. It is about Jews surviving physical destruction. It is about searching for God’s hidden presence in miracles. It’s a story of a despot and decrees being overturned.

She is literally effaced from the narrative. Hester Panim. Her face, like God’s presence in the narrative, is hidden.

She isn’t a Devorah, who let’s face it, is badass.

Wise judge. Military leader. Saves her man and the nation. Does the right thing and gives thanks and credit to G-d. Pretty damn perfect.

She’s not Yael who cut off the enemy’s head.

She’s not Sarah who birthed a nation.

She’s not Miriam who stood up to a Pharaoh and helped lead a nation out of exile.

She’s sort of…meeker. Not weak, but calculatingly obsequious. She never speaks out of turn, never confronts the despot but appeals to him whilst oiling his ego.

Cautious. Subtle. Playing a role.

And in the children’s books that pretend to celebrate her, her face is never shown, hidden by a veil, her back usually turned.

That always bothered me.

Why does she have to hide?

Why does she have to play that game.

Im matzati chen be’enecha…If I find favor in the king’s eyes is her famous catchphrase as the King holds his scepter out to her.

Then it struck me.

She’s Sansa.

She’s actually Sansa Stark.

Think about it. Esther is married to a man who murdered his previous queen, all because she said “No,” she’s taken from her people to live amongst hostile people, she’s young and vulnerable.

She has to play the game to stay alive.

And unlike Devorah and Sarah, and even Rachel and Leah (I have a soft spot for Leah), she’s destined for greatness.

She’s not meant to be a victim.

She is the descendent of King Saul. She has the blood of royalty in her.

But also the blood of failure. She has Saul’s demon to fight and she knows it.

It is Mordechai who assures her, if she does not step up to the plate someone else will and her house (like house stark) will be lost.

Suddenly a complex woman emerges. One able to influence power but who is also full of self doubt.

 

So when I think of the narrative of Purim this is the version of Esther I see.

I take all the bits of midrash and build her up into something amazing.

Lakach otah L’bat. L’bayit.

She is bayit, not bat to me.

I picture 16 year old Mordechai down on his luck, stuck with a kid Esther (let’s call them cousins, proper bnei dodim, not uncle and niece) to look after.

Maybe awkwardly, ten years later, in an Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightly sort of fashion, Mordechai and Esther marry.

Then shit happens in Shushan. Even though the Jews try to keep their heads down, they somehow get caught up in the politics(and that infamous seudah).

Vashti tries holding her own in the face of her husband’s impudence (she being the royalty and he being the consort), but in a staggering move, despite Vashti’s support from her ladies and her ladies only power dinner, she gets the chop.

Achashverosh, the despotic, foolish, party animal, married to excess  kind of king, puts out a decree on the advice of his council who basically pull the oldest misogynistic move ever.

Olive toned Esther is grabbed from her home. She’s forced to undergo six months of grooming and vetting before she’s allowed to be “called” (ahem ahem, into the very bed of) to the king, essentially forced to keep her head down in an environment of intrigue where women were vying for the throne.

Away from her family. Away from her people. Away from the man she loves.

And that’s why when she tells him “K’asher, Abadeti, Abedit.” “If I am lost, I am lost.”

It kills me.

She has to willingly go to the despot’s bedchamber. From enduring rape to willingly knocking on his door.

It’s then she knows she’ll never be with Mordechai again.

She’ll never be with her people again.

It’s then she realises the honor of her house is at stake and the survival of her very people.

And suddenly, despite my over dramatic romanticizing of the narrative, I see her strength. She sacrifices everything. Traps Haman into revealing his annihilation plot.

She manages to keep her crown and save her people. Cleverly setting the scene for Haman’s undoing. She guarantees the decree is overturned.

She gives her people a voice and agency.

Even if only for a day.

They can take up arms. Defend their lives and what’s theirs.

They can just be.

And she gives up her whole life for that.

And that is pretty amazing.

 

~~

I walked home from the bus in my sad attempt at a steampunk costume. I saw a girl dressed as a na nacher.

My FB newsfeed was littered with Princess Lea’s, female Ghostbusters, Eowyn and Arwen, and even the Notorious RBG.

So whether you’re dressing up in white puffy dresses to channel the princess aspect of Esther, or gone full Persian, or if you’ve even donned a GOT get up, or lathed a fake sword like that 18 year old girl in a real uniform did this morning, remember to give a round of applause.

Stamp your feet to walk above the cruel men who seek to destroy the world.

Give some thanks to God for the beauty of that very world and the miracles he makes in it.

Then clap for Esther.

Clap, snap and dance.

Let’s hear it for the Ladies.

To the ladies of Tanach. Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, Leah, Serach, Yocheved, Miriam, Tzipporah, Rachav, Devorah, Bnot Tzlofchad, Ruth, Yael, and the amalgams like Judith and Esther.

We’ve survived.

And we thrive.

Cause of the ladies.

 

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