Here we must understand how different the Book of Esther is from every other book in the Hebrew Bible. In this tale no mention is made of the divine; the Jews inhabit a world devoid of revelation. Whereas in every other scriptural tale political engagements are under prophetic instruction, in the Persian court God gives no guidance to the Jews facing a terrible danger. Esther, Rabbi Soloveitchik wrote, faced an unprecedented question: “How can the Jew triumph over his adversaries and enemies if God has stopped speaking to him, if the cryptic messages he receives remain unintelligible and incomprehensible?”
In this sense, Esther is the first biblical figure, male or female, to engage in statesmanship. Previous heroes — Moses and Elijah, Samuel and Deborah — are prophets who are guided and guarded by the Divine, but Esther operates on instinct, reflecting a mastery of realpolitik. As Isaiah Berlin wrote in his essay “On Political Judgment,” great leaders practice affairs of state not as a science but an art; they are, more akin to orchestra conductors than chemists. Facing a crisis, they “grasp the unique combination of characteristics that constitute this particular situation — this and no other.” Esther is the first scriptural figure to embody this description, emerging as a woman for all seasons, a hero celebrated year after year.
Purim thus marks the fragility of Jewish security, but also the possibility of heroism in the face of this vulnerability. It is therefore a holiday for our time. Around the world, and especially in a Europe that should know better, anti-Semitism has made itself manifest once again. As Esther’s example is celebrated, and Jews gather in synagogue to study her terrifying tale, we are reminded why, in the face of hate, we remain vigilant — and why we continue to joyously celebrate all the same.
“Esther is the first biblical figure, male or female, to engage in statesmanship,” writes Rabbi Meir Soloveichik. Previous heroes are prophets who are guided and guarded by the Divine, but Esther operates on instinct. https://t.co/BJhiTRSRJy
— New York Times Opinion (@nytopinion) March 9, 2020