ESTER – HaRav Shlomo Aviner

Ester’s greatness is based on her self-sacrifice, which is of the highest of all attributes.  Our Sages tell the story of a scholar who died.  Upon the revival of his soul, his father asked him what he had seen in the heavenly world.  He answered: I saw a world opposite to this one: Up was down and down was up. 


  1. Sphere of Silence
  2. Modesty and Courage
  3. Self-Sacrifice


  1. Sphere of Silence

Women are not obligated to perform commandments limited by time (Kiddushin 29b) because they have no connection to their technical and spiritual aspects (Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah – Bereshit, pp. 180-181; Shemot, pp. 206-207; Ish Ve-Ishah 9:3; Binah Yeteirah Be-Ishah 42:6).  The nature of responsibility of the woman for her home requires complete flexibility; consequently the performance of specific commandments circumscribed by time is not appropriate for her (Rabbi David Abudraham, chap. 3, Birkat Ha-Mitzvot U-Mishpateihem p. 25; Kol Bo #73). For example, the time for reciting the Shema is fixed; it is impossible for a woman to complete her prayers specifically within the allotted time because of her household duties.  Furthermore, a woman has no connection with the spiritual imperative that dictates fixed boundaries.  A woman’s spiritual process is different: She has a completely passive freedom (Olat Ha-Re’eiyah vol. 1, pp. 71-72).


There are many exceptions, such as reading the Megillah (Megillahh 4a). According to the Gemara, the underlying reason for the exception is that women were present at that very miracle (ibid.).  Rashi comments that the women were included in the decree to be destroyed, killed, and slain (Ester 7:4).  Tosafot, citing Rashbam, explain that the reason is that the miracle was brought about by a woman – Ester. The same reason also applies to Chanukah.  Women are obligated to perform the commandment of lighting candles because the miracle came about through Yehudit.  They are also bound to the commandment of Passover because they were involved in that miracle.  Through the merit of righteous women, the people of Israel were redeemed from Egypt (Sotah 11b).  As to the Purim miracle, the role of Ester and Mordechai was shared: According to the Gemara, Ester played the more important role.  Ester’s participation was apparently more crucial than that of the women of Israel in the Exodus from Egypt and the incident of Yael and Sisera, for everything transpired through her alone.  The situation of the Jews was extremely difficult, a dire situation reminding us of the holocaust in our generation.  In its face, a single man and a single woman rose to confront it. The fate of the entire Nation of Israel hung in the balance: She was the only person capable of moving events and getting them out of danger.  She succeeded and her profound insight saved her people from destruction.  She infiltrated the government by marrying the king.  She devised a shrewd plan and caused the downfall of Haman. This seems to be an intelligent and forceful plan based on keen political understanding. But the reality was entirely otherwise: No wonder, since on Purim everything was reversed (Ester 9:1).


Our Sages view the issue in another light: Ester kept an intense silence (Ester Rabbah 6:12).  Ester did not stand out; she did not get involved in intrigues, and did not organize a conspiracy.  She retreated into an intense silence.  Throughout the Book of Ester, we hear very little of her own words.  Our Sages ask: Why was she called Ester?  Because she kept her words secret [misteret] (Megillah 13a).  Ester was secretive: Ester did not reveal her birthplace or her people (Ester 2:20).  She was not disposed to gossip.  She waited to express what she wanted when the appropriate time came.  Everything turned on her crucial silence. Where is Ester mentioned in Torah? ‘And I will surely hide [Aster]’ (Devarim 31:18) (Chullin 139b).  This was the nature of her demeanor, withdrawn and modest.


Our Sages say that she inherited the intensity of her silence from a line of people who were silent and modest, the prior descendants of Ester’s tribe.  The stone of the Breastplate of the High Priest of the tribe of Binyamin is “yashfeh” (Shemot 28:20).  Our Sages explain this word as “yesh peh” [there is a mouth]: In other words, silence does not mean it is impossible to speak: Although there is a mouth, it is under control (Ester Rabbah 6:12).  For example, Rachel our mother withdrew into silence: When she sent the signs to her sister, she did not reveal it to Yaakov (Baba Batra 123a; Petichta Eichah Rabbati 24). Binyamin knew about the selling of Yosef but kept his silence for twenty years (Socher Tov Tehillim 15:6).  He said nothing to his father despite the fact that it weighed heavily on him.  Most people would not have been able to restrain themselves from revealing the truth for such a long time.  King Shaul hid among the baggage (Shmuel 1 10:22), because he did not want to be appointed king.  After he returned from looking for the donkeys, and after he had been appointed king, his uncle asked him what had happened during that time, and he said nothing to him about it (ibid. 10:16).  When Shaul was pursuing David, he took many guards with him.  When he had to attend to his needs, he went alone to a cave.  Our Sages say that he entered a cave within a cave (Berachot 62b).  When David saw this, he was impressed by his modesty and cut the corner of his cloak, but did not wound him (Shmuel 1 24:4).  Michal, the daughter of Shaul, was also connected to the line of the modest and silent.  She criticized David when he danced because his clothing lifted, exposing himself like a worthless person (Shmuel 2 6:20).  She reproached him, even though he was the king of Israel; because in the house of her father, Shaul, they did not uncover the heel or the thumb (Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 2:4).  There was respect for modesty in Shaul’s household.  Modesty was not only a requisite for women but also for men.  It is written, “She [Michal] looked out the window” (Shmuel 2 6:16); “For the honor of the princess emanates from within” (Tehillim 45:14).  However, she was punished for her criticism because David’s dance was in fact a dance before the presence of G-d (Sanhedrin 21a).


Ester belonged to the same long lineage of the modest and silent, of the intensely hidden.  It is written, “Ester did not speak” (Ester 2:20).  It does not say that Ester never spoke at all, because this is not in reference to a single incident but to a pattern of behavior that plays down speech: “Silence is a fence for wisdom” (Pirkei Avot 3:13). Verbosity is a sign of shallowness (Baba Metzia 85b).  A single penny in a jar makes a loud noise.  A complete person does not need to wallow in excessive gossip, the most shallow of activities.  A man should speak little and do much (Nedarim 21b).


This quality of Ester is surprising given the sophistication of her actions; it placed her in stark contrast to the background of immorality of Persia, as it is written, “And he quickly gave her ointments” (Ester 2:9), but she requested nothing (ibid.).  Amid all the intrigue Ester remained faithful to Mordechai.  Several times she left there, pure, and returned to Mordechai (Megillahh 13b): “For she was like a daughter [le-bat] to him” (Ester 2:7), more specifically, like a home [le-bayit] (Megillahh 13a).  She was married to him.  Mordechai was her cousin, as it is written: “Ester was the daughter of Avichayil, uncle of Mordechai” (Ester 2:15).  Avichayil was the uncle of Mordechai.  Sometimes a man calls his wife his daughter, or his sister or even his mother.  There are four types of connections we find in every wife. Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife (Bereshit 2:24).  The father and mother yield to a wife.  A man who understands this avoids major complications.  This of course does not contradict the commandment of honoring one’s parents, which continues to apply. But the deep spiritual bond between the child and the parents passes on to bind him to his wife (Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer, chap. 32).  Ester, in the midst of the hell she found herself in, remained faithful to Mordechai.


Despite the fact that Ester asked for nothing, Ester found favor with all who saw her (Ester 2:15).  How can it be that everyone fell in love with her?  A person who loves everybody is loved by everybody. Our Sages say that everyone thought she was a member of his own people (Megillah 13a).  But her righteousness, her majesty of spirit, transcended the boundaries between peoples.  The basis of this love was her love of Israel: It does not contradict the love for man who is created in the likeness of G-d. This was the case of Avraham our father who was also concerned about the fate of the residents of Sedom.  The height of the love of man is the love of Israel (Arpeli Tohar, p. 31).  Ester’s external appearance was not impressive. She did not cover herself in artificial color. Our Sages say that she had a green hue [like a myrtle] (Megillah ibid.), but the thread of kindness was upon her (ibid.).  Even when she went to the king, on her own initiative, she did not beautify or embellish herself. Quite the contrary: She fasted three days (Ester 4:16).  As such, she certainly did not look very attractive.  It did not bother her.  The opposite: After a three day fast, the body is wasted, and a person becomes purely spiritual (Zohar 3, Chukat 183b).  The beauty and fundamental personality of Ester stem from her spiritual greatness.  Her strength was not in external beautification; yet when she went to appear before Achashverosh: “And Ester dressed in royal clothes” (Ester 5:1).  But all the while she wore royal clothing; what is the novel element in the verse?  At this moment she was the queen of Israel, she wore the clothing of the heavenly kingdom; for she was bestowed with a holy spirit (Megillah 14a).  Her approach was based on the highest ideals and a responsibility for her people. That she succeeded in remaining pure and innocent in the midst of that hell was a great wonder.  Persia was steeped in immorality even though our Sages praise the Persians on a number of occasions: I like the Persians because they are modest in the privy (Berachot 8b): A person is only called modest if he even expresses his modesty in the privy (ibid. 62a).  And further, “Do not say I am in a very hidden place: Who sees me? For The Holy One Blessed Be He fills the whole earth with His glory (Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 2:2).  While modesty is an externally perceived form of behavior, it emanates from an inner quality. This characteristic forms the strength of Israel. There is even a halachic concept called the Persian privy (Berachot 26a; Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 83:4).  Their privy quickly evacuated feces which did not accumulate and befoul. We learn in halachah whether one is permitted to discuss holy matters in such a privy (ibid.).


The Persians apparently were modest people, as stated in Gemara, yet it says, “They were prepared for Gehinom [purgatory]” (Berachot 8b). Why? Because their modesty was external.  For the outside, they were modest: But on the inside, they were destructive people.  At the beginning of the Book of Ester, we find a description of the feast prepared by Achashverosh.  Here we learn about the surroundings in which Ester found herself, and her courage in remaining pure in an immoral environment.  One hundred and eighty days of laughter, feasting and eating (Ester 1:4) is incredible.  Sitting at the meal, everyone expressed his opinion on who were the most beautiful women, Persian or Median or Casdim.  Achashverosh praised the Kasdim and ordered Vashti be brought for exhibition (Megillah 12b).  What awesome immorality.  Ester found herself in the heart of this corrupt place and strengthened her resolve.


This contrast resounded through the generations.  Jewish people dine at the Purim feast amid joy and good humor, knowing the difference between their feast and ours.  Some scholars suggest that Purim is a festival of the past. Every nation has a holiday that features drunkenness, wild behavior and relief. The Nation of Israel has appropriated for itself such a holiday. The ancient Greeks had a festival when they drank wine, were rowdy and engaged in orgies. The Christians had a holiday of this sort on the first of April. These scholars theorize that Jews learned from them. Nothing could be further from the truth. We did not learn from them: We learned from the Master of the Universe. Even if we had learned from them, the real question is how they observed it and we observe it. We learned many things from the other nations, but we kept apart. Perhaps all men have a common spiritual nature; although then we must ask what exactly is that nature. What nature did the Greeks and Christians manifest? What was their disposition? What interested them? What did they talk about when they were drunk? All this in contrast to the nature and disposition of the Nation of Israel. We often see the same phenomenon among scientists.  At opposite ends of the world, an identical discovery is made without one inventor knowing the other.  One did not copy or spy on the other.  The discovery was already hovering in the air.  The same goes for spiritual creations.  The nature of man is based on his being created in the likeness of G-d, meaning that his traditions and precepts over the years stem from a common basis.  The significant point is how we express out joy, for our joy is not mixed with idolatry (Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 695).


Silence and modesty are part of the same pattern, referring to a person who does not stand out nor is an exhibitionist. Many things become fine and noble when internalized.  A certain student studied outside the study hall with a great noise.  His Rabbi told him upon bringing him into the study hall one should not study Torah outside.  Torah is likened to the moon: The hidden moon is like hidden words of Torah (Moed Katan 16a-b).  Why should one hide the Torah: Is it not beneficial for everyone?  Rather it is beneficial from within as when the moon is from within.  No need to entreat it to come out, for whoever occupies himself with Torah from within, his Torah announces him from without (ibid. 16b).  A man’s Torah is recognizable on him even if he has not adopted a special sign or article of clothing.  No need for an external emblem because we see it in his character.  That is why they say: People who are modest and silent are loafers who do nothing.  The opposite is true, as revealed through Ester who is the epitome of silence and modesty, brimming with courage and noble deeds.  Modesty does not cover up courage (see La-Tzniut  U-Le-Taharah Be-Yisrael, Or Le-Netivotai, pp. 276-277).


  1. Modesty and Courage

Our master, Rav Kook, comments on the unique notion of adjacent characteristics.  He says there are forms of conduct which are very similar from outward appearances but are internalized in opposite ways (Mussar Avicha p. 60).  For example, take a modest person and a lazy person.  If you were to ask a person to do something, and he refused claiming he was not qualified, he would appear to be a modest person.  But if he were able to perform the task and simply shirked his duty, this would indicate idleness, temerity and evasion of responsibility.  Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said: I would exempt from [harsh] judgment the entire world [because of its sins] from the day it was created until now if Eliezer ben Ami was with us, we would do the same from the day the world was created until now if Yotam ben Uzihu was with us, we would do it from the day the world was created until its end (Succah 45b).  These statements might seem to be an expression of arrogance; but that is not the case.  Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said it in order to keep people from false modesty and humility (Mussar Avicha p. 72).  A person should recognize his own value and his talents, and direct his actions accordingly.  Our master, Rav Kook, writes in one of his unpublished letters that he has things to say, and when these words will be spoken they will bring about change and revolution in the entire world.  He has a duty to fight against enemies who oppose him from without and within.  The enemy within is false humility which tells him, who are you to do such a thing?  There may be a situation where a person is as modest as can be, yet also lazy.  We could have the phenomenon in reverse: A person who appears lazy, but is in fact very humble. He accomplishes a lot but quietly.  Speak little but do much.


Brazenness [chutzpah] is a quality proximate to courage.  A person who gives orders to everyone around and in fact is empty-headed wastes his energy on criticizing and opining on all sorts of subjects whether he understands them or not.  This is a common occurrence.  Opinions do not necessarily stem from any connection to the truth.  This could be chutzpah: A manifestation of a personality that assumes no responsibility for anything.  This stems from insolence.  By contrast, courage arises from real strength.  Often, these two characteristics appear the same.  It is difficult to tell the difference between a courageous person and a person who assumes a courageous personality.  We have to examine a person’s substance, not his outward appearance.  Even the thorns made a lot of noise in the story of Yotam (Shoftim 9:15).  Modesty, silence and reflection do not contradict courage.  The modest and silent we have referred to were all people of valor: Shaul, Michal and Ester, all from the tribe of Binyamin.


“And Ester put on her royal robes” (Ester 5:1).  Ester was a queen, not only because she was married to a king: She was a queen in her own right; a queen in the heavenly kingdom. She was the successor to the royal house of her father Shaul.  Everything that happened in Shushan occurred because Shaul had spared Agag (see Megillah 13a, Midrash Ha-Gadol Vayechi).


Ester came to revive the honor of the house of her father.  Of course, the essence of her mission was to save the Nation of Israel but she was the successor to royalty and the role of royalty in Israel was also to destroy Amalek (Rambam, Laws of Kings 1:1).  Although there was no monarchy in Israel at that time, Ester was nonetheless queen and one of the seven prophetesses of the Nation of Israel (Megillah 14a).  In order to destroy Amalek, one must have a lot of courage and resourcefulness.  This involved very complicated politics.  Although Yaakov our father was a simple man who dwelt in tents (Bereshit 25:27), he did say to Rachel: “If your father is treacherous, I will be his brother in cunning” (Baba Batra 123a; Bereshit Rabbah 60:13; Rashi on Bereshit 29:12).  A person can use cunning to trip up treachery at its own game.  Intense political maneuvering was necessary to trip up Haman.  Ester wisely spun a net which came together at the end.  She took advantage of every opportunity.


When Mordecai discovered the conspiracy of Bigtan and Teresh, Ester told the king in the name of Mordecai (Ester 2:22).  It was important to her to credit him as the source (see Pirkei Avot 6:6; Megillah 15a).  This was part of the weaving of the complicated net which would later be of assistance.  Ester aroused the king’s jealousy against Haman.  She endangered herself; and the king asked how to fulfill her request, giving her up to half the kingdom.  Had he not extended the royal sword, she would have been killed (Ester 4:11).  She invited the king along with Haman to a feast.  This was a subtle way of bringing out the king’s jealousy, namely Haman being invited to an intimate evening with the queen.  Even the princes were filled with jealousy of Haman (Megillah 15b).  In order to bring this about, Ester used these fateful words: “Let the King and Haman come” (Ester 5:4).  At the banquet, she still had not made her request known; she arranged another banquet with Haman (ibid. 5:8).  The king understood that she had not endangered herself simply to invite him to a meal. She made him curious by using her highly creative political talents. She used her beauty and her female allure; and throughout, she had a sense of forcefulness.  Even when the king asked her for her request, after the Jews had destroyed their enemies, Ester pleaded for an additional day to fight in the capital Shushan (ibid. 9:13).  Upon this request, the enemies of Israel swooped down as if on a great booty.  On the first day of Purim, the Jews took a stand for their lives (ibid. 8:11).  This was not aggressive but defensive.  By the second day, the Jews had already subdued their enemies and killed those who hated them: The fear they held of the locals dissipated.  Why did Ester ask for an additional day of killing?  On that very day, the Jews killed three hundred more men (ibid. 9:15).  Three hundred is not a great number.  These men were known to be murderers who were wandering around in the capital city (Ralbag; Or Chadash of the Maharal).  In case of a risk of danger, it was better to strike them first than to wait to be attacked.  Eradicating evil from the world is a great moral act.  The act required great forcefulness and did not conflict with her sense of modesty.


Pirkei Avot contains tremendous hidden insight.  It is written: “The insolent are destined for Gehinom” (5:24).  By contrast: “Be bold as a leopard” (ibid. 5:23).  “A shy person is destined for the Garden of Eden” (ibid.).  But compare: “A bashful person cannot learn” (ibid. 2:5).


As we see, one should be gold [az] but not impudent [az panim].  Impudence toward one’s fellow man does not accomplish anything.  Boldness must be internalized and one’s face should reflect a spiritual refinement.  Being shy is a very important attribute, but a person does not have to be shy within himself, because the truth is not shy.  People err in thinking that a modest man is really lazy; and that a modest woman has a weak character in thought and deed, and is spare on courage.  Silence and modesty can go together with courage, political agility based on profound wisdom, and above all, self-sacrifice.


  1. Self-Sacrifice

Ester’s greatness is based on her self-sacrifice, which is of the highest of all attributes.  Our Sages tell the story of a scholar who died.  Upon the revival of his soul, his father asked him what he had seen in the heavenly world.  He answered: I saw a world opposite to this one: Up was down and down was up.  Happy is he who goes there with his Talmud learning in his hand.  In other words, a person who learns Torah is on the highest level.  Furthermore, I heard it said of the killers of royalty that no one can stand where they are.  And who were they? The killers of Lod. They were two Jews who volunteered to say they assassinated the king’s daughter, to prevent the slaughter of all the Jews of the city.  By their act, they aborted the royal decree.  Despite their being very simple people, they were received in the World-to-Come with great honor.  His father asked him: You saw an understandable world (Pesachim 50a).  Our world is an upside-down world.  Here, we evaluate a person according to false value.  A person attracts honor, worthiness and position on the basis of wealth or connections.  In the World-to-Come, a person’s importance arises from his self-sacrifice, for this is the ultimate inner spiritual goal.


The state of self-sacrifice means that a person is so connected with, joined and immersed in his activity that this connection overrides any other consideration.  War, on a simple level, involves self-sacrifice.  A person who goes out to war does not dwell on his personal standing (Rambam, Laws of Kings 7:15).  Rather, one for all, and all for one.  In King David’s army, every soldier gave his wife a bill of divorce (Shabbat 56a).  Some say it was a conditional divorce; and others say it was an absolute divorce (Tosafot ibid.).  The divorce conveys the sense of complete dissociation from the personal.  A soldier stops being an individual and gives himself over completely to the community of Israel (Rambam, Laws of Kings 7:15).  As Ester said: “If I perish, I perish” (Ester 4:16).  Ester explained to Mordechai the risk in her going to the king.  Mordechai immediately said: “If you do not go, calm and deliverance will come to the Jews from another place” (ibid. 4:14).


Our master, Rav Kook, explains that Ester did not hesitate in her willingness in self-sacrifice.  She simply thought that the plan was weak and the chances of success were slim: it was preferable to wait for another opportunity (Mishpat Kohain #143, pp. 308, 317, 327-328).  The casting of lots took place on the eleventh of Nissan and the letters were written on the thirteenth of Nissan (Megillah 15a).  The lot was cast in the month of Adar: Ester thought that since there is an entire year ahead of them, it would be best to wait for the appropriate moment of strength and avoid mortal danger.  Mordechai answered it was true that one should not be hasty, but in order to save the life of the Jewish community, it was not wise to wait but to be expeditious (Mishpat Kohain ibid.).  He even sanctioned a fast on Passover and ordered the people not to eat matzah (Megillah 15a).  As an example of “hora’at sha’ah” [the principle that allows the suspension of observance for the sake of saving Jewish lives], one should not wait even a single day; one should act immediately.  This is the halachic principle of “hora’at sha’a”: To go beyond what is written in the Torah in order to save the Nation of Israel (Mishpat Kohain ibid.).  This was Mordechai’s reasoning and Ester apparently reacted immediately, for the strength will not lie (Shmuel 1 15:29).  Why was there such haste?  Certainly because of our faith in it will be all right.  Rather despite our belief that the Master of the Universe will help us, simply clasping our hands does not confirm our belief in Hashem but in idleness (Mishpat Kohain ibid).


Before the Second World War, the governments of Europe would continually say: It will be alright, even though their citizens sensed growing tension in the air.  During this absurd period, someone composed a satirical song which told the story of the Marquise who went on vacation but telephoned the administrator of her property to ask how things were.  He replied that everything was alright, truly under control, except for one small detail: Her horse had died.  How come?, she asked in disbelief.  Because the stable burned down.  Otherwise, everything was in order.  How did it catch fire?  It had spread from the palace.  That aside, everything was in order…  Idleness interferes with faith in and fear of G-d.  Believers says that everything comes from heaven.  But faith, trust and Divine providence do not absolve us of the obligation of trying to save our people with each opportunity, including self-sacrifice.  If things seem contradictory, the Master of the Universe resolves the issues.  Complete faith in the survival of the nation requires exhaustive effort in every direction, even up to, “If I perish, I perish.”


Ester’s going to Achashverosh has an added intensity of self-sacrifice.  At first, “Ester was also brought to the house of the king” (Ester 2:8) against her will, like a captive.  Then, by going to him by her own will, it was as if she were the one to seduce; and because of this, she was lost to Mordechai (Megillah 15a).  Saving the Nation of Israel sometimes requires us to adopt various tactics, even murder, idol worship and sexual immorality (Mishpat Kohain, p. 308).  This is the most clear analysis of history that the strength of Israel not lie or be comforted.  The Jewish people will not be erased.  Perhaps it will endure and be wounded, but the strength of Israel will continue to survive.  The Master of the Universe spins historical reasons and embroiders with holiness for our sake; and because of that we must take risks and fortify our human side.  The expression will not lie or be comforted is a Divine reckoning; but in human terms, one has to act with self-sacrifice, to do everything in order to save the Nation of Israel.


Rambam explained this basic belief in very clear terms in his letters to Yemen written at the time of violent attacks and persecutions in that country. Yemenite Jews thought that they were beyond hope and some even considered conversion to Islam. Rambam responded that the Nation of Israel would never disappear. “I am Hashem. I do not change. Therefore you the children of Yaakov are not destroyed (Malachi 3:6). Just as there could not be a change in the nature of G-d, the destruction of the Nation of Israel could not occur (Igeret Teiman, edition of Mossad Ha-Rav Kook, pp.128-129; Mehadurat Ha-Rav Y. Shilat, pp. 124-125). This absolute truth does not relieve us of the duty of acting to save the people.


Yael, the wife of Chaver the Kinite, did the same as Ester because of the directive to disregard the usual rules of Torah in order to save the Nation: She made Sisera drowsy, which allowed her to kill him (Yevamot 103a; Nazir 23b). And she was forbidden to her husband (Mishpat Kohain #144, para. 10-11, pp. 331-333). Ester was not smug; she prepared herself. If all other means were to fail, she would draw herself to Haman and put on a display of love and passion in front of Achashverosh. Thus the king would have cause to kill her and Haman, thereby leading to the annulment of the decree (Megillah 15b). We find here the self-sacrifice of “Let me die with the Philistines” (Shoftim 16:30). Even Haman’s falling on Ester’s bed (Ester 7:8) was engineered by Ester in order to inflame the anger of Achashverosh. “Yavo Ha-melech Ve-Haman Ha-yom [The King and Haman shall come today] (ibid. 5:4) contains the acronym of the name of G-d.  We find here a revelation of the name of G-d and devotion to G-d which manifests itself in the greatest self-sacrifice, and in the cleverness of the dangerous plan Queen Ester had devised. The manifestation of the name of G-d and extreme devotion which came from silence and modesty in no way contradict Ester’s courage, power, political wisdom and self-sacrifice. Ester’s inner hidden character was not simply delicate; it fortified her in those very difficult moments.


Rabbi Tzadok Ha-Cohen of Lublin says of Ester that silence is beyond speech (Resisei Layla, pp. 120-126). “A word for a stone but silence for two” (Megillah 18a). In other words, a word is worth a stone but silence is worth two stones. Silence is one of man’s greatest inner qualities. All our worlds of speech find their roots in worlds of silence without speech. A person whose entire spiritual world is only based on speech is deprived. In contrast, a great person is like an iceberg floating in the water: The significance of his words is as evident as the tip of the iceberg visible above the water; his foundation is like the mass of the iceberg hidden below the surface of the water as it is written: “And Aharon held his peace” (Vayikra 10:3). The basis, the foundation of everything a person says draws its strength from the domain of silence within him (Orot Ha-Kodesh vol. 3, p. 275). Silence and tranquility are expressions of an inner yearning: A powerful desire without means of expression.


Rabbi Tzadok analyses it and suggests that one should not confuse the expression of inner secrets of the soul with the secrets themselves. He compares this to a woman whose lack of obligation to learn Torah does not diminish her relationship to Torah itself. Do not confuse Torah with the commandment to learn Torah. Man has a single path to Torah, namely learning Torah. Woman has other paths. Our Sages ask: How does a woman earn merit? They answer: By bringing her children to school and waiting for her husband when he returns from the study hall (Berachot 17a). Her anticipation is part of her connection to Torah (Maharal, Derosh al Ha-Torah, pp. 27-28). A man who knows learning Torah would cause tension in the household, would not be successful in his studies. On the other hand, if studying were done in the context of peace in the home, it has enormous value. It is written: “His curls are wavy and black as a raven” (Shir Ha-Shirim 5:11). Our Sages interpret this verse to allude to a scholar who is cruel to his wife and the members of his household, by using his Torah study as an excuse to absent himself from the home (Eruvin 22a). Instead, this so-called cruelty can only apply after consultation with and the consent of his wife. This concept of cruelty is an objective situation and does not refer to interpersonal relationships. If a man’s wife waits for him in their home, she increases his desire for Torah. This does not imply her reward lies in her technically sending him off to learn and waiting for his return, but in her spiritually sending and waiting through longing, love and connection to learning (Maharal, Derosh al Ha-Torah ibid.).


There are limits to studying but no limits to the desire to do so. There are no real boundaries: This is the dimension of longing. Things that happen practically in this world draw from the world of longing. Rachel our mother was connected to the world of desires: She longed for children. Leah was more connected to the world of action.  Silence is also related to the world of longing. It expresses hidden longing at the heart of the soul which finds no expression in words. This inner sphere, hidden by the modesty and silence of Ester, stems from her greatness which cannot be adequately described in words.


The state of it was reversed (Ester 9:1), which relates to the month of Adar, arises from the disguise of appearances we find in the Book of Ester. Ester the modest, the spiritual, one of the seven female prophets (Megillah 14a) is bolstered by enormous courage. This is the source of it was reversed: An encounter of opposites, or what seemed to be opposites to human eyes. The unity of these opposites flows from the Master of the Universe: The strength and humility of He who lives forever (Piyut Ha-Aderet Ve-Emunah). He is the very source of strength, of humility and of life.


Author’s Biography


Ha-Rav Shlomo Chaim Ha-Cohain Aviner was born in 5703 in German-occupied Lyon, France.  As a youth, he was active there in the religious Zionist youth movement, Bnei Akiva, eventually becoming its National Director.  He attended university, where he studied mathematics, physics, and electrical engineering.  At the age of 23, infused with the ideal of working the Land of Israel, Rav Aviner made aliyah to Kibbutz Sedei Eliyahu, in the Beit She’an Valley of the Galil.  He then went to learn at Yeshivat Merkaz Harav in Yerushalayim, where he met Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook, Rosh Yeshiva and son of Israel’s first Chief Rabbi, Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook.  Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah became his foremost teacher, and he became one of his “Talmdei Muvhak – leading students.”  During this time he also served as a soldier in Tzahal – the Israel Defense Force, participating in the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, earning the rank of Lieutenant.  At the direction of his Rabbi, he joined a group that was settling Chevron and learned Torah there.  In the year 5731, Rav Aviner became the Rabbi of Kibbutz Lavi in the lower Galil, where he spent half of his day working in the farm.  In 5737, he left Lavi to serve as the Rabbi of Moshav Keshet in the Golan Heights.  In 5741, he accepted the position of Rav of Beit El (Aleph), in the Binyamin region of the Shomron.  Two years later, he also became the Rosh Yeshiva of the new-established Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim (formerly known as Ateret Cohanim).  Located in the Old City of Yerushalayim, Rav Aviner’s yeshiva is the closest yeshiva to the Har Ha-Bayit – the Temple Mount, the holiest spot in the world.  In its more than twenty year history, Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim has produced rabbis, teachers, educators and officers in Tzahal, while also promoting the building and settling of the city of Yerushalayim.


Rav Aviner has become a ubiquitous presence in Israel.  He has published hundreds of books and articles, including Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah (talks by Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah), Tal Hermon on the weekly Torah portion and holidays and his multi-volume responsa Shu”t She’eilat Shlomo.  His talks and responsa appear monthly in the Yeshiva’s journal, Iturei Cohanim.  While his opinions are frequently printed in Israeli newspapers, Rav Aviner also contributes weekly to four parashah sheets, “Ma’aynei Ha-Yeshu’ah,” “Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah” of Machon Meir, “Rosh Yehudi” and “Olam Katan” which are distributed every Shabbat in shuls throughout Israel. He hosts two weekly radio programs, has a video blog (, teaches weekly classes and gives talks in many different venues.  The yeshiva also sends out weekly teachings of Rav Aviner in Hebrew, English, French and Spanish (to subscribe: and has an English blog which is updated on a daily basis ( In addition to these scheduled events, Rav Aviner also makes himself available to hundreds of people from all walks of life who come to him with questions via mail, telephone, fax, e-mail, text messages, his radio show and his video blog Q&A.



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