The prime architect behind the miracle of Purim, when the Jews in the 127 countries under Achashverosh’s dominion were saved from Haman’s evil designs, was Esther. Risking her life for her people, she braved Achashverosh’s anger and entreated him to have pity on her people. As the Megillah records, she was eminently successful.
Esther’s preeminent role is recognized in the very name of the Megillah. It is not called “Megillas Mordechai” or “Megillas Mordechai and Esther” or even “Megillas Esther and Mordechai” (making Mordechai subordinate to Esther). It is called simply “Megillas Esther.”
That Esther was the one who actually moved Achashverosh to grant relief to the Jews is indisputable. Yet Mordechai also played a role in the salvation. Indeed, the Megillah testifies that he was the dominant force behind Esther. Esther is first introduced in the Megillah in terms of her relationship to Mordechai: “He brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter” (2:7). Her every action was based on Mordechai’s advice: “Esther carried out the bidding of Mordechai” (2:20). Her supreme moment, when she was to go to the king to plead for her people, was again carried out only at Mordechai’s instigation and virtual command. So reluctant was she to go that Mordechai had to speak most harshly: “If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance shall come to the Jews from another place; and you and your father’s house shall perish. And who knows whether you will still retain your royal position a year from now” (4:14).
Mordechai, then, played a critical role not just in Esther’s life in general, but also in the efforts to avert the danger from Jewry. Should not the Megillah, which narrates the events of the danger and subsequent salvation, be named after both the chief participants in the salvation Esther and Mordechai?
Mordechai and Esther, besides being individuals, also symbolize Torah and the Jewish people, respectively. Our sages say (Esther Rabbah 6:2): “Mordechai in his generation was equal to Moshe in his generation ... Just as Moshe taught Israel Torah ... so did Mordechai.” Esther, the Talmud relates (Megillah 13a), was called Hadassah (myrtle) “after the righteous who are called myrtles” — and “your people are all righteous.”
Torah, symbolized by Mordechai, is of a loftier level than Israel, symbolized by Esther, for Jews must follow Torah’s directives. (In the words of the Megillah (2:20), Esther (Israel) did everything “as Mordechai (Torah) had instructed her”). Indeed, the unique distinction of Jews is brought to the fore specifically through Torah.
On the other hand, once Jews’ qualities have been revealed through the medium of Torah, their innate superiority blazes forth, and Israel is seen to be loftier even than Torah — as our sages have said (Bereishis Rabbah 1:4), that G-d thought of Israel before anything else, including Torah.
In slightly different words: Jewry, the Baal Shem Tov said, may be compared to a land full of precious things, based on the verse (Malachi 3:12) “You shall be a land of delight.” Every Jew is possessed of the most lofty qualities and virtues; but the treasures are buried deep within him, and much work is needed to bring them to light — just as one must dig deep to obtain the precious metals and gems in the earth. Once the concealments have been removed, a Jew’s innate qualities shine forth
The same may be said of Mordechai and Esther as individuals, in their roles in the story of Purim. Mordechai, it was true, had to persuade Esther to do her part in removing the decree against the Jews. But Mordechai did not need to effect any basic change in Esther, to make a “new” Esther. His function was only to reveal her innate qualities, to allow her real self to come to the fore. And once he was successful, Esther went on her mission with her own strength, impelled by her convictions.
In her true, revealed state, Esther was on a loftier level than Mordechai. It was Esther who now told Mordechai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Shushan, and fast for me” (4:16). And it was Esther who convinced the sages to include the Mezuzah as one of the sacred writings.
Because the miracle of Purim came about through Esther, through her own self and qualities (albeit after Mordechai revealed them); and those qualities were infinitely superior to Mordechai’s (as Jewry in essence is infinitely loftier than Torah), the Megillah is named solely after her: Megillas Esther.
The Baal Shem Tov offered a unique interpretation of the Mishnah which states (Megillah 2:1), “One who reads the Megillah backwards has not performed his obligation.” If one reads the Megillah thinking that the events related in it happened only in the past — “backwards” — and it is not relevant now, he has not performed his obligation. The purpose in reading the Megillah is to learn how a Jew must conduct himself at all times, now as in the past. It therefore behooves us to derive a lesson from the name of the Megillah — “Megillas Esther” — which, as explained above, emphasizes the greatness of a Jewish woman.
Our intention in talking of this is to stress the great responsibility women have. Just as our constant repetition of the qualities of Jews is not chauvinism, but is intended to emphasize Jewry’s obligations, so the purpose of talking of Jewish women’s greatness is to stress their heavy responsibilities.
Every Jewish woman is the mainstay of her home, who sets the tone and spirit of the entire household. In particular, it is the woman who bears the responsibility of rearing the children in the traditions of Torah and Judaism, ensuring that in every aspect of life they live as Torah Jews.
It is the woman, the constant presence in the home, who has the task of ensuring the home be pure and sanctified, filled with the light of Torah and mitzvos. In particular, their field of responsibility encompasses the three pillars of the Jewish home: Kashrus of the foods, the Shabbos and Yom-Tov lights, and family purity — which includes the rejection of that false notion known as family planning.
The qualities of the Jewish woman may be related to the verse in the Megillah (8:16), “For the Jews there was orah (light).” And “Orah,” our sages say (Megillah 16b), refers to Torah.
“Orah” is the feminine tense of “or,” both of which mean “light,” and both of which refer to Torah. The latter refers to the Written Torah, and the former to the Oral Torah. Why in the Megillah is Torah referred to specifically as “Orah” — feminine tense, referring to the Oral Torah?
G-d’s Supreme Will is expressed in both the Oral and Written Torah. The difference between the two, the Alter Rebbe writes (Tanya, p. 300), is that “the Supreme Will vested in the 613 commandments of the Written Torah is hidden and covered, secreted and concealed. It is manifest only in the Oral Torah.” The Written Torah, for example, says of the mitzvah of tefillin that “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes.” It is unclear what exactly this means and how to fulfill this mitzvah, until explained in the Oral Torah.
Haman’s opposition to Jews and Judaism was principally in regard to the Oral Torah, since it is through it Jews know how to fulfill the mitzvos. Evil Haman refused to allow Jews to practice Judaism, to perform deeds.
When his decree was frustrated, “for the Jews there was orah” — the Oral Torah, against which the decree was directed. Purim thus stresses deed, the Oral Torah through which a Jew knows how to actually fulfill the Supreme Will. And this is its connection to the name of the Megillah: The Megillah is called “Megillas Esther,” not “Megillas Mordechai” or “Megillas Mordechai and Esther” — and Torah in the Megillah is called only “Orah,” feminine tense, and not “Or” or both “Or” and “Orah.”
“These days shall be remembered and kept,” says the Megillah (9:28). In our days, too, the events of Purim are repeated, particularly since Purim is an eternal matter, as stated (ibid): “These days of Purim shall never cease among the Jews, and their remembrance shall never perish from their descendants.”
In connection to the above, may it be G-d’s will that the “Week of the Jewish Woman,” the purpose of which is to inspire and encourage Jewish women in their faith, and which is taking place at this time of Purim, “benefit themselves and benefit the world.” May the deeds of Jewish women illumine the whole world with the light of Torah and mitzvos, so that even in these last days of exile G-dliness shall be revealed in the world — similar to the Messianic era, when “The glory of the L-rd shall be revealed, and all flesh together shall see that the mouth of the L-rd has spoken.”