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Queen Esther’s Hidden Self, and Ours: The Purim Story and Questions for Reflection

by Rabbi Bridget Wynne

March 4, 2024 • 24 Adar 5784

Queen Esther painting by Edwin Long
"Queen Esther" Edwin Long, 1878

At the height of the Persian Empire, King Ahashverosh sought a new bride. A young Jewish woman named Esther, with the help and encouragement of her uncle Mordechai, came to the king’s palace along with other women who wanted to be queen. The king chose Esther. Mordechai had warned her not to reveal that she was Jewish, so she kept that part of her identity secret.


Esther remained in this state of hiddenness for years, maintaining a daily charade.

Eventually, Haman, the king’s advisor, grew furious at Mordechai. Haman wanted everyone to bow down to him, and Mordechai refused. Haman complained to the king about this “certain people”—Jews:

“There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; and it is not in Your Majesty’s interest to tolerate them. If it pleases Your Majesty, let an edict be drawn for their destruction, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the stewards for deposit in the royal treasury.”


The king listened to Haman’s lies and agreed to his vengeful request. When Mordechai heard the news, he begged his niece to reveal her identity to the king and plead on behalf of her people. Yet Esther continued to hide her identity, explaining that she could only approach the king if invited and initiating a visit would be perilous.


Finally, Esther changed her mind, in a brief and poignant dialogue with Mordechai. He said to her:


“Do not think in your heart that because you are in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, then redemption and deliverance will come to the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s line will be lost. Who knows whether it is precisely for this moment you were destined to become queen?”


Esther said to Mordecai, “Go, assemble all the Jews and fast for me, neither eat nor drink for three days, night and day. I also will fast, and then I will go into the king, though it is against the law. And if I perish, then I perish.”


Esther took a great risk and revealed her identity to the king. When he realized that his queen was Jewish, he changed his mind about Haman’s evil plot, and Esther’s bravery saved the Jewish people.


In Hebrew, “Esther” means “hidden.” Esther concealed her identity, perhaps even from herself at times, to survive in her role. After Mordechai’s impactful words, “Who knows whether it is precisely for this moment you were destined to become queen?” she called on her fellow Jews to support her, discarded her “mask,” and acted.


The Book of Esther is the only book in the Hebrew Bible in which God’s name never appears. God, too, is hidden.


On Purim, no miracles occurred—no parted seas, no prophets conveying God’s word. Esther had to struggle on her own, with her fears, hesitations, and anxieties, along with her desire to meet the moment with brave action.


Her story, though more dramatic, may not be so different from ours.


Questions for Reflection:

  1. Do you conceal any parts of your Jewish or other core identity from others, or even from yourself? What prevents you from removing this “mask”?

  2. Have you encountered a Purim-like moment, a pivotal juncture in which you had to decide whether to reveal hidden aspects of yourself in order to take greater responsibility or leadership?

  3. How might you tap into concealed aspects of yourself to foster growth and make a difference?


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