There are the beloved Five Scrolls in the Hebrew Scripture, including Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Lamentations and two named for heroic women: Ruth and Esther. The Jewish people will be again reading, chanting, and dancing with the Scroll of Esther this Wednesday evening, February 28–the festive evening of Purim.
Ruth was the consummate loyalist, paradigmatic convert to Judaism—a maternal ancestor to the Davidic line. Christians link her spiritually to Jesus. Esther, an unlikely Jewish royal chosen to the throne of Persia by a classically sexist king at the apex of Hebrew exile, turned heads and won minds because she had the savvy and the guts to stand up against wanton ethnic cleansing.
Esther is the brave face and conscience of Purim, just as the #MeToo movement is the conscience of the United States in this painfully significant era.
I love this story, one rooted in real, painful history, harvested from the timeless male penchant for enslaving women and exhibiting brutality, because—unlike any other book in the Hebrew Scripture—it never mentions the divine name. Indeed, God is not quoted, cited, or present even once. The Scroll of Esther is being chanted in synagogues over the entire world this week even as Jewish revelers make noise to drown out of the name of the genocidal Prime Minister Haman. [The hissing and booing and even the drunken shrieking should only extend to today’s Hamans—from Assad to Khamenei to ISIS and on and on].
A book of Torah without God’s name in it? Jews marking the festival associated with it by praying, dancing, and rejoicing, all faithfully calendared as sure as Hanukkah or Passover?
You bet. This may be a minor holiday in the religious almanac, but it has a major principle to reveal: When God is not found, we Jews rely on someone special to step in as God’s proxy. Esther, comely, clever, filled with moral outrage, more focused on her people than her own safety, fills the void as God’s change-agent. She isolates the brutal Haman, a man dripping with bloodlust and racism, and exposes his criminality before the impressionable (though not-so-innocent) King Ahasuerus. The Jews are saved (at least then); Haman goes to the gallows that he had built for Esther’s pensive and proactive Uncle Mordecai.
Yes, as with most scriptural literature, it’s mostly a lot of men moving around each other in manipulation and insecurity. But none of these males are moved to their resolutions until Esther raises her voice and plays her strength. In this singular case of an absent God, a woman fills in the heavenly signature. Go, girl.