How did Esther suddenly become the new "It Girl"? It wasn’t just her good looks.
With Purim coming up, let's review the background to the holiday through a quick synopsis of the main players in this drama:
King Achashverosh – King of Persia on the hunt for a new woman in his life after he rids himself of his wife, Vashti for refusing to appear with not much more than her crown in his attempt to display her beauty in front of his buds (who probably had imbibed a few too many Buds themselves).
Mordechai – The Jewish leader who stubbornly refuses to bow to Haman and thereby sets in motion a series of events that eventually caused Haman to draw a lottery – pur in Hebrew, hence the name Purim. The lottery was to set the date of a planned genocide against the Jewish people.
Haman – Real bad guy who is having major inferiority issues. Wants to wipe out an entire people because one of them doesn’t give him the respect he thinks he deserves. He tells his wife and friends that he has wealth, children and power but that it's all worthless as long as that Jew, Mordechai refuses to get on his knees and bow to him.
Esther – our reluctant heroine. The poor girl did not want to take part in the Persian version of America's Next Top Model that King Achashverosh created to find himself a new wife. When her turn arrives to meet the king, she is the only one who is not interested in the M*A*C goodie bag to make herself up. All the other girls get an AMEX Platinum and a day at the mall. Esther tells them, "No thanks." She wins the contest anyway.
Of all these lovely ladies, how did Esther suddenly become the new "It Girl" and get thrust into the limelight and palace? Was she so stunningly beautiful that even without any make-over she still looked way better than all the other contestants?
The Book of Esther reveals her secret by mentioning that the king loved her more than any of the women for "she had grace and kindness over all the others." Apparently it was not just her good looks but this "grace and kindness" that did the trick in securing her victory.
And herein lies the secret to real beauty. There is no denying that pure physical beauty has a certain power and magnetism that makes heads turn. But this alone is not enough to make one an extremely attractive person that can capture the heart and imagination of a king upon first sight. Indeed we have all met very good-looking people who quickly become ugly as soon as they open their mouth.
The Talmud relates that anyone who met Esther thought that she was from that person's nation. If you were from the USA, you thought she was American; if from the UK, you thought she was a Brit. Slovak, Russian, African, it made no difference – you thought Esther was your landsman. This is difficult to understand; people from different countries each have their own unique look, language, customs and nuances. How was Esther able to pull this off? Was she such a chameleon?
Esther was one of those rare people who have the unique talent of allowing others to feel as if she is one of them by instantly connecting with and relating to whomever she meets. She knew how to listen, see another's needs, quickly intuit a person's hot-button, and concentrate on the other and not herself. By giving another this total and undivided attention, every person who came in contact with Esther felt she knew and understood them so well that she must have come from their locale.
In Hebrew the word for charm is chain. Its root is from the word, chinam which means gratis. People will like you, for no apparent reason at all and freely, if you make them, and not yourself, the focus during your interaction with them. This is the "grace and kindness" that King Achashverosh and everyone else, immediately felt upon being in her presence.
Furthermore, Esther's reluctance to be the Queen was a crucial factor in winning over the King. She did not want, nay did not need, to be Queen because she knew it was not necessary to have that title and position. She exuded such confidence in herself from already knowing of her true royalty that came with her talents, morals, integrity and leadership – that it was completely unnecessary to have any formal recognition of it. She was not the least bit interested in formally being declared a Queen because she already knew that she was one.
In complete contrast to Esther was Haman who wanted so badly to be like a king. The problem was that he did not have any of the charm and grace of an Esther; a crucial quality for a King to relate to his many different subjects. Knowing deep down of his personal failings, his insecurity was so great that even though he had managed to amass tremendous power, it became meaningless if but one person would not recognize it. It only took one individual's refusal to bow to Haman to shatter his fragile ego and expose the fact that all the love and obedience shown to him was forced and false because it came through deception, lies and favors. Such is the frailty of the ego of a person who knows that all his success, admiration and wealth are a sham.
The irony is that those whose egos are so sensitive and in constant need for validation never really get the respect they so crave. However, those who are secure and happy in their knowledge of themselves, who need no accolades, who have enough love and confidence of self that they can easily share it with others – those people always end up becoming honored Kings and Queens in the eyes of family, friends and anyone who might have the good fortune to be in their presence.
As the Talmud so aptly puts it:
One who runs after honor, honor flees from him.
One who flees from honor, honor runs after him.
by Rabbi Tzvi Nightingale
Rabbi Tzvi Nightingale has been the Executive Director of Aish South Florida since 1993. He received rabbinic ordination in 1985 and met his wife Karen, who grew up in London and is the great-granddaughter of the former chief rabbi of Meshed, Iran.