By Sarah Debbie Gutfreund
Imagine that you are an orphan who is being raised by your uncle. You are utterly alone in this world, always wondering where you really came from and if you’ll ever feel like you belong anywhere. Suddenly, you are forced into marriage to a man that you neither like nor respect. You are stuck in a foreign palace where you can only eat fruit and seeds. There is no one for you to speak to and nothing for you to do except wonder how long you will have to remain living this life that someone else has chosen for you.
This was Esther Ha’malkah’s life. She could have been filled with self- pity, thinking how unfair it was that she was born into this world without parents. And how, after all her suffering, she was forced into a role that could have so easily robbed her of her dignity and her faith. She could have given up. She could have sunk into a hole of her own despair. But instead she became a heroine. She kept her faith and her dignity. She refused to give up even when everything seemed lost. She took her tragic story and used it to transform her life.
Here are five lessons in personal transformation that we can learn from Esther’s life:
- The obstacle is the way. Esther took the suffering that she experienced as an orphan and used it to make her stronger. She knew what it felt like to be lonely. She knew that she had overcome pain as a child, and that she had the resilience within her to face new challenges. When she stepped into the palace, she used these obstacles of her past as stepping stones instead of excuses. She chose to use her pain instead of being suffocated by it.
- Live for something greater than yourself. The more focused a person is on finding happiness for himself in this world, the more that happiness seems to elude his grasp. This is because we find the greatest happiness in giving to others and living for something greater than our own desires. Esther could have decided to make herself comfortable in the luxuries and pleasures of the palace and ignore the world and her people beyond its walls. But Esther wasn’t living for herself. She had grown up in the house of Mordechai, and she knew that she had a responsibility to stand up for her people.
- Reach out to others for help. We often think that we need to forge our own paths without anyone’s support. Esther was the queen; she could have decided to use just her own resources to try to save the Jewish people. But she chose instead to reach out to every single person in Am Yisrael, the Jewish nation, and beg them to pray for her. She needed their prayers. She knew in her heart that ultimately, we rise and fall together. She had the humility to be able to say: I need your help. Please fight beside me.
- Faith is persistence. When Esther risked her life and walked towards the king to beg for her nation, she felt the divine presence begin to leave her. She felt weak and afraid, like she couldn’t go on. But faith doesn’t mean that we always feel strong and courageous. Faith means that we persist even when we are exhausted and afraid. Esther did not give up when she felt like she couldn’t go on. Instead she prayed. She demanded to know: “G-d, G-d why have you left me? I need You.” She found the faith to reach out, to beg for strength and to find a way to make the impossible possible. She kept moving forward until she reached the king.
- Fight evil by inviting it to the party. We often can’t overcome destructive habits and desires by fighting them directly. They are too strong and too deceitful for head-on battles. But we can trick them like Esther did when she invited Haman to one party after another. We can make them feel like they are welcome in our lives, and then we can turn around and channel them into tools for good. Use anger to fight for justice. Use beauty to build a home. Use pleasure to connect to enduring values.
Purim is an opportunity to transform our mundane pleasures into spiritual joy. Our fragmented communities into a unified nation. Our despair into redemption. Our stagnation into growth. Let’s follow Esther Ha’malkah’s path as we overcome our obstacles and move forward.