So You Think You Know the Story of the Megillah?

Why do children dress up and adults hide their identity behind masks on Purim? Because concealment and secrecy play a pivotal role in the story. Things — and people — are not at all what they seem to be.

Esther hides her identify and religion from Ahasuerus even after she becomes his queen. Haman hides his intentions and doesn’t explicitly say he wants to kill the Jews, but just refers to ‘a people.’

Why is there no mention of G-d?

The book of Esther is the only book in Tanach in which name of G-d doesn’t appear. His presence is hidden.


The commentators say it is to show us that, even if we don’t see it openly, G-d is in our life running the world 24/7. In the megillah we learn the concept of Divine providence.

Was it just chance that Vashti was executed and Esther was in place as queen before Haman received permission to kill all the Jews?

Was it just chance that Ahasuerus couldn’t sleep one night and had the story of Mordechai saving his life read to him? And by chance, that ‘just happened’ to be the night Haman came to visit the king hoping to seal the Jews’ fate and instead was forced to parade Mordechai through the streets of Shushan singing his praises?

The Hand of G-d can be seen throughout the megillah even though His name is not there.

Esther: Downtrodden damsel or savvy strategist?

At first we can only pity Esther, the young Jewish girl forced to participate in Ahasuerus’ beauty contest to find a replacement for the queen he just had executed. She is coerced into being the Persian queen, forbidden by Mordechai to disclose her Jewish identity and condemned to spend the rest of her life in the king’s harem away from her family and people.

But when Haman’s genocidal plot is revealed she emerges as brave, strong and determined to save her people.

Mordechai tells Esther she must go to Ahasuerus immediately, reveal her lineage and make him change the decree. When Esther hesitates, knowing that entering the king’s chamber without an invitation could mean the death sentence, Mordechai insists.

She acquiesces, but on her terms. She tells Mordechai to gather the Jewish people and fast and pray for three days. She knows that it is G-d who will save the Jewish people and not any change of heart by Ahasuerus – but the Jews need to be worthy of being saved.

And after three days, does she tremblingly fall at the king’s feet begging for mercy? No, she has devised her own plan of action. She invites him and Haman, her would-be murderer, to a party. She knows how her husband loves parties.

Does she throw herself on his mercy at the party? No. Although Ahasuerus offers her anything she wants, she feels this still isn’t the right time. She invites them both to another party. Haman’s ego is bursting with joy at yet another invitation from the queen and he is totally off his guard when, at the next party, she denounces him and his genocidal plot.

And what of Ahasuerus?

Commentators say that he always hated the Jews and started his reign off by halting the rebuilding of the Temple which had been initiated earlier by King Cyrus.

As a king he seems to be ineffective and indecisive and far too fond of partying. On the recommendation of his advisors, he executes his first wife Vashti when she refuses to appear at his party. He then allows himself to be talked into signing into oblivion an entire people who have done him no harm whatsoever…again at the request of an advisor. But when his queen admits to being part of this people, he executes that advisor and adds a codicil to his decree which complicates the issue but offers a way to save the Jewish people. Esther and Mordechai, members of the race he always hated are then elevated to positions of power. Fickle, unpredictable and two-faced barely begin to describe him.

Why call a Jewish festival by a Persian name?

Megillat Esther is the only book in Tanach that takes place totally outside the Land of Israel.

The Jews are caught up in political intrigues and machinations. Haman used a lottery (pur in Persian) to pick a day on which he thought he could annihilate the Jewish people. Commentators say the Persian name for the festival was probably chosen to indicate its unique cultural character.

Why Megillah Esther and not Megillah Mordechai?

At the beginning of Esther’s reign, Mordechai tells her what to do and how much to disclose. And she follows his instructions. But when the threat of annihilation of the Jewish people is exposed, it is Esther who risks her life approaching the king without being summoned and she who devises the plan to outwit Haman. Her leadership qualities emerge and she takes over the main role.

And this is no happily-ever-after story. Esther has to remain in the palace, queen to Ahasuerus, never to return to her home and people.