Queen Esther, The Heroine of Purim, is the First in Our Series: Badass Women of the Bible
Some people are born badasses while others grow into their badassery because they were thrust into a situation that required it. For some, the badassness comes easy. For others, their badassness surprises even themselves. Whatever your flavor of badass, look no further than the badass women of the Bible (*For our purposes here, “Bible” means “Hebrew Bible” or “Old Testament”).
From the very first woman (Eve), women have been the misunderstood badasses of the Bible. They are the catalysts without whom nothing happens. No Eve, no eating the forbidden fruit from the “Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.” No forbidden fruit, no “wisdom/to make wise” (לְהַשְׂכִּ֔יל) and no knowledge of “good and bad” (לדעת טוב ורע).
Without these badass women of the Bible like Eve, there is no human race. Adam will never “know” (ידע) Eve. So we literally need women, and that is why G-d made the badass women of the Bible. And, since this is our first edition of “Badass Women of the Bible,” we start with one of the most transformational badasses in the Bible (woman or man), the Heroine of Purim, Queen Esther.
Did Anything in Queen Esther’s Background Make Her More Susceptible to Being a Badass?
Queen Esther (Hadassah), was the foster daughter of Mordechai. Esther was originally the daughter of Mordechai’s uncle (Abihail), but when her parents died, Mordechai (technically a cousin) adopted her. We soon find out King Ahashveirosh did away with his former queen (Vashti) and, therefore, needs a new one. So he did what any good king would do and set up a parade of virgins from which to choose his favorites and keep them in his harem.
Esther, being “shapely and beautiful” (יְפַת־תֹּ֨אַר֙ וְטוֹבַ֣ת מַרְאֶ֔ה), pleased the King, essentially making it to round two of the competition. However, Mordechai told Esther not to reveal that she was a Jew, or that she was related to Mordechai. After getting a year-long spa treatment, she was presented once again in front of the Kng and blew away the competition, with King Ahashveirosh placing the crown (כתר) on her head. The people feasted and partied, and all was good in the land including the gifts for all plus the suspension of taxes (yay).
But then we get a really interesting couplet, “And when the virgins were gathered a second time, Mordechai sat in the king’s gate (20) Esther would not tell her lineage or her nationality, as Mordechai had commanded her, for Esther kept Mordechai’s orders as she had when she was raised by him (Esther 2.19-20, Emphasis added mine).”
Two things to note here: (1) Mordechai apparently likes to hang by the gate for some reason and (2) Esther is great at following orders, specifically those of Mordechai, who was her primary caretaker. I.e., If Mordechai is as smart as seems to be implied, and Esther both listens to him and learns from him… Esther is probably no slouch and Mordechai knows this.
If Mordechai is Smart… and Esther Studied Under His Tutelage… Esther is No Slouch
The running theme throughout the badass women of the Bible is how the women combine their wisdom and knowledge with their courage and daring to achieve heroic ends. The smarter a woman, the more she is filled with knowledge and wisdom, the more worthy she is as a vessel for G-d.
That is what those two lines are about for Esther; not only is Esther smart, but she is also courageous to listen to Mordechai and to keep a secret from the king. She trusts Mordechai because she has lived with him his entire life, and she knows how smart she is. If she was paying any attention at all, this means she is no in no way a slouch.
We then find out about the plot to kill the King, which Mordechai just happened to overhear because he was chilling out by the king’s gate. Mordechai–like a boss–informed on the traitors and the name “Mordechai” was written down in the King’s annals with a smiley face. After the dust settles, we get introduced to Haman
and his plan to kill all the Jews on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month (Adar). Thankfully, he sent this plan out to all the provinces well beforehand, so at least the Jews had something going for them (killing Jews does take careful planning after all).
Mordechai Unleashes The Badass Within Queen Esther
When Mordechai finds out he–and the rest of the Jews–do not take it well. Mordechai goes to the palace, but because he tore his clothes and was now walking around in sackcloth, he cannot talk to Esther directly due to a prohibition against sackcloth. After a game of telephone with the help of one of the Eunuchs, Esther proclaims to Mordechai she cannot simply just go to the king, she has to be beckoned; if she goes without an invite she will be killed.
Then Mordechai drops the hype-man speech you see in every action movie; “And Mordecai ordered to reply to Esther, “Do not imagine to yourself that you will escape in the king’s house from among all the Jews. (14) For if you remain silent at this time, relief and rescue will arise for the Jews from elsewhere, and you and your father’s household will perish; and who knows whether at a time like this you will attain the kingdom?” (Esther, 4.13-14, Emphasis Added).
Does Esther wilt when Mordechai invokes one of the worst Bible-level curses possible? Nope. Instead of concentrating on her own demise, she homes in on that second line, “and who knows whether at a time like this you will attain the kingdom?” That is Mordechai planting in her head the idea, “maybe this is exactly the reason you are in this position right now. All of those years watching me and learning… this is your destiny!” And immediately upon hearing that, our Queen Esther ascends to badass levels.
“Go, assemble all the Jews who are present in Shushan and fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, day and night; also I and my maidens will fast in a like manner; then I will go to the king contrary to the law, and if I perish, I perish.” Queen Esther first immediately creates a plan and is now telling Mordechai what to do, and beyond that, she is telling him “I’ve got this. So much so I am willing to sacrifice my life on it.”
Any way you slice it, Esther is in full-on badass mode here, but do not take my word for it, take the Bible’s, “So Mordecai passed and did according to all that Esther had commanded him (Esther 4.17, Emphasis Added).
That’s right, the roles are now reversed. It is now Esther commanding Mordechai. The line is telling for two reasons (1) what transpires from here on out will be on Esther as she has now assumed control of the saga, moving from passive character to catalyst, and (2) Mordechai now sees Esther as an equal, or maybe even superior; as it is completely natural for him to take an order from her.
Esther is in Control
Esther continues to wrest control of the situation into her hands. After successfully not getting sentenced to death, she invites the King and Haman
to a feast. At that feast, she invites the two of them… to another feast (technically during Pesach). In between the two feasts, three important things happen: (1) Haman
sees Moderchai chilling at the gate (again), and Mordechai refuses to bow (Weird Jew stuff). This infuriates the H-man, who comes up with an idea–helped along by his wife, family, and friends–to impale Mordechai on a stake as punishment (2) the King has trouble sleeping and, as an apparent sleep-aid, wants to read about himself. There he reads about that time Mordechai saved him, but apparently, he forgot to reward him so (3) the king turns to Haman
–who is on his way to ask him if he can make shishkabob out of Mordechai on the stake he just constructed outside his house–but before he can, the King asks him what should be done for a man the king wants to honor? Haman
thinking this is meant for him tells the King that the man in question should be paraded through the city, made to wear a crown, and have everyone in the kingdom know he is one of the King’s guys. The King responds, saying “Good idea, do this to Mordechai the Jew.” And Haman
does this and leads the way. When he finishes his duties, he goes and cries to his family who tells him, “you’re screwed,” and as they are saying it, the King’s men show up to take him to Esther’s feast.
Queen Esther, Badass of the Bible, Feasts on Her Enemy
Once the two of them arrive at the wine feast, the King asks Esther, “what gives?” She proceeds to inform the King about the plot to kill all the Jews–finally admitting she is one, although still keeping her relationship to Mordechai secret–and the King demands to know who came up with this dastardly plan. Of course, Queen Esther points the bad man out “this evil Haman” (הָמָ֥ן הָרָ֖ע)
and the King storms out in anger. In the King’s absence, the H-Man gets on his knees to beg for his life from Esther because she has attained the ultimate seat of power. Look at the complete shift of power in the palace. With the King gone, who is now in charge? Queen Esther. Esther is now in control of everything. She is the ultimate combination of wisdom and power, which is why Haman
is begging her for his life, instead of begging from the King. But, because bad things happen to bad people, the King walks back in right as H-man is on his knees pleading for his life. To the enraged King, it looks like he is trying to sexually “force” (לִכְבּ֧וֹשׁ אֶת־הַמַּלְכָּ֛ה עִמִּ֖י בַּבָּ֑יִת) the queen in the King’s own house.
By the end of the sentence, the King’s men have the evil man’s head covered, at which point Harbonah, one of the eunuchs says, “ya know, King. There’s a gigantic stake over at his house, how about you find a use for it.” The King said “good idea” and killed Haman.
But Esther was not done. As ultimate retribution, the king gives all of H-man’s stuff to Esther. Mordechai finally reveals he is related to Esther, and the King puts his ring on Mordechai’s finger, supplanting… the previous guy. Esther then hands over all the stuff she just got to Mordechai, before risking her life again by running in front of the king and reminding him to please repeal those “kill the Jews” edicts.
Again, two things to note: (1) the king gives all the property to Esther, showing how she has risen to be his true No. 2 and (2) she is completely selfless, sacrificing herself a possible second time even though she got everything she could have possibly desired. Instead of letting the Jews perish when she had it all, when she could stay nice and cozy in the palace, she risked everything… again… for the sake of the Jews. She is owning her badassness at this point.
Why Queen Esther is the Best Starting Spot for the Badass Women of the Bible
But her badassness goes one step further. In addition to the new “don’t kill the Jews” message, the King adds one more, “that the king had given to the Jews who are in every city, [the right] to assemble and to protect themselves, to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish the entire host of every people and province that oppress them, small children and women, and to take their spoils for plunder (Esther 8.11).” I.e., if you even think of attacking the Jews, I will let them attack you and destroy you. Probably best not to go after the Jews, yeah?
But of course, these are the Jews, people always try to kill the Jews. So some people try, and those people died. And when the King saw how much the Jews were kicking ass–spurred on by Mordechai–he turned to Esther and asked her, “what should I do?” To which she said, “let them kick ass tomorrow too (Esther 9.13)” so he did, and they did. Pause here for a second and recognize the interaction. The king is now asking Esther for military advice, and he is listening. That is how much of a badass she has become. That is Queen Esther. Not only does she save the Jews while transforming from active character to badass catalyst, but she also directs the King to let the Jews come back and punish their adversaries a second time. Do. Not. Mess. With. Esther!
The idea of women in the Bible as smart and courageous badasses starts with Eve. She is the first named woman in the Bible and she jumpstarts the entire thing. Without Eve’s daring, we do not exist. Well, for Queen Esther, the same is true. Without her courage, the Jews do not survive. Without her intelligence, there is no plan for how to save the Jews. Mordechai merely tells her to talk to the King, but it is Esther who devises the plan to fast, to tell the Jews to fast, and to get the King drunk on food (and wine) before asking her request.
The story hinges upon the actions of Esther. Even the ultimate ascension of Mordechai in the King’s eyes is sealed through Esther’s actions. Esther is the driving force behind everything. She went from passive virgin getting paraded in front of the king to military-planning fierce Queen who decided the fates of her foe and her foe’s sons (death. She sent them to death). If you want to talk about the badass women of the Bible, there is no better place to start than Queen Esther; for if you cross the Jews while Esther is around, chances are you will wind up dead. Badass.