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  Chapter 9 from
Heart to Heart Talks
Lectures to Women

By Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg  Aviva Rappaport 

Other Available Chapters

A Lesson from Queen Esther

The Gemara tells us that in the future all the Yamim Tovim will be nullified except for Purim (Mishlei Rabbah 9). The Gemara says that although the final redemption will be even more miraculous than the Exodus from Egypt (Berachos 12b), the miracle of Purim -- which basically revolved around the personalities of Mordechai and Esther -- will never be forgotten. It was the unique courage and boldness of Mordechai and Esther together that make them the stars of the beautiful story we read in the Megillah. Since all of us are going through hard times today and there isn’t a person who isn’t struggling, a little insight into the characteristics of Mordechai and Esther might be a great help to us in our times of tribulation.

The very names “Mordechai” and “Esther” are symbolic for our times. The name Mordechai in Aramaic consists of two words: mera dachya, a spice that diffuses fragrance only after it has been processed. As for Esther’s name, we are told, “And he [Mordechai] had reared Hadassah, she is Esther” (Esther 2:7).

Why are two names mentioned? Was her real name Esther, with Hadassah being some kind of nickname, or vice versa?

She actually had both names, and both have deep meaning. Hadassah stems from the word hadas, myrtle. Esther was similar to the hadas in that she had a deep olive-green complexion. We also know that the leaves of this plant have a very sweet fragrance that can only be released when the leaves are bruised and crushed. As a matter of fact, some people use the crushed leaves for besamim during Havdalah. Just like the hadas, which is only fragrant when it is bruised and crushed, so too was Esther’s potential brought out to its fullest by her hard life.

The name Esther is related to the word hester, meaning hidden. When we look deeper into the Megillah, we see something remarkable. For nine years, until Haman’s downfall, Esther guarded the secret of her ancestry. She never told anyone that she was a Jewess. Examining her situation, we know that as the wife of Achashverosh she was constantly pressured to reveal the truth. Yet she withstood this pressure. Why?

The Midrash explains that Mordechai realized there was something unique in Esther’s becoming the queen (Esther Rabbah 6:6). He knew that she was a righteous woman and that it had to be Divine providence that she became the wife of the non-Jewish king, Achashverosh. Mordechai realized that Hashem had something in store for the Jewish people and that Esther would be instrumental in saving them. Mordechai was aware of the impending calamity that would befall the Jews and foresaw that Esther would be the one through whom they would be saved. Had she revealed her ancestry, she would have defeated this purpose. She therefore carefully guarded her secret until the proper time. The Ibn Ezra explains that if Esther hadn’t kept her secret, she would not have been able to observe her religion (Esther 2:10). Since Achashverosh did not know she was a Jewess, she was able to observe her religion in secrecy.

Other reasons are given, but in all cases, there was a sound reason for Esther doing this outstanding act of guarding her secret for nine years. This is due to a character trait that Queen Esther inherited from Rachel, who likewise did not reveal or give any indication to Yaakov that she was not the person he was marrying, and so he married Leah first. Esther inherited this quality of silence and discretion, which Rachel had shown under such tremendous pressure. We know Rachel’s great merit in this act, for we know how much Yaakov loved her. It was an exceptionally courageous act befitting one of our Imahos, and this character trait was bequeathed to Queen Esther.

This incredible silence is the outstanding virtue that made Esther queen. She boldly and courageously kept her secret while under terrific pressure from a king and an entire nation. Esther did not dare reveal anything, for she knew that her silence was necessary for the salvation of the Jewish people. She knew that there would come a time when she would have to tell, and that there was a hashgachah pratis in store for her. Mordechai guided her, as the verse says: “... and he had reared, imen, Hadassah.” The word imen is from the word uman, a skilled professional or expert. Mordechai was not just a tutor to Esther; he raised and reared her skillfully, so that she would understand and appreciate what hashgachah pratis had in store.

If we are faced with a terrible situation that is hard for us to take, we still must realize that the salvation will come and that hashgachah has something in store for us. We must remember that it is only a passing situation; a new time will come, a happier time, bringing a sunnier day.

Queen Esther guarded her secret for nine years, waiting for the day when she would be able to declare proudly and courageously that she was a Jewess. It was then that everyone recognized the greatness of the Jew. Had she revealed this secret beforehand, everything would have been a waste and she would not have been instrumental in bringing salvation to the Jewish people.

Esther had perfect self-control. The ability to be queen over herself is what made her queen over the world. Self-control stems from the powers of the soul, which all of us possess. The Gemara tells us that a person’s greatness or inferiority is recognizable when he gets angry (Eiruvin 65a). The logical person does not lose control of himself. It’s like a pressure cooker that has a little hole on the top to release the pressure. If you didn’t have that little hole, the pot would explode. One should not bottle up his emotions, because that will cause mental anguish. However, although you have to speak, your tone of voice and how you say things make the difference.

Building a home requires self-control and knowing how and when to speak to one’s husband and children. We sometimes lose control of ourselves and out of anger, say things that we later regret. Many times the regret does not rectify the damage that was done.

Raising children is a hard job, full of stress and pressure. Hashem gives a mother such a profound love for her child that she tends to him with selfless dedication, even if she goes for nights without sleep. Nevertheless, physical and mental exhaustion sometimes cause a mother to lose control and give the child a slap. Mothers should learn about the various stages of childhood, puberty, and adolescence that a child goes through. Understanding the child’s development will help the mothers realize and accept that the things he does are normal for a child his age.

A child has little knowledge, and no understanding of what to do with his knowledge. He has to release his feelings, and sometimes he does so in a vicious way, perhaps by breaking or damaging things. It is normal for a child to be wild. The Gemara tells us in reference to education: “Befriend him with your right hand and repel him with your left” (Sotah 47a). Just as the right hand is stronger than the left, the befriending should be stronger than the repelling. If the child deserves punishment, give it to him. But for every slap, give him 10 kisses. And far better than slapping is withholding something that the child wants very badly. Actually, it is far better to avoid slapping entirely, because it can create a fear that might only show up later.

Of course, a parent might need to show some anger to a child who is misbehaving, but the anger should be external only; inwardly, the parent must stay calm and composed. He must not lose his self-control. If he does, he can create fears and a complex in the child that might mar him physically and emotionally for life.

In this way, we will cultivate feelings of love into our children’s minds and hearts. By exercising control, we gain the child’s confidence and he will grow up a nurtured individual.

Let us learn the lesson of self-control and silence from the queen whose name was Hadassah and Esther. Hadassah, the one who suffers, was Esther, the hidden one, who kept silent about her ancestry for nine years in order to redeem the Jewish people.


Q Does a nursing mother have to fast on Taanis Esther?

A She should not fast unless fasting is usually not a strain for her. A nursing woman is obligated to fast only on Tishah B’Av and Yom Kippur, unless she fasts very well.

Q Can a pregnant woman eat or drink before Kiddush on Shabbos morning?

A She can drink a cup of coffee or tea before davening but should not eat solids or most other liquids.

Q Can she eat solids on Shabbos morning before Kiddush after she says berachos?

A The Chofetz Chaim rules that one is not allowed to eat before Shacharis. First you have to daven Shacharis and then you can make Kiddush. If the woman is so weak that she can’t daven, she can use the cup of coffee for Kiddush and have a piece of cake.

Q On Shabbos, is it all right to put honey in tea or is this considered cooking?

A You can put honey in tea if the tea is not boiling hot. It should be cooled off first.

Q Can you leave laundry on the line over Shabbos?

A Yes, but not in the front of the house because it is not dignified for Shabbos.

Q On Shabbos, can you clean up a messy room and put laundry away if leaving things the way they are would disturb your Shabbos?

A Yes, you may, because doing so becomes your oneg Shabbos. But when putting items or laundry away, you are not allowed to pick and choose, or sort. You should dump it all into a laundry basket and sort it after Shabbos.

Q On Shabbos day is it permissible to cover the bed with a bedspread?

A If without one the bed looks ugly to you and disturbs you, it is your oneg Shabbos to cover it and you are allowed to do so.

Q Since talk on Shabbos should be divrei Torah, what do you do if a guest or a friend you met on a walk brings up divrei chol?

A You’ve touched on a delicate subject. If you’re going to stifle your speech, will you enjoy your Shabbos? One could say that the only way to really keep Shabbos is to tie your hands and feet up and tie yourself to a bed. But you don’t enjoy your Shabbos that way. To refrain from speaking takes many years. If you enjoy it and don’t suffer from it, then refraining is a high level. But to suffer could get to be a transgression if you feel it as pressure and you don’t have oneg Shabbos. Limit your speech, but don’t stifle yourself.

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