Esther: The Creator and the Creator

Always a new discovery

Two thousand years ago, the rabbis were deciding what books to include in the bible. Some of the books were a problem.

Kohelet:  much of what he says is agnostic, at times, nihilistic.

The  Song of Songs: erotic poetry

Esther: the name of the Creator is never mentioned. Also, it is not part of the five books of Moses, and it does not claim to be written by King Solomon or any other legendary figure of wisdom.,

Yet each of these books made it into the Jewish bible. In all cases, I would speculate, the main reason was their overpowering literary merit. They were each too magnificently written to be cast aside.

The rabbis then came up with religious reasons to include them. Kohelet ultimately affirms a simple life of faith, Song of Songs is an allegory of the relation between the Creator and humankind…and Esther was divinely inspired.

Let us look more closely at the Esther scroll. It has all the hallmarks of an enduring literary creation, like a play by Shakespeare. Every time you read Esther; you see something more. Not merely because you read things into it, either your ideas or several thousand years of commentary. Instead, you sense the mind of a master behind the creation.  The exquisite selection of events and their subtle interconnection In Esther reveals that there is a single and controlling first-rate intellect. So do the  precision and resonances in the choice of words – the way they are repeated, varied, and linked to counterparts within the text and in other parts of the Jewish bible. Yet Esther is unsigned, and nothing is said about the background of the author.

There is a reason why the creator of Esther does not mention the Creator of the Universe. The creator is writing after the days of miracles and wonder. The question deliberately raised is:  does the Creator intervene in history?

Is it true that in every generation, a supreme power will come to the rescue of the Jewish people? How much of any salvation also depends on individual choices – like those of Esther and her cousin Mordecai? Or Joseph and Moses in the Exodus story? How much on luck? How much on the invisible and inaudible hand of a higher power who never forgets the covenant?

A wondrous thing about being Jewish is that you can travel through its literature, through thousands of years, and share your questions and answers or puzzlement with your forebearers. And there is always something new to say. – or sing – or feel – or act upon. That might be something previously unnoticed in the original texts, on the cantillation marks, and on the commentaries through time. It might be something arising from your latest individual or our collective experience.

Let me relate something I noticed in preparing to chant a chapter of Esther this year. I have not found it so far in any of the materials, old and new, I have read so far. It is about Esther’s name.

A few things we all already know.

Esther, we are told early in the Esther scroll, has the Hebrew name Hadassah. To this day there are organizations and institutions in honour of her Hebrew name.

As the Esther scroll proceeds, the creator describes Esther as Esther the Queen.

Here is something we might not have noticed.

Early in the scroll, the creator names Esther as “the daughter of Avihail.”     At the urging of Mordecai, she initially hides her Jewish identity. She tells the courtiers that she has no kin. She rises, based on her natural charm and charisma, and asks for nothing more than is offered. At the climax of the story, she intervenes with King Ahasuerus to save her people – and then in her decisive please reveals that she is asking to save not only herself but her nation. At the end of the book, she writes to her people to ask them to remember this salvation from generation to generation. When she does so, the creator again names her as “Esther, the daughter of Avihail.”

This is no accident.

Avihail means “daughter of strength.”  It might refer to her father, it might refer as well to the Creator, the father of all.

The bookending of the name “Avihail” is certainly not a coincidence. The Bible is replete with the use of a structuring idea called “chiasmus.”   Events are sequenced in one order, then in reverse order. Moses is with his mother, is placed in the river, is pulled from the river, and is back with his mother    The Israelites start in their homeland, go down to Egypt, and return.

Esther intervenes during Passover. Like Joseph, like Moses, she has been separated from her birth family, and rises in the court of a strange land, …and just before the nation of her birth is destroyed…she is an instrument of salvation.

Esther is the daughter of Avihail, then the Queen, and finally…

.. the daughter of Avihail.

She remembers.

And asks us to remember her.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bryan Schwartz is a playwright, poet, songwriter and author drawing on Jewish themes, liturgy and more. In addition to recently publishing the 2nd edition of Holocaust survivor Philip Weiss’ memoirs and writings titled “Reflections and Essays,” Bryan’s personal works include two Jewish musicals “Consolation: A Musical Meditation” (2018) and newly debuted “Sacred Goof” (2023). Bryan also created and helps deliver an annual summer program at Hebrew University in Israeli Law and Society and has served as a visiting Professor at both Hebrew University and Reichman University.  Bryan P Schwartz holds a bachelor’s degree in law from Queen’s University, Ontario, and Master’s and Doctorate Degree in Law from Yale Law School. As an academic, he has over forty years of experience, including being the inaugural holder of an endowed chair in international business and trade law,  and has won awards for teaching, research and scholarship. He has been a member of the Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba since 1981. Bryan serves as counsel for the Pitblado Law firm since 1994. Bryan is an author/contributor of 34 books and has over 300 publications in all. He is the founding and general editor of both the Asper Review of International Business and Trade Law and the Underneath the Golden Boy series, an annual review of legislative developments in Manitoba. Bryan also has extensive practical experience in advising governments – federal,  provincial, territorial and Indigenous –and private clients  in policy development and legislative reform and drafting. Areas in which Bryan has taught, practiced or written extensively, include: constitutional law, international, commercial, labour, trade,  internet and e-commerce law  and alternate dispute resolution and governance. For more information about Bryan’s legal and academic work, please visit: https://bryan-schwartz.com/.

Written by : Bryan Schwartz

Bryan Schwartz is a playwright, poet, songwriter and author drawing on Jewish themes, liturgy and more. In addition to recently publishing the 2nd edition of Holocaust survivor Philip Weiss' memoirs and writings titled "Reflections and Essays," Bryan's personal works include two Jewish musicals "Consolation: A Musical Meditation" (2018) and newly debuted "Sacred Goof" (2023). Bryan also created and helps deliver an annual summer program at Hebrew University in Israeli Law and Society and has served as a visiting Professor at both Hebrew University and Reichman University. Bryan P Schwartz holds a bachelor’s degree in law from Queen’s University, Ontario, and Master’s and Doctorate Degree in Law from Yale Law School. As an academic, he has over forty years of experience, including being the inaugural holder of an endowed chair in international business and trade law, and has won awards for teaching, research and scholarship. He has been a member of the Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba since 1981. Bryan serves as counsel for the Pitblado Law firm since 1994. Bryan is an author/contributor of 34 books and has over 300 publications in all. He is the founding and general editor of both the Asper Review of International Business and Trade Law and the Underneath the Golden Boy series, an annual review of legislative developments in Manitoba. Bryan also has extensive practical experience in advising governments – federal, provincial, territorial and Indigenous –and private clients in policy development and legislative reform and drafting. Areas in which Bryan has taught, practiced or written extensively, include: constitutional law, international, commercial, labour, trade, internet and e-commerce law and alternate dispute resolution and governance. For more information about Bryan’s legal and academic work, please visit: https://bryan-schwartz.com/.

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