Hidden in Purim Stories
The Purim story is filled with instances of hidden motives and identities. Vashti refuses to be “exposed” to the king and his guests. The palace guards hide their plot to kill the king. Mordechai’s identity as the one who saved the king is hidden until Achashverosh reads about it one sleepless night. Haman is initially fooled into believing it was he whom the king “delighteth to honour.” And, Haman conceals the true reason he wants to destroy the Jews: personal envy and animosity towards Mordechai.
But the greatest expression of hidden identity comes from the new queen. It is Esther’s initial hiding of her identity as a Jew (at Mordechai’s instruction), and eventual decision to expose herself as Jewish to the king and “out” Haman’s evil, that drives the arc of the story. Indeed, the core of the name Esther — the three-letter root samech-tav-reish / ס-ת-ר — forms the Hebrew words connected to hiding and concealment (lehaSTiR – to hide/conceal; lehiStaTeR – to hide oneself; niSTaR – hidden). The text’s name — Megilat Esther — suggests that it is she who is the true hero of the story.
There is much in the Purim story that is wholly inappropriate for children: sex, misogyny, mortal danger, violence and gore. As a result, we tend to focus on the topic of identity when suggesting lessons our students might learn from the Megillah. We focus on Esther, her fear in exposing her Jewish identity at first, and how being true to herself and her Jewishness eventually led to the saving of our people.
Like Esther, our students may well be worried about how others will respond to hidden elements of their identities. “Will I be teased if others know I have a learning disability?” “How will people react if they are aware that I have questions about my gender identity?” “What will people think if they learn I suffer from anxiety or depression?”
Esther was all alone in the Shushan palace, under immense pressure, with the fate of a people in her hands. She received advice from Mordechai, but the risk she took in sharing her Jewish identity was all hers. And, she had to take that step with Haman — the personification of all that she feared — right there in the room.
Our students, however, needn’t confront their fears, or explore their identities, in isolation with Haman in the room. They have school buildings filled with adults who are there to support them: teachers, Mechanchim, administrators, social workers, etc. We also make every effort to allow them the time they need to process the social pressure, uncertainty, and growing pains that all kids feel at some point or another.
As we celebrate the courage that Esther showed when declaring her Jewish identity, may we all find the safe spaces we need to be true to ourselves and to our loved ones.
Chag Purim Same’ach!