"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Monday, March 9, 2009

Esther's irrevocable sacrifice

Most stories have a happy ending. But sometimes they don’t.

Esther said: “And if I perish, I will perish.” The Gemara (Megilla 15a) comments: “Just as I lost my father’s house [from which she was orphaned], so will I lose you [Mordechai].” Why was Esther to lose Mordechai?

When Mordechai heard that Haman’s decree had been issued, he saw that the situation was dire, so he asked Esther to approach Achashverosh and plead on behalf of the Jewish people. Yet acceding to this request involved paying an excruciating price.

In fact, Esther was married to Mordechai. She would go from intimacy with Achashverosh to intimacy with Mordechai (ibid. 13b). How was this permissible? It is known that a woman who commits adultery is forbidden to her husband forever. 

The reason that Esther’s intimacy with Achashverosh was not considered adulterous was that were she to refuse the king’s summons, she would have been summarily executed. Since she was a totally unwilling participant in relations with Achashverosh, she remained permitted to her true husband, Mordechai, just as any rape victim (other than the wife of a Kohen) is permitted to return to her husband.

However, when Mordechai asked her to approach Achashverosh, she knew that this involved incurring an irreparable loss. For approaching Achashverosh would involve initiating intimacy, and this would entail a certain degree of willingness, rendering her forever forbidden to Mordechai. Although it was permitted for her to actively make herself available to Achashverosh (special dispensation is given to allow adultery for the purpose of saving the Jewish people), as a consequence, she would be forbidden to Mordechai regardless.

Esther paid the ultimate price. She forfeited her husband, and not just any husband, but the great Mordechai HaTzaddik. She sacrificed her personal life and marital fulfillment irrevocably for the sake of the Jewish people.

The Jewish people were saved, but for Esther, there was no happy ending. (By the same token, of course, Mordechai made the same sacrifice, for he knew that if Esther would follow his directive, he would forfeit his relationship with her.)

I am reminded of Jonathan Pollard, who has paid such a devastating price for his selfless sacrifice for the Jewish people. Countless Jewish lives were saved, but ever since, Jonathan Pollard’s life has been hell on earth, and there seems to be no end in sight, according to the natural order (may he be released miraculously as soon as possible).

Who knows, one day we may be required to give up something personal that is infinitely precious and irregainable for the sake of saving other Jews. If, G-d forbid, we are given this challenge, may we be blessed with the inner strength to make whatever sacrifice is necessary, and do so with joy.


  1. And may we not face such challenges.

  2. The gemorra on the topic "tarog velo yavor" is every interesting. Esther's dilemma was severe: there was no way she could could attain personal happiness. Either she risked immediate execution or she risked her happiness because her relationship with Mordecai would be sundered if she appeared before the king without coercion. As we learn from "ovaditi, ovaditi". A bittersweet challenge would probably send an ordinary person around the bend.


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