After Vashti’s execution, Achashverosh’s anger subsided. He remembered his beautiful wife and became depressed. The king’s servants noticed the king’s state of mind and approached him with an idea. They told him that a search should be put out for beautiful young women. Commissioners should be appointed in every region of the kingdom who will be responsible for gathering these young women together and sending them to Shushan. Once in Shushan, the women should be given cosmetics and time to prepare themselves, and the one that the king likes most shall be the new queen.
When the king normally had a matter for which he needed advice, he turned to his wise and trusted ministers and advisors. However, once Achashverosh changed the law and was now able to judge matters concerning himself, his advisors and ministers were afraid to approach him. Achashverosh was not in a good mood, and they were afraid that if they angered him, they would be killed immediately, as they had no tribunal to turn to for salvation. Hence, the only people who saw the king on a regular basis were those who had no choice: the butler, the waiters, the scribes, the cleaners, and all the servants who attended to the king’s personal needs. These servants were not of the same intellectual caliber as the ministers. They figured that Achashverosh was upset because he no longer had a beautiful queen. Therefore, the solution was obvious: have “beauty contest” to find another one. Had Achashverosh consulted his advisors, he would have received other advice. They would have suggested finding a women with a distinguished and perhaps royal lineage. They would have suggested finding a women who overall was fit to be a queen – although beauty would have certainly been a factor. However, the advisors were not around to give advice, and therefore the servants presented their ideas, to which Achashverosh agreed .
If it was not for the fact that the only quality being looked for in a new queen was beauty, Esther (who we will soon meet) would never have been selected. The Jews were despised by the nations of the world , and Achashverosh had no love for the Jews (as we will see, he agreed to Haman’s plan to annihilate the Jews). If one of the prerequisites for a new queen was a royal or distinguished pedigree, Esther would never have been chosen by Achashverosh, and there would not have been anyone in the palace to save the Jews in their time of need. It was truly a miracle that Achashverosh was advised by his servants, and that he followed the advice, thereby allowing Esther to become queen.
Before the Megilla tells us about the “beauty contest,” we are introduced to the heroes of our story: Mordechai and Esther. Mordechai was one of the wisest and most respected men of his generation. He was exiled from the land of Israel by Nevuchadnezzar, the king of Bavel, and lived in Shushan. In Shushan, he raised his orphaned niece, Esther. Mordechai realized his niece was very special, and taught her and provided the environment for her to grow into a very righteous woman.
Esther was also very beautiful, and because of that, Esther was afraid that she would be taken to the king’s palace and forced to enter the “contest.” Esther hid from the king’s commissioners until she heard that anyone who knew of a beautiful young woman and did not “turn her in” would be killed. Once Esther was discovered, she did not go willingly to the palace, but rather she was forced to go by the commissioners against her will.
All the women were brought to Shushan and placed under the charge of Hegai, the Guardian of the Women. Hegai recognized immediately that Esther was going to be the one to be chosen queen, and he therefore treated her with great respect. He gave her maids, cosmetics, and delicacies, and placed her in the best area in the harem. Nevertheless, Mordechai was very worried about Esther. He instructed her not to reveal her birthplace and her nationality. The commissioners knew that Esther was taken against her will, and if it was discovered that she was Jewish, the commissioners would then spread the word that Jews did not want to marry the king, and this would cause grave problems for the Jews. Although Esther herself saw that she was treated with great respect and no one ever mentioned the fact that she was there against her will, she still heeded the advice of Mordechai and told no one of her background.
Mordechai checked on Esther every day. He knew that she must be in great pain over the fact that she was forced to be in the hands of this wicked king. He wanted to be sure that she did not become physically ill from this anguish. He also checked daily to see if anyone ever brought up the issue of her reluctance to come, and if any punishment was meted out against her because of it. Throughout the time Esther was in the harem, she, as well as all of the women there, were given cosmetics and oils so that when the time came for each woman to appear before the king, they would be at their height of beauty. Esther did not take advantage of any of this. In fact, her pain from being in her predicament caused her to develop a greenish, unattractive pallor. However, as we will see, Achashverosh, because of a miracle, still found Esther attractive.
|Part III: Vashti’s Demise||Part V: A New Queen, A Foiled Assassination, & Haman’s Wrath|
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For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.