Esther’s Quiet Victory–Purim By The Light Of Azamra

childs-objects-1418505Purim is about concealment and that which is concealed. The Megillah, which we read twice on Purim, is named after Queen Esther. Esther manifested a character trait that embodies hiddenness, that most misunderstood of traits–modesty. Esther’s modesty was notably expressed by her special ability to know when to keep silent and when not to.

Kept for all intents and purposes as a prisoner in King Achashveirosh’s harem, Esther remained silent while she waited for the most opportune time to reveal Haman’s treachery and save the Jewish people. She concealed the fact that she was Jewish, too. Her quiet confidence and humility enabled her to hang in there for nearly nine years as the Purim story unfolded.

In order to do this, Esther had to have confidence in herself; she had to believe in herself and in her good points. She also had to spend time in hisbodedus, deep prayerful conversations with Hashem, perhaps hinted to by the secret meetings she had with Mordechai who met with her to give her encouragement.

A Family Affair

Where did Esther get this extraordinary ability to keep quiet despite being under tremendous pressure? The midrash tells us her silence was an innate part of her spiritual genetics.  Esther was a descendant of King Shaul, who was a descendant of Binyomin, son of Rochel. And the midda that Queen Esther inherited from her great great grandmother Rochel was modesty and all it embodies, especially silence and discretion.

In order to fulfill prophecy and avoid shaming her sister Leah, Rochel did not reveal to Yaacov that it was Leah standing under the wedding chupah, and not Rochel. It must have pained her greatly, for we know she loved Yaacov. Yet somehow she was able to remain quiet, not revealing, not demanding.

Today we’re taught to scream, shout, and stand up for what we want, without giving thought to whether or not our desires are healthy, holy, or wise. But Rochel did what she knew was right because she was able to be silent internally as well as externally. She was able to listen to her inner voice and remain quiet in the face of humiliation. Rebbe Nachman tells us that when faced with a humiliating situation, we should try and be both dom and shtok, silent with our mouths and quiet in our hearts. We’ll not only effect a soul correction for ourselves but we’ll also be able to have the equanimity and presence of mind to do the right thing.

Tribes

Yaacov and Rochel’s first son Yosef, famed for his modesty, used the power of silence he inherited from his mother. Upon reuniting with his father Yaacov, Yosef went so far as to make sure never to be alone with him, thereby avoiding questions about his earlier disappearance. In this way, he was able to be silent and not talk loshon hara about his brothers’ selling him into slavery.

Rochel’s second son, Binyomin, a forbear of Shaul, is represented by a symbol of silence. The Torah portion Pekudei describes choshen hamishpat, the breastplate of judgment worn by the Kohein Gadol, the High Priest. Adorned with four rows of three stones, each stone in the choshen represents one of the tribes. The stone of Binyomin is called yoshfeh (jaspar.) We can read yoshpeh as  yesh peh, “there is a mouth.” The quality of  yesh-peh is knowing when to speak and when to not speak.

Some suggest that Binyomin displayed noble silence by not discussing with his father his own pain over losing Yosef. He protected Yaacov from even more anguish. Rashi, citing the Talmud, tells us that Binyomin knew Yosef was alive (the Talmud tells us he named each of his sons to reflect Yosef’s story) but we do know that he never discussed this with Yaacov, either.

Perhaps Binyomin also knew prophetically that allowing events to proceed to their spiritually-necessary conclusion was necessary, so that Yosef could become Paroh’s right hand man and save Yaacov and his sons from famine. So he kept quiet, much as it pained him to see his father’s grief.

Yosef held Binyomin hostage for stealing his goblet, an act Binyomin never would have engaged in. Then Binyomin was also able to keep quiet, accepting Hashem’s decree that he remain behind, maybe to avoid further paining his brothers.

We’re told that the Shechinah (Hashem’s hidden “feminine” Presence), dwells only in the tribe of Binyomin’s land. He was the only brother born in the land of Israel. His was also the tribe known for modesty, the hidden, quiet trait is associated with the Shechinah.

Enter Amalek, Haman’s Forbear

King Shaul was known for his modesty–we’re told that was why he merited Esther descending from him. In fact, he did not want to be king at first because of his great modesty.

King Shaul was appointed by Shmuel the prophet who told him in the name of Hashem to  wipe out the Amalekites and their flocks. The Amalekites were unremittingly evil, immoral, and mocked all that was holy and innocent, and to keep any of them alive would have perpetuated their cruelty. But Shaul spared the life of their king, Agag as well as the Amelekites’ sheep. When Shmuel Hanavi saw that Shaul had not fulfilled his mission, he said, imitating the sound of sheep:

B’oznai hazeh hatzon kol umeh? (Meeehhhh is a bleating sound.) What is this bleating sound of sheep that I hear?*

Even the sheep’s bleating sound mocked Shaul for not having the emunah necessary to complete his mission. In the Megillah the saga continues. Esther inherits Amalek, her ancestor Shaul’s enemy, as well as his unfinished business, and she faces Amalek in the person of Haman, Amalek’s descendant.

Mordechai encourages Esther to confront Achashveirosh about Haman’s plan to wipe out the Jews. He tells Esther that if she does not act, “…relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another time and place while you and your father’s house will die…” alluding to her duty to complete the task (eliminate Amalek) that Shaul failed to do.

Esther eventually was able to defeat Haman-Amalek because of her emunas Hashem. She also had belief in herself, and her understanding of her soul-mission.

Azamra Vs. Amalek Today

Esther’s faith in herself and her ability to carry out her personal (and national) mission reflect an important aspect of Azamra, one of Breslov’s foundational teachings–a recognition of one’s ability to be and do good.

In Likutey Moharan, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov begins the vital lesson of Azamra with the directive to look for the good points in others. Only after he’s explained the mystical and mundane hows and whys of this, does he tell us to look for the good points in ourselves, too.

In the Kitzur Likutey Moharan (Reb Noson’s  compilation of the Rebbe’s lessons containing the practical material which is most easily applied) we cut to the chase. Here, Azamra begins by asking us to search for the good points within ourselves.

Today, we live during a time in which the focus on self is of paramount importance.  Moshiach will soon be revealed. There is an urgent need for soul-correction. Now is when the Kitzur Likutey Moharan might be a good place to begin.  In order for us to have the strength necessary to overcome Amalek, we need to believe in ourselves.

For Esther, surrounded by villains in whom it was nearly impossible to find good, there was no choice but to begin within, too. Queen Esther’s practice of Azamra, like many other aspects of the Purim story, remains under-the-radar and character-driven. The bulk of the Purim plot is the result of the inner movement of Esther’s psyche which drives her actions towards the end of the story. After all, it took her many years of being encouraged by the Mordechai the Tzaddik, silently remaining a dedicated yet secret Jew in an alien, repugnant atmosphere, until she was able to carry out her brilliant plan.

Today, we know we battle Amalek on many levels. The inner battle is about the Amalek who causes us to doubt in Hashem and doubt in ourselves. Amalek destroys our faith, and a person without faith has to shout, grasp, push, and shove to feel alive. A person with faith, can silently, quietly, carry out her mission, knowing exactly when it’s time to speak out.

Knowing who you are, recognizing your neshama-based good points, and building on them, is Azamra-jitsu against your enemies (inner or outer) and Azamra provides the nourishment for your personal spiritual development.

*I do not know the source of this joke! If you know, please comment.

This post is in the merit of Freida Leah bas Sarah Imeinu for her dedication to spreading Rebbe Nachman’s teachings for women with an emunah-filled fighting spirit!

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