At Purim we read Megillat Esther. For your reading, or for the week ahead, here is a question for you to consider based on each chapter.
In our first chapter we encounter the leader of a vast empire, who is boastful and materialistic. In his insecurity, he surrounds himself with a circus of clownish advisors, denigrates women and fears diversity. Over the last week I have been searching desperately for a contemporary parallel but can think of nothing!
I invite you to consider: what are your political convictions and responsibilities?
In Chapter 2 there is an Empire wide beauty contest in which participants have to train for a year, taking on rigorous cosmetic and perfume regimes, before sleeping with the King. Esther wins, becoming Queen Esther. Mordechai coaches her. He also overhears Bigthan and Teresh, or Teresh and Bigthan, plotting against the King and has them caught in their own trap.
I encourage you to think about: how are you supporting others to be the best they can be, without turning them into instruments of your interest?
In Chapter 3, (Steve) Haman rises to power as Chief Advisor. Mordechai, as a Jew, will not bow or submit to him. Haman, with the King’s permission, issues an edict to wipe out the Jews. Then the King and Haman have a feast.
I ask you to think about: in what ways do you feel vulnerable?
In Chapter 4, Esther become disturbed that Uncle Mordechai is moping around the city, wearing very few clothes. Mordechai tells Esther that she needs to be brave and approach the King for the sake of herself and her people.
I invite you to reflect on: how can you be more courageous, coming close to those who scare you because of their difference or their power?
In Chapter 5, Esther starts community organising, continuing to build a plan and a relationship with power, while Haman goes off in a huff and erects a stake on which to hang Mordechai.
We might reflect on: how can we bring more patience, love, relationships and careful planning to the things we care most about?
By the end of Chapter 6, Haman has to parade Mordechai on the horse that he thought was for him. As in the Book of Ruth, the plot pivots when someone rises up from physical and metaphorical sleep. The King in the middle of the night realizes he has not been woken to his privilege, and has not rewarded the person who saved his life, Mordechai.
I ask us each to consider: what kindness have you received that you could still further acknowledge?
In Chapter 7, while Haman begs Esther desperately for his life, the King walks in and thinks he is desperately propositioning her. He is led off to be killed. All this follows a second feast in which Esther tells the King what she really wants: the salvation of her people, imperiled by Haman.
I invite you to think about: what do you really want in your life, and who might you share this with?
In Chapter 8 we are saved and invited, even compelled, to slaughter others in our place.
I ask you reflect upon: when are you the bad guy, feasting, without being sensitive to the vulnerable, and not even yet realizing it because of all you’ve been through?
In Chapter 9 the textual revenge fantasy is fulfilled and we are also told that Purim is a time for feasting, giving presents to your friends, and gifts to the poor.
I encourage us to think of: who will you give a present to, and are you giving enough to the poor?
In Chapter 10, we have a few lines of summary and I’m not sure what to make of them.
I encourage you to ask yourself: what message from our Megillah will you take with you?
Benji Stanley is the Rabbi for young adults for Reform Judaism, creating transformative learning, experiences, and community with people in their 20s and 30s. He has worked as a Rabbi or Student Rabbi at Alyth, Weybridge, Liberal Judaism, and West London Synagogue.