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Purim Why Did the Womanizer King Ahasuerus Select a Jewish Girl for His Queen

Mordecai's plan to crown Esther

It is customary to think that Esther was selected to become Ahasuerus' wife because of her beauty and Godly luck. Such an explanation, however, obscures a Biblical lesson in how to supplement luck with good analysis and planning, a lesson that can be gleaned from observing Mordecai's actions in the Book of Esther.

In the third year of his reign, after consolidating his rule, King Ahasuerus celebrated his coronation with a marvelous party for all the leaders of the kingdom, which lasted for 180 days (Est. 1:3-4). After this, the king threw a seven-day party for the citizens of the capital, Shushan, as a show of his power and wealth (1:5). It is not clear whether the king ever presented his beautiful queen, wearing her royal dress and crown, to his subjects. But on the seventh day, when he was lit up with wine, he sent his servants to invite his queen, wearing her royal crown, to show herself to his ministers and his guests (1:4; 1:10). The Jewish elders have determined, through a careful reading of the king's order, that he had been commanding the queen to appear wearing her crown--and no clothes.[1] It is possible that the queen, Vashti, thought that this was what the king ordered, since, in her eyes, he was a womanizing drunkard. The queen refused to honor the king's demand. The king was thus publicly humiliated in two ways: by her refusing of his order; and by the exposure of her contempt of his character. At her hearing in front of the kingdom's historians and lawyers, the king's words provided a valid defense of her refusal to come, but she was still deemed unfit to serve as queen. And so the king lost his beautiful queen and her services.

After that, the king's servants suggested assembling beautiful virgins from the entire kingdom,[2] and letting the king select the most qualified lady to be his new queen (2:4), in contrast to the custom of selecting a queen from a first ranked family.[3] The girls were allowed to present themselves to the king as they wished (2:13). At sunset, they were taken to the king while he was with his dinner guests, and in the morning she was either selected as a queen or sent to the king's harem (2:13-14). Beautiful young virgins were brought in from the whole kingdom, from India to Africa. Most of them did not speak Persian; they dressed in their native clothes; they looked foreign, which may have been worrisome because their children--the king's children, should one of them become his queen--would look foreign, as well; they ate different type of foods (2:14); and it is likely that they smelled unpleasant to the king, since he insisted on baths and perfumes for the women (2:12).

Meanwhile, Hadassah, an orphan, was taken in childhood to the house of Mordecai, one of the Jewish community leaders in Shushan; and he raised her like a Jewish princes. Hadassah remembered the horrendous experience of living as an orphan and was a cautious and cooperative girl (2:7). Luckily for Hadassah, she met the requirements necessary to be taken to the king's harem, the first step in potentially becoming queen (2:7). Mordecai immediately began planning, giving Hadassah a more powerful name: Esther (2:7), after the goddess Ishtar, the goddess of love, futility, and war.[4]

Mordecai defined the problem

Mordecai investigated and studied the events that led to the demise of Vashti. He understood that the king wanted to show his glory and richness by showing off his beautiful queen. It was unquestionable that the king did not lack women to satisfy his needs; and, as we will see later, it is possible to conclude from the fact that Esther was eventually selected, that his earlier command to Vashti was not about appearing naked. Ahasuerus wanted more from a queen than sexual satisfaction.

Mordecai understood the needs of the key people involved

Mordecai observed that: the king was looking for a presentable queen; the king's servants were eager to find a queen, so that their advice would be fulfilled (2:2); Hegai, the king's chamberlain and keeper of the women, wanted to provide entertainment for the king. But he was also looking for a girl that would be an excellent queen, and perhaps thought that the queen would be grateful and respectful to him after her selection; the seven maidens from the king's chamber wanted their favored girl to win, so that they could be promoted to being the queen's maidens; Esther, who was in competition with hundreds of girls, wanted to be a queen and not a concubine; Mordecai wanted to protect his niece, and to promote his own standing in the Jewish community.

Mordecai understood the personal goals of these people and, by creating the proper conditions, he organized them all to work together, with or without their knowledge, to fulfill each of their own interests by getting Esther crowned as queen.

Esther introduced herself to the key people.

To protect Esther in the harem, and to prevent discrimination and hostility toward her, Mordecai ordered Esther to hide her Jewishness. She was not to celebrate Jewish customs and laws and was to avoid drawing attention to herself in the harem by insisting on kosher food. Mordecai, with his high position in the Jewish community, felt that, under the circumstances, he had the power to instruct Esther in this manner (2:10). In addition, Mordecai instructed Esther to go directly to Hegai and actively seek his guidance and follow his instructions (2:9).[5] It was important for Hegai to select a good queen, because she would be his supervisor in the future. Hegai saw the advantages Esther held over all of the foreign girls: she had grown up in Shushan; she spoke Persian; she was disciplined; she showed him respect; and she carried out his orders, just as Mordecai had instructed her to do. Because of these advantages, Hegai selected Esther as the girl he would groom to become Ahasuerus' queen. He gave her seven maidens, a status symbol worthy of a future queen, from the king's chamber; the maidens knew the habits of the king and would teach Esther the proper decorum to display in his court (2:9). Hegai also gave her more perfumes and food, and he gave her the best room in the harem. After Hegai acknowledged Esther and gave her preferential treatment, Mordecai made direct, respectful contact with him so that he could have daily communication with Esther and plan with her (2:11). Thus, Mordecai won over a key player directly, without having to deal with corrupt underlings looking for bribes.

Mordecai's plan to crown Esther

Mordecai and Hegai prepared Esther to be a better queen then Vashti (1:19), while all the other girls, from the whole kingdom, were instructed to proudly show their unique and strange manners and customs to the king. And, in this way, they ended up convincing the king that they were not fit to be his queen. The girls concentrated on a theatrical show of their abilities during the dinner parties and, then, on their feminine abilities during the night (2:13). It is natural that the girls, who were forcefully kidnapped, would have harbored thoughts similar to Vashti's in regards to the king: thoughts of anger, fear, and disgust. It is not surprising that they ended up in the harem (2:14).

Esther was separated from the other virgins by being in the best room in the harem with her seven maidens. She stayed for several years and eagerly studied how a queen must behave. Esther was given time to grow and mature, and she developed into a magnificent woman. While the other girls were practicing for their show, they were not allowed to have contact with the girls who went to the king ahead of them, and who were returned to the harem.

Hegai was determined to have Esther selected as queen, and not to have her given to Shaashgaz, the keeper of the concubines (2:14). At the beginning of the process there was a low chance that the king would select a queen, because he expected to see better girls; after a few years of watching shows put on by the most beautiful girls in his land during his dinner parties, the king became discouraged about the prospect of ever finding a queen. Hegai waited patiently for the best time to present his student, and then, in the seventh year of his reign, at the early stage of winter (2:16), when the nights are long and cool, Hegai arranged for his student, Esther, to give her presentation. Esther did everything Hegai told her to do (2:12). She was taught to walk with dignity and authority like the goddess Ishtar, and show respect and honor to the king. She radiated power and confidence, wearing the Persian queen's royal dress and escorted by her seven maidens (who used to be the king's). She was queenly in every respect, except that she lacked the royal crown. It is likely that she appeared when the king was merry with wine (1:10), seated with his ministers and dignitaries. In this way, Esther fulfilled the king's true order to Vashti (1:11-12), which was not to appear naked but rather to show her beauty to his people. The king's servants, who had been waiting for this moment since the seven maidens were taken, cheered respectfully and ordered the people in attendance to pay their royal respect to the approaching queen. The king was moved, and he took the crown of Vashti and put it on Esther's head to complete her show. Then the king fell in love with his creation, and with the image complementary to his own, and crowned her on the spot (2:17). The king was happy with his queen, but then he assembled new virgins again (2:19).[6] All the participants were able to share in the glory and happily reaped the fruits that they seeded.