Tablet has an article up about the popularization of Queen Esther among Christians. It gave me the willies. Not because of the article’s writer, but because of what she was describing.
While some of the pastors describing Esther’s commitment to fulfilling G-d’s will get it right, clearly, the majority of these authors and pastors have not read a single commentary on Esther. Normally, that wouldn’t bother me (because why should a Christian have to do so) but they completely and totally distort the story for their own purposes. Why would you write something without doing research? Traditional commentaries (easily obtainable in English) describe an Esther completely different than how she’s being depicted in pop culture.
1) Esther wasn’t sexually depraved! She carried the modesty of her ancestor, King Saul, who didn’t want to be king in the beginning, just as she didn’t want to be queen. Sheesh.
2) Even (“Jewish Renewal”) Rabbi Rachel Barenblat (quoted in the article) seems to have failed to read what Talmud says about Esther. Since when was Esther ready for a “wild secular adventure?” She was kidnapped by the king’s servants and dragged into the beauty contest, which she wanted no part of! She’s married off to a pretty horrible guy–so what if he’s a king? She’d rather be at home.
In fact, this is the whole point of Esther’s sacrifice: G-d has a job for her and it’s hard because it is the opposite of her personal preferences. She becomes great because she steps up to the plate anyway.
3) Esther was no empty-headed beauty queen. Her skin was greenish. She was a prophetess. Her Jewish name–Hadassah– was given because she her actions were sweet-smelling like the myrtle plant. We can all tap into that kind of beauty even if we’ll never look like “Miss America” (or “Miss Persia” for that matter).
The saddest part of the story for me is that most Jews don’t even bother to learn the Megillah in depth. Queen Esther is an amazing role model, but you can’t appreciate why without studying her on more than a superficial level. Everyone–Jews and non-Jews alike–can look up to her as a model of commitment, living up to our personal mission, overcoming obstacles.