January 6, 2022

Megillah 14

Much of today’s daf (Megillah 14a-b) teaches us about the שבע נביאות – the seven biblical prophetesses (Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Chana, Avigail, Chuldah & Esther) whose prophecies related not only to themselves but to others and/or the Jewish people as a whole. And as Massechet Megillah’s primary focus is the Purim story, I’d like to explore the biblical source cited by our Gemara from Megillat Esther to demonstrate that Esther was a prophetess.
Having asked the Jewish people to fast for three days and pray for their safety, we are told that on the third day, as she prepared herself to enter Achashverosh’s palace to invite him to what would become a series of banquets, ‘וַתִּלְבַּשׁ אֶסְתֵּר מַלְכוּת – and Esther dressed herself in royalty’ (Esther 5:1).
As the Gemara explains, were the verse to have wished to tell us that Esther wore royal clothes it should have said, ותלבש אסתר בגדי מלכות – ‘and Esther dressed herself in royal clothes’. But given that the verse is not so specific, and given that our Sages explain that ‘המלך – the king’ is also to be understood as a veiled reference to God, and in light of the fact that a verse in Divrei HaYamim I 12:19 states וְרוּחַ לָבְשָׁה אֶת עֲמָשַׂי – ‘and the spirit seized (literally, ‘clothed’) Amasai’ (which teaches us that a רוח can clothe a person), the Gemara explains that שלבשתה ברוח הקודש – Esther ‘clothed herself with the Divine spirit’.
Reflecting on this teaching, Rav Avraham Mordechai Alter (1865-1948) – the fourth Rebbe of Ger otherwise known as the Imrei Emes – notes something significant within the verse cited by our Gemara which, having begun by informing us וַתִּלְבַּשׁ אֶסְתֵּר מַלְכוּת – ‘and Esther dressed herself in royalty’, continues to relate וַתַּעֲמֹד בַּחֲצַר בֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ הַפְּנִימִית נֹכַח בֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ – ‘and she stood by the inner courtyard of the kings palace, while the king sat upon his throne’.
As the Imrei Emes asks, it is strange that we are told that Esther dressed herself in royalty and stood by the inner courtyard, but we are not told about her going to stand in the inner courtyard. Instead, the verse speaks as if one immediately led to the other.
With this in mind, he explains that this entire verse can be understood to describe how we approach God: ‘it is known that in our service of God, the main duty of a person is to prepare their heart and accept upon themselves the yoke of heaven, with the rest being done with the assistance of heaven. Therefore we are taught, ‘and Esther dressed herself in royalty’ – meaning that when she prepared her heart and accepted upon herself the yoke of heaven, she was then clothed with the divine spirit and then immediately found herself standing in the ‘inner courtyard’ of God’.
Though each of us may not become a prophet, we all yearn for divine closeness and the feeling that we are in God’s inner courtyard. And as the Imrei Emes explains from the steps taken by Esther, this can be achieved when we prepare our heart and clothe ourselves with a sincere love and desire to come close to God.
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