Dr. Michal Govrin is a writer and director, and lectures at the Schechter Institute, the Conservative movement's academic center in Jerusalem. She has a fascinating article called "Seriously Laughing to Death: Couples' Games and Masks in the Book of Esther" online at the Institute's website. It's kind of long, but worth it. Here's a taste:
Against the male threat on the woman and Jew-as-woman, the Megilla presents a woman with exclusive power to cope. Mordechai, in his different-ness, provokes Haman's hatred, and is left helpless against its catastrophic consequences. True to the archetypal Diaspora Jew, dependent on the kindness of others, he can only grieve:
"Mordechai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes. He went through the city, crying out loudly and bitterly.." (4:1).
But his prayer, unlike the prayer of Hannah, Moses or Elijah, does not manage to pierce through the Hiding of the Face and alter the decree. He and his prayer are left outside "the King's gate" (4:2).
Esther, however, as her name implies, remains hidden. Even when Mordechai addresses her, she dares not act. Mordechai urges her, by tearing away her defensive royal mask: "Do not imagine that you of all the Jews will escape with your life by being in the king's palace" (4:13). He then boosts her courage with a prophetic vision:
"If you keep silent in this time, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from elsewhere, while you and your father's house will perish...And who knows, perhaps you have gained royal position just for this time" (4:14).
Here the Megilla reveals a profound mutuality between two complementary forces. Mordechai cannot on his own deal with the king's anger, but the man is the one who stirs the woman's latency, making her aware of her own strength and enabling her to make the transition from concealment to revelation. Esther indeed undergoes a transformation as she confronts Mordechai. She dares to take responsibility for her otherness as a Jewess and a woman. She is aware of the double threat against her: as Queen, having replaced another whose deviation brought about her death; as a Jew, whose people by their different-ness brought upon them a decree of annihilation. Esther's strength and sense of responsibility to her uniqueness offers a model for redemption. She grapples with the mask as seen by others, which is racist and stereotyped. She strives to remove the threat of otherness, to present a human face and allow Ahasuerus to accept the other - the woman and the Jew - without fear.
Yet, Esther also knows that her femininity and her Jewishness are her only weapons. Thus she first emerges from a latent state to declare her bond to her people and her God:
"And Esther sent back a reply to Mordechai: Go and assemble all the Jews who live in Shushan and fast on my behalf; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens will observe the same fast" (4:15).
And then, relying on her feminine power, trusting in fate and risking death, she will "go to the King, though it be contrary to the law; and if I am to perish, I shall perish" (4:16).
After three days of fasting and prayer (reminiscent of the three days preparing at Sinai to receive the Torah), "Esther donned royal apparel and stood in the King's inner courtyard..." (5:1). Esther stands face to face with the King "sitting on his throne....facing the entrance of the palace." (Here, too, are parallels with the entrance to the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, lending an air of a direct meeting with holiness).
It all hangs on the split second glimpse of the woman standing in the doorway at her own peril. At that instant, her fate is sealed. As Ruth determined events by walking, Esther does so by standing. She is in royal attire, interpreted by Rashi as being draped in Divine inspiration, and this instant of a woman standing is described in the Talmud (Tractate Megilla 14b) as a moment of prophecy.
Yet how does she transform the revealed female body from an object of desire to a human visage?... (read the entire article)