This is a great resource for any Jews out there that are not cis or otherwise fall outside the gender binary!
In the month between Purim and Passover this year, I have been struck by a poignant and powerful connection between Esther and Moses — they are both hesitant, assimilated saviors, pushed by circumstance and threat to speak up for a community they each left long ago.
Moses, who is raised in the Egyptian palace and makes his adult home among the Midianites in the desert, has never known his birth family or his fellow Jews. He has excellent reason to be reluctant to return: a stutterer and a fugitive, Moses hardly cuts the most impressive figure. Couldn’t God have found a more charismatic and influential lobbyist? Isn’t Pharoah’s ungrateful-foster-son-the-criminal literally the worst person to soften his heart against genocide?
Esther is stolen from her community by the servants of King Ahasuerus because she is a beautiful virgin and thus fits the incredibly measly criteria to be his next wife. Upon entering the harem — where she will live out the rest of her days, whether she is chosen as queen or not — she abandons her Jewish identity as a matter of safety. Her childhood with Uncle Mordechai must be forbidden and forgotten as is the unlucky Vashti. It is not until she has spent nine years in the palace (four waiting in the harem, then five as queen) that Haman devises his plan for genocide. Nine years since she last stepped outside the walls, and yet she now is to risk death by approaching the king on behalf of a people she has spent her adulthood disavowing?
We should also note also their names: neither uses a Jewish one. Moses is an Egyptian name, given him by Pharoah’s daughter when she draws him from the Nile. Whatever his birth mother Jochebed called him goes unrecorded. Esther is a Persian name, almost certainly derived in homage to the goddess Ishtar. In abandoning her Hebrew name (Hadassah, which means myrtle) and faith, she chooses one as diametrically opposed to the old ways as possible.
Moses and Esther are two of the most beloved and important figures in Tanakh, and yet we speak of them only with their assimilated, goyische names. We praise them and celebrate them while acknowledging the full complexity of their upbringing and their adulthood. They did not live religious lives; they both married non-Jewish people; they both had to be talked into becoming the heroes that they are.
The Jewish community — in particular its leaders and its parents — has agonized for millenia over the issue of assimilation. What are we if we do not continue our faith and our history and our culture? How can we survive as a people while immigrants and refugees in foreign lands, far from home? Does it make a difference if we assimilate out of hate or love? Out of enthusaism or fear? What if our assimilation was chosen for us and we do not know how to return?
I have no answers, only questions. But this year, I look to Moses and to Esther and think — they assimilated. They, too, were lost and confused. They knew themselves only by non-Jewish names, they were adrift and and scared and in the minority. They used their knowledge of non-Jewish cultures and politics and values to the whole nation’s benefit. They were alone and they were brave and they were inspirational.
We can continue in the paths of our semi-assimilated ancestors. We can be brave and inspirational — and most of all complex — too.
Be the villain you were born to be. Stop waiting for someone to come along and corrupt you. Succumb to the darkness yourself.
This is surprisingly motivating.
I don’t know what this is but I’m gonna eat it
I forget that most people don’t do who knows one as a race
I no longer know what is happening
Update : the babies are crying, I was climbed by a cat and I ate till I almost hated myself