We, the eighth grade, have been studying Megillat Esther for the past six weeks. While we were studying this story, we saw a whole new side to the characters we had never understood before. We challenged the story and the understanding that we had ingrained in our minds, particularly because we studied the text from a literary point of view. We studied the text by gaining a greater understanding of the genre of farce, and how the genre shapes and colors the story. We looked at the way the author gave small hints throughout the story about its intended audience, and the way the characters themselves spoke and acted. While searching for elements of farce we delved deeper into the story, uncovering new concepts and perceiving new interpretations. When we discussed the chapter together, we were able to see just how different and specific our views on different characters were. Our study brought us further into the story, making it easier for us to question and talk through our previously established beliefs of the story’s plot, intent, and characters.
It didn’t take very long when reading the first few passages of the Book of Esther to start seeing a different kind of truth hiding behind the words. We realized how appalling it was that we all had so little understanding of Vashti, what was asked of her, how she was treated, and how people responded to her. Equally, learning about how Esther actually came to be queen was a revelation, too. Whenever we discussed the book as a class, and even in chevruta (study pairs), many arguments took place; it felt important to challenge our understanding of the book and the holiday. One recurring discussion we often had as class was, “was Mordecai really the hero of the story?” We also realized how little we previously understood about King Ahashverosh’s role in the story. Yes, even though eighth graders know that stories aren’t always what they seem, we grew to understand that the importance of his role is continuously contradicted throughout the book by his reliance on advisors and his foolish indecisiveness. Overall, we thought we knew the whole book, but the more we read, the more we realized there was still so much to learn and question about it.
As we neared the end of the book, we read the exact text that explains that Purim is meant to be a holiday of joyous feasting and an occasion to give gifts to one another. In chapter nine of Megillat Esther we realized that there are instructions that include celebrating, feasting, giving gifts to one another AND presents to the poor. We spoke about this at length, about how in moments of joy and celebration it’s really important to take the time to think about those who are less fortunate than us, those who didn’t have their days of “grief and mourning” turn into days of “feasting and merrymaking”. This is also especially relevant considering this month’s Keshet of Kavod middah is humility. So, to honor the Book of Esther and the idea of giving presents to the poor, the eighth grade class has decided that each year when we are celebrating Purim we should donate to a charity, one that relates to what we learned in Megillat Esther.
Part of that research while studying the Book of Esther was focused on the glaring inequality between the genders. One of the biggest prejudices between the genders was status, particularly that of concubines, and women in general throughout the Persian empire. We made our decision about who to help based on the treatment of Vashti when she simply refused to be paraded around as an object, as well as the fact that the King declared that because of Vashti actions, women should not be allowed to do anything without their husband’s permission. Additionally, we considered the process of how Esther became queen and the danger she faced by merely speaking to her husband. So, after brainstorming ideas for Matanot L’evyonim, gifts for the less fortunate, we decided on charities or shelters specifically for women who have gone through abuse and/or assault. From there we were able to narrow down our choices to a charity called Family Supportive Housing, a shelter that helps women and children who need to seek refuge from abusive or dangerous situations.
We are looking to donate GENTLY USED clothing, sheets, comforters, art and school supplies. We also need (new only) hygiene products – toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo and conditioner, deodorant, floss, pads and tampons.
We really appreciate all of these donations as it is for a very significant cause.
Kitah Chet – Yavneh Class of 2020.