Commenting on a verse in Shir Hashirim (6:10) which likens Am Yisrael to the moon (“yafa ka-levana”), the Midrash (Shemot Rabba 15:6) explains this as a reference to Ester, who “shone for Israel” like the moon. Just as the moon provides light in what is otherwise the thick darkness of night, similarly, Ester provided light for the Jews at a time of darkness, when their future was threatened by Haman. In order to substantiate this metaphor, comparing Ester to the moon, the Midrash points to Ester’s remark to Mordekhai, “I have not been called to come before the king for thirty days now” (4:11). Just as the moon begins “growing” in the sky every thirty days, similarly, Ester had not been invited before Achashveirosh for thirty days, and she was thus reluctant to approach him and plead for the annulment of the decree against her people. Thus, Ester may be compared to the moon.
What is the significance of this seemingly tenuous parallel between Ester and the lunar cycle, and how does this relate to the theme of “illumination,” Ester’s providing light to the Jewish People in what was otherwise a period of darkness and gloom?
Ester’s fear of approaching Achashveirosh may perhaps be viewed as symbolic of the Jews’ thoughts at that time regarding their relationship to God. Just as Ester felt she had become distanced from Achashveirosh, assuming he no longer loved her or had interest in her, the Jews likewise felt distant from King of the world, and assumed He no longer felt any affection for them. Having lived for decades in exile, distant from the Land of Israel and entrenched in a foreign, pagan culture characterized by overindulgence and vanity, they naturally felt that they could no longer come before the King, that their relationship was permanently broken.
Their mistake, however, was overlooking the fact that Am Yisrael is, as King Shlomo teaches in Shir Hashirim, “beautiful as the moon.” The moon declines and nearly disappears, only to resurge. From a thin, barely visible sliver in the dark sky, the moon gradually rebuilds until it brightly illuminates the night. This is the “beauty” of Am Yisrael – that, like the moon, its periods of decline are always temporary, and are invariably followed by periods of recovery and resurgence. Just as Achashveirosh adoringly welcomed Ester upon seeing her standing before his throne, God similarly welcomes His beloved nation when they return to Him after a prolonged period of “absence,” despite having plunged themselves into spiritual darkness. Like the light of the moon, our relationship with the Almighty is always capable of restoration, regardless of how sharply or for how long we have declined.
This is the great ray of “light” that Ester shone for the Jewish People. Her appearance before Achashveirosh represents for us our ability to appear before God under any circumstances, no matter how distant we have become. She reminds us that like the moon, our periods of decline – our failures and mistakes – can be transformed into growth and resurgence, that no matter how far we fall, we are capable of picking ourselves up and once again shining brightly, and God always welcomes us back.