The Gemara in Masekhet Megilla (13a) associates the name “Hadassa” – Ester’s other name (Ester 2:7) – with the Hebrew word hadas (myrtle), and explains that she was given this name because the righteous are compared to fragrant hadasim. This comparison is deduced from a verse in Sefer Zekharya (1:8), in which the prophet described his vision of a man “standing among the myrtles,” which the Gemara apparently understood as an allusion to the righteous.
Interestingly, the Gemara elsewhere, in Masekhet Sanhedrin (93a), makes the precise opposite inference. The Gemara there cites this verse from Zekharya and interprets the word “hadasim” as an allusion to righteous people (specifically, to Chananya, Mishael and Azarya), proving that the righteous are called “hadasim” from the fact that Ester was called “Hadassa.” According to the Gemara’s discussion in Sanhedrin, then, Ester is seen, in a sense, as the prototype of a tzadik (righteous person). The fact that she is referred to as “Hadassa” allows us to conclude that all tzadikim are comparable to hadasim – seemingly, because she serves as the paradigm of a righteous individual.
In what way can we regard Ester as the model of piety? Why is she the quintessential “tzadik”?
The answer, it has been suggested, can be found in the dramatic point of transition in the Megilla, when Ester instantly undergoes a complete transformation from a timid, fearful young woman, into a bold, courageous initiator and leader. When we are first introduced to Ester, she takes no initiative whatsoever. She is the only girl brought before Achashveirosh who doesn’t request any makeup or perfume (2:15), and she is described as completely subservient to Mordekhai, doing everything he instructs (2:20). This all changes after Ester initially refuses Mordekhai’s command to approach Achashveirosh to intercede on the Jews’ behalf, and Mordekhai sharply reprimands her. He ends by saying, “…and who knows if you reached royalty for this very moment?” (4:14). Once she hears Mordekhai’s message, Ester completely changes. She now gives Mordekhai instructions, commanding him to assemble the Jews of Shushan for prayer, and she musters the courage and strength to approach the king and devise a plan.
This might be the quality that makes Ester the paradigmatic “tzadik” – the realization that “you have reached royalty for this very moment,” that we are here in this world, in this particular time and place, for a purpose. A righteous person lives each day with this mindset and perspective, with the understanding that every moment and every circumstance is an opportunity and a mission.
Of course, the primary message and theme of the Megilla is the mysterious hand of Providence which governs events, and God’s ongoing love and care for Am Yisrael which exists even when it cannot be seen. Importantly, however, the miracle of Purim required the bold initiative taken by Ester, the paradigmatic “tzadik,” who teaches us that once we view every moment of our lives as a vitally important mission to complete, we will overcome our hesitations and insecurities and achieve far more than we would have imagined.