The Book Of Esther (Cantor Kotler)

CantorKyleCotlerThe Book of Esther is an utterly unique resource in the Jewish canon. It contains a story full of satire, hyperbole and excess. But most unique, is the absence of any reference or mention of God. God is neither referred to by name nor is seen as interacting with any of the characters. It is easy to conclude then, that because God does not play an explicit part nor is overtly referenced, God is not present in the story at all. However, I submit that God is not absent in the Book of Esther, merely concealed. I would argue that the concealment of God is a major force and trope in the book.

The Book itself may as well be referred to as The Book of Concealment. The name Esther can be connected to the word hester (‘astir’), meaning concealment. Concealment is an ever-present theme in the book. Vashti conceals herself physically to the King. Esther conceals her Jewish identity as well as her plot against Haman during a lavish banquet. Esther also conceals her aspiration to use the king’s power when she appears in her lustrous outfit and speaks with persuasive words. The consistency and prevalence of concealment throughout the story serves either as a warning or a hint to the reader that things are not as they seem. They can also be
viewed as an enticement to the reader to look even further into the text for other concealments.

The narrative’s prose possesses the element of concealment, creating an underlying structure through which God’s presence may be interpolated. The difference between a narrative “showing” instead of “telling” a story is very subtle. A narrative that is “shown” has nothing to hide because the reader can witness the accounts from their own perspective. But when a narrative is “told” it can be reinterpreted, convoluted, or spun based on the author’s bias or prerogative. The story of Esther is conveyed by ‘telling’ rather than by ‘showing.’ In ‘showing,’ the characters talk and act, and the reader, seeing the characters in action, infers their motives and dispositions. In ‘telling,’ the author or narrator describes and evaluates the qualities of the characters. Through the contrast between “showing” and “telling” we are at the mercy of the author for narration. The author may tell us that the King is angry but we do not see Ahasuerus stomping. The actual actions are concealed to the reader; they are only described to us. This ambiguity opens the possibility for God to act without it necessarily being explicitly stated.

While it is easy to dismiss God’s presence from the story at face value, a thoughtful analysis and reading of the book could indicate that God is present and plays a role in the book. From Mordecai’s veiled statement implying God is always watching, always guiding, to the paralleled themes of concealment throughout the text, seen in Esther’s and Mordecai’s actions, the reader becomes aware that there is more than meets the eye in terms of a divine presence.