Literary Devices – Esther 21

Literary Allusions

The description of Achashverosh's search for a wife contains allusions to several other stories in Tanakh:

EN/HEע/E
אחשורוש ודוד מבקשים נערה יפה
אסתר ב':ב'-ג', י"ד מלכים א' א':ב'-ד'
(ב) וַיֹּאמְרוּ נַעֲרֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ מְשָׁרְתָיו יְבַקְשׁוּ לַמֶּלֶךְ נְעָרוֹת בְּתוּלוֹת טוֹבוֹת מַרְאֶה. (ב) וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ עֲבָדָיו יְבַקְשׁוּ לַאדֹנִי הַמֶּלֶךְ נַעֲרָה בְתוּלָה וְעָמְדָה לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ... 
(ג) וְיַפְקֵד הַמֶּלֶךְ פְּקִידִים בְּכָל מְדִינוֹת מַלְכוּתוֹ וְיִקְבְּצוּ אֶת כָּל נַעֲרָה בְתוּלָה טוֹבַת מַרְאֶה אֶל שׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה אֶל בֵּית הַנָּשִׁים... (ג) וַיְבַקְשׁוּ נַעֲרָה יָפָה בְּכֹל גְּבוּל יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיִּמְצְאוּ אֶת אֲבִישַׁג הַשּׁוּנַמִּית וַיָּבִאוּ אֹתָהּ לַמֶּלֶךְ.
(יד) בָּעֶרֶב הִיא בָאָה וּבַבֹּקֶר הִיא שָׁבָה אֶל בֵּית הַנָּשִׁים שֵׁנִי אֶל יַד שַׁעַשְׁגַז סְרִיס הַמֶּלֶךְ שֹׁמֵר הַפִּילַגְשִׁים לֹא תָבוֹא עוֹד אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ כִּי אִם חָפֵץ בָּהּ הַמֶּלֶךְ וְנִקְרְאָה בְשֵׁם. (ד) וְהַנַּעֲרָה יָפָה עַד מְאֹד וַתְּהִי לַמֶּלֶךְ סֹכֶנֶת וַתְּשָׁרְתֵהוּ וְהַמֶּלֶךְ לֹא יְדָעָהּ.
Achashverosh and David Search for a Beautiful Maiden
Esther 2:3-4,14 Melakhim I 1:2-4
(2) The king's servants who attended him said, "Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for Your Majesty" (2) His servants said to him, "Let a virgin be sought for my master, Your Majesty, that she may stand before Your Majesty..."

(3) "Let Your Majesty appoint officers in every province of your kingdom to assemble all the beautiful young virgins at the fortress Shushan, in the harem..."

(3) And they sought a fair maiden throughout the territory of Israel, and they found Avishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king.
(14) She would go in the evening and leave in the morning for a second harem in charge of Shaashgaz, the king's eunuch, guardian of the concubines. She would not go again to the king unless the king wanted her, when she would be summoned by name.  (4) And the maiden was very beautiful; and she took care of the king and ministered to him; but the king did not know her intimately.

 

EN/HEע/E
אחשורוש ויוסף אוספים נערות/אוכל
אסתר ב':ג'-ד' בראשית מ"א:ל"ד-ל"ה, ל"ז
וְיַפְקֵד הַמֶּלֶךְ פְּקִידִים בְּכָל מְדִינוֹת מַלְכוּתוֹ וְיִקְבְּצוּ אֶת כָּל נַעֲרָה בְתוּלָה טוֹבַת מַרְאֶה... אֶל יַד הֵגֶא סְרִיס הַמֶּלֶךְ שֹׁמֵר הַנָּשִׁים ... וַיִּיטַב הַדָּבָר בְּעֵינֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וַיַּעַשׂ כֵּן. וְיַפְקֵד פְּקִדִים עַל הָאָרֶץ... וְיִקְבְּצוּ אֶת כָּל אֹכֶל הַשָּׁנִים הַטֹּבוֹת... וְיִצְבְּרוּ בָר תַּחַת יַד פַּרְעֹה אֹכֶל בֶּעָרִים וְשָׁמָרוּ.... וַיִּיטַב הַדָּבָר בְּעֵינֵי פַרְעֹה וּבְעֵינֵי כָּל עֲבָדָיו.
Achashverosh and Yosef Collect Women/Grain 
Esther 2:3-4 Bereshit 41:34-35,37
Let the king appoint officers over all the provinces of his kingdom, and let them gather every virginal maiden of good appearance... to the hand of Hege, the king's chamberlain, keeper of the women... And the thing was good in the king's eyes... Let Pharaoh act to appoint officers over the land... And let them gather all the food of the good years that are imminent… under the hand of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities... And the thing was good in Pharaoh's eyes

 

EN/HEע/E
הכנות הנערות וחניטת יעקב
אסתר ב':י"ב בראשית נ':ג'
וּבְהַגִּיעַ תֹּר נַעֲרָה וְנַעֲרָה לָבוֹא אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ... כִּי כֵּן יִמְלְאוּ יְמֵי מְרוּקֵיהֶן שִׁשָּׁה חֳדָשִׁים בְּשֶׁמֶן הַמֹּר וְשִׁשָּׁה חֳדָשִׁים בַּבְּשָׂמִים וּבְתַמְרוּקֵי הַנָּשִׁים. וַיִּמְלְאוּ לוֹ אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם כִּי כֵּן יִמְלְאוּ יְמֵי הַחֲנֻטִים וַיִּבְכּוּ אֹתוֹ מִצְרַיִם שִׁבְעִים יוֹם.
Anointing the Maidens and Embalming Yaakov
Esther 2:12 Bereshit 50:3
When each girl's turn came to go to King Achashverosh at the end of the twelve months' treatment prescribed for women, for such was the full period spent on beautifying them, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and women’s cosmetics. Then Joseph ordered the physicians in his service
to embalm his father, and the physicians embalmed Israel. It required forty days for such is the full period of embalming...

 

In all three cases, the similarity in language and uniqueness2 of the phrases employed suggest that these are intentional allusions rather than coincidental parallels. As is often the case, though, it is the differences between the verses which reveal the author's message, a scathing critique of Achashverosh's attitude towards women:

Internal Structure – Parallel Halves

The chapter can be viewed as composed of two parallel halves:

EN/HEע/E
  אסתר ב':ב'-י"א אסתר ב':י"ב-כ'
נערות שושן (ב) וַיֹּאמְרוּ נַעֲרֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ מְשָׁרְתָיו יְבַקְשׁוּ לַמֶּלֶךְ נְעָרוֹת בְּתוּלוֹת טוֹבוֹת מַרְאֶה. (ג) וְיַפְקֵד הַמֶּלֶךְ פְּקִידִים בְּכָל מְדִינוֹת מַלְכוּתוֹ וְיִקְבְּצוּ אֶת כׇּל נַעֲרָה בְתוּלָה טוֹבַת מַרְאֶה אֶל שׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה אֶל בֵּית הַנָּשִׁים אֶל יַד הֵגֶא סְרִיס הַמֶּלֶךְ שֹׁמֵר הַנָּשִׁים וְנָתוֹן תַּמְרֻקֵיהֶן.  (יב) וּבְהַגִּיעַ תֹּר נַעֲרָה וְנַעֲרָה לָבוֹא  אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ מִקֵּץ הֱיוֹת לָהּ כְּדָת הַנָּשִׁים שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר חֹדֶשׁ כִּי כֵּן יִמְלְאוּ יְמֵי מְרוּקֵיהֶן שִׁשָּׁה חֳדָשִׁים בְּשֶׁמֶן הַמֹּר וְשִׁשָּׁה חֳדָשִׁים בַּבְּשָׂמִים וּבְתַמְרוּקֵי הַנָּשִׁים
אסתר, הבת המאומצת (ז) וַיְהִי אֹמֵן אֶת הֲדַסָּה הִיא אֶסְתֵּר בַּת דֹּדוֹ כִּי אֵין לָהּ אָב וָאֵם וְהַנַּעֲרָה יְפַת תֹּאַר וְטוֹבַת מַרְאֶה וּבְמוֹת אָבִיהָ וְאִמָּהּ לְקָחָהּ מׇרְדֳּכַי לוֹ לְבַת. (טו) וּבְהַגִּיעַ תֹּר אֶסְתֵּר בַּת אֲבִיחַיִל דֹּד מׇרְדֳּכַי אֲשֶׁר לָקַח לוֹ לְבַת לָבוֹא אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ לֹא בִקְשָׁה דָּבָר כִּי אִם אֶת אֲשֶׁר יֹאמַר הֵגַי סְרִיס הַמֶּלֶךְ שֹׁמֵר הַנָּשִׁים וַתְּהִי אֶסְתֵּר נֹשֵׂאת חֵן בְּעֵינֵי כׇּל רֹאֶיהָ.
לקיחת אסתר (ח) וַיְהִי בְּהִשָּׁמַע דְּבַר הַמֶּלֶךְ וְדָתוֹ וּבְהִקָּבֵץ נְעָרוֹת רַבּוֹת אֶל שׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה אֶל יַד הֵגָי וַתִּלָּקַח אֶסְתֵּר אֶל בֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶל יַד הֵגַי שֹׁמֵר הַנָּשִׁים.  (טז) וַתִּלָּקַח אֶסְתֵּר אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ אֶל בֵּית מַלְכוּתוֹ בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָעֲשִׂירִי הוּא חֹדֶשׁ טֵבֵת בִּשְׁנַת שֶׁבַע לְמַלְכוּתוֹ.
"נושאת חן וחסד" (ט) וַתִּיטַב הַנַּעֲרָה בְעֵינָיו וַתִּשָּׂא חֶסֶד לְפָנָיו וַיְבַהֵל אֶת תַּמְרוּקֶיהָ וְאֶת מָנוֹתֶהָ לָתֵת לָהּ וְאֵת שֶׁבַע הַנְּעָרוֹת הָרְאֻיוֹת לָתֶת לָהּ מִבֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ וַיְשַׁנֶּהָ וְאֶת נַעֲרוֹתֶיהָ לְטוֹב בֵּית הַנָּשִׁים. (יז) וַיֶּאֱהַב הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת אֶסְתֵּר מִכׇּל הַנָּשִׁים וַתִּשָּׂא חֵן וָחֶסֶד לְפָנָיו מִכׇּל הַבְּתוּלוֹת וַיָּשֶׂם כֶּתֶר מַלְכוּת בְּרֹאשָׁהּ וַיַּמְלִיכֶהָ תַּחַת וַשְׁתִּי... 
"אֵין אֶסְתֵּר מַגֶּדֶת מוֹלַדְתָּהּ" (י) לֹא הִגִּידָה אֶסְתֵּר אֶת עַמָּהּ וְאֶת מוֹלַדְתָּהּ כִּי מׇרְדֳּכַי צִוָּה עָלֶיהָ אֲשֶׁר לֹא תַגִּיד. (יא) וּבְכׇל יוֹם וָיוֹם מׇרְדֳּכַי מִתְהַלֵּךְ לִפְנֵי חֲצַר בֵּית הַנָּשִׁים לָדַעַת אֶת שְׁלוֹם אֶסְתֵּר וּמַה יֵּעָשֶׂה בָּהּ.  (יט) וּבְהִקָּבֵץ בְּתוּלוֹת שֵׁנִית וּמׇרְדֳּכַי יֹשֵׁב בְּשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ. (כ) אֵין אֶסְתֵּר מַגֶּדֶת מוֹלַדְתָּהּ וְאֶת עַמָּהּ כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה עָלֶיהָ מׇרְדֳּכָי וְאֶת מַאֲמַר מׇרְדֳּכַי אֶסְתֵּר עֹשָׂה כַּאֲשֶׁר הָיְתָה בְאׇמְנָה אִתּוֹ. 
  Esther 2:2-11 Esther 2:12-20
 

(2-3) The king's servants who attended him said, "Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for Your Majesty.  Let Your Majesty appoint officers in every province of your realm to assemble all the beautiful young virgins at the fortress Shushan, in the harem under the supervision of Hege, the king's eunuch, guardian of the women. Let them be provided with their cosmetics."

(12) When each girl's turn came to go to King Achashverosh at the end of the twelve months' treatment prescribed for women, for that was the period spent on beautifying them, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and women’s cosmetics, and it was after that that the girl would go to the king, whatever she asked for would be given her to take with her from the harem to the king's palace.
 

(7)  The maiden was shapely and beautiful; and when her father and mother died, Mordechai adopted her as his own daughter.

(15) When the turn came for Esther, daughter of Avichayil, the uncle of Mordechai, who had adopted her as his own daughter, to go to the king, she did not ask for anything but what Hegai, the king's eunuch, guardian of the women, advised. Yet Esther won the admiration of all who saw her.

 

(8) When the king's order and edict was proclaimed, and when many girls were assembled in the fortress Shushan under the supervision of Hegai, Esther too was taken into the king's palace under the supervision of Hegai, guardian of the women.

(16) Esther was taken to King Achashverosh, in his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tevet, in the seventh year of his reign.
 

(9) The girl pleased him and won his favor, and he hastened to furnish her with her cosmetics and her rations, as well as with the seven maids who were her due from the king's palace; and he treated her and her maids with special kindness in the harem.

(17) The king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she won his grace and favor more than all the virgins. So he set a royal diadem on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.

 

(10-11) Esther did not reveal her people or her kindred, for Mordechai had told her not to reveal it. Every single day Mordechai would walk about in front of the court of the harem, to learn how Esther was faring and what was happening to her.

(19-20) When the virgins were assembled a second time, Mordechai sat in the palace gate. But Esther still did not reveal her kindred or her people, as Mordechai had instructed her; for Esther obeyed Mordechai's bidding, as she had done when she was under his tutelage.

 

The literary structure of this representation intimates several messages hidden under the formal narrative surface:

Alternative Internal Structure – Chiasm

One can alternatively view the chapter as a chiasm, with an a-b-c-d-e-d-c-b-a structure:

EN/HEע/E
חיפוש תחליף לושתי וְהַנַּעֲרָה אֲשֶׁר תִּיטַב בְּעֵינֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ תִּמְלֹךְ תַּחַת וַשְׁתִּי
לקיחת אסתר לבית המלך וַתִּלָּקַח אֶסְתֵּר אֶל בֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶל יַד הֵגַי שֹׁמֵר הַנָּשִׁים
אסתר נושאת חן בעיני הגי וַתִּיטַב הַנַּעֲרָה בְעֵינָיו וַתִּשָּׂא חֶסֶד לְפָנָיו
אופן כניסת כל נערה ונערה אל המלך וּבְהַגִּיעַ תֹּר נַעֲרָה וְנַעֲרָה לָבוֹא אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ ... אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר תֹּאמַר יִנָּתֵן לָהּ לָבוֹא עִמָּהּ 
הכניסה אל המלך בָּעֶרֶב הִיא בָאָה וּבַבֹּקֶר הִיא שָׁבָה
אופן כניסת אסתר אל המלך וּבְהַגִּיעַ תֹּר אֶסְתֵּר בַּת אֲבִיחַיִל דֹּד מָרְדֳּכַי אֲשֶׁר לָקַח לוֹ לְבַת לָבוֹא אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ לֹא בִקְשָׁה דָּבָר
אסתר נשאת חן בעיני כל ראיה וַתְּהִי אֶסְתֵּר נֹשֵׂאת חֵן בְּעֵינֵי כָּל רֹאֶיהָ
לקיחת אסתר לבית המלך וַתִּלָּקַח אֶסְתֵּר אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ אֶל בֵּית מַלְכוּתוֹ
מציאת התחליף לושתי וַיֶּאֱהַב הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת אֶסְתֵּר מִכָּל הַנָּשִׁים וַתִּשָּׂא חֵן וָחֶסֶד לְפָנָיו מִכָּל הַבְּתוּלֹת ... וַיַּמְלִיכֶהָ תַּחַת וַשְׁתִּי
  And let the maiden who pleases Your Majesty be queen instead of Vashti
  Esther too was taken into the king's palace under the supervision of Hegai, guardian of the women.
  The girl pleased him and won his favor
  When each girl's turn came to go to King Achashverosh... whatever she asked for would be given her to take with her...
  She would go in the evening and leave in the morning
  When the turn came for Esther, daughter of Avichayil, the uncle of Mordechai, who had adopted her as his own daughter, to go to the king, she did not ask for anything
  Yet Esther won the admiration of all who saw her.
  Esther was taken to King Achashverosh, in his royal palace
  The king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she won his grace and favor more than all the virgins. So he... made her queen instead of Vashti.

 

According to this option, the chiastic structure serves to highlight how Esther surpassed expectations in becoming queen, differentiating herself from the other contestants. 

Parallel Stories

Esther’s personal tragedy stands out in the comparison between this scene and a similar story in Bereshit 12, the taking of Sarah:

EN/HEע/E
   לקיחת אסתר לבית המלך (אסתר ב')  לקיחת שרי לבית פרעה (בראשית י"ב)
קשרי משפחה בין בעל ואשה וַיְהִי אֹמֵן אֶת הֲדַסָּה הִיא אֶסְתֵּר בַּת דֹּדוֹ כִּי אֵין לָהּ אָב וָאֵם... (ב:ז) וַיִּקַּח אַבְרָם וְנָחוֹר לָהֶם נָשִׁים שֵׁם אֵשֶׁת אַבְרָם שָׂרָי (יא:כט)
משפחה שגלתה מארצה אֲשֶׁר הׇגְלָה מִירוּשָׁלַיִם עִם הַגֹּלָה אֲשֶׁר הׇגְלְתָה עִם יְכׇנְיָה מֶלֶךְ יְהוּדָה (ב:ו) וַיֵּרֶד אַבְרָם מִצְרַיְמָה לָגוּר שָׁם  (יב:יא)
תיאור מראה האשה וְהַנַּעֲרָה יְפַת תֹּאַר וְטוֹבַת מַרְאֶה (ב:ז) וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל שָׂרַי אִשְׁתּוֹ הִנֵּה נָא יָדַעְתִּי כִּי אִשָּׁה יְפַת מַרְאֶה אָתְּ. (יב:יא)
משרתי המלך מעודדים אותו לקחת לו אשה וַיֹּאמְרוּ נַעֲרֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ מְשָׁרְתָיו יְבַקְשׁוּ לַמֶּלֶךְ נְעָרוֹת בְּתוּלוֹת טוֹבוֹת מַרְאֶה (ב:ב) וַיִּרְאוּ אֹתָהּ שָׂרֵי פַרְעֹה וַיְהַלְלוּ אֹתָהּ אֶל פַּרְעֹה (יב:טו)
בקשה מהאשה לא לחשוף את זהותה לֹא הִגִּידָה אֶסְתֵּר אֶת עַמָּהּ וְאֶת מוֹלַדְתָּהּ כִּי מׇרְדֳּכַי צִוָּה עָלֶיהָ אֲשֶׁר לֹא תַגִּיד (ב:י) אִמְרִי נָא אֲחֹתִי אָתְּ (יב:יג)
לקיחת האשה לארמון וַתִּלָּקַח אֶסְתֵּר אֶל בֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ (ב:ח) וַתֻּקַּח הָאִשָּׁה בֵּית פַּרְעֹה (יב:טו)
המלך נותן מתנות לאיש וּמׇרְדֳּכַי יָצָא  מִלִּפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ בִּלְבוּשׁ מַלְכוּת תְּכֵלֶת וָחוּר וַעֲטֶרֶת זָהָב גְּדוֹלָה וְתַכְרִיךְ בּוּץ וְאַרְגָּמָן (ח:טו) וּלְאַבְרָם הֵיטִיב בַּעֲבוּרָהּ וַיְהִי לוֹ צֹאן וּבָקָר וַחֲמֹרִים וַעֲבָדִים וּשְׁפָחֹת וַאֲתֹנֹת וּגְמַלִּים (יב:טז)
המלך מגלה את הקשר בין האיש ואשה וּמׇרְדֳּכַי בָּא לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ כִּי הִגִּידָה אֶסְתֵּר מַה הוּא לָהּ. (ח:א) וַיֹּאמֶר מַה זֹּאת עָשִׂיתָ לִּי לָמָּה לֹא הִגַּדְתָּ לִּי כִּי אִשְׁתְּךָ הִוא. (יב:יח)
  Taking of Esther to Achashverosh's Palace: Esther 2 Taking of Sarai to Paroh's Palace: Bereshit 12
Family relations
between husband
and wife
He was foster father to Hadassah—that is, Esther— his uncle’s daughter... and when her father and mother died, Mordechai adopted her as his own daughter (2:7) Abram and Nachor took to
themselves wives, the name of Abram’s wife being Sarai (11:29).
A family exiled
from its land
Who had been exiled from Jerusalem in the group that was carried into exile along with King Yechonyah of Judah (2:6) Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there (12:10)
Description of
the woman as
beautiful
The maiden was shapely and beautiful and when her father and mother died, Mordechai adopted her as his own daughter (2:7) I know what a beautiful woman you are (12:11)
The king’s
servants
encourage him to
take a wife
The king’s servants who attended him said, “Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for Your Majesty” (2:2) Paroh’s courtiers saw her and praised  her to Paroh
(12:15)
Man’s request of
the woman not to
reveal her identity
or connection to
him
Esther did not reveal her people or her  kindred, for Mordechai had told her not
to reveal it (2:10)
Please say that you are my sister (12:13)
Taking of the
woman to the
king’s palace
Esther too was taken into the king’s palace (2:8) ...the woman was taken into Paroh’s palace (12:15)
The king bestows
wealth on
the man who
dissociates himself
from the woman
Mordechai left the king’s presence in royal robes of blue and white, with a magnificent crown of gold and a mantle of fine linen and purple wool (8:15) And because of her, it went well with  Abram; he acquired sheep, oxen, asses, male and female slaves, sheasses, and camels 12:16)
At the end of
the story, the
king engages in
dialogue with the man
Mordechai presented himself to the king (8:1) Paroh sent for Abram and
said... (12:18)
The king discovers
the hidden
connection
between the man
and the woman
For Esther had revealed how he was related to her (8:1) Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? (12:18)

 

The similarity between the two stories is apparent and emphasizes that just as it would be difficult to present the story of Abram and Sarai as a successful Cinderella story, so Esther’s being taken to the king’s palace is more heartbreaking than happy.  In essence, a comparison of the two stories shows the tragedy of Esther’s situation even more: after Hashem protects Sarai, she leaves unhurt and returns to Abram’s arms.  Esther, though, remains in the Persian king’s palace for the remainder of her life.

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