International Women's day is about highlighting the issues that still plague us, whether they be discrimination, violence or ingrained attitudes that are so hard to change. There's a reason that International Women's day always falls out so close to Purim. Well, it's lucky at the very least.
The Book of Esther deserves to be taken very seriously, far more seriously than the lighthearted nature of the holiday would suggest. It is not for nothing that the Book of Esther is the only book that the Jewish people all have an independent commandment to hear - twice! It is the book which takes place in exile, giving us valuable guidance on how to conduct ourselves as Jews in a non-Jewish world. Thank G-d, we now have the State of Israel, but in an increasingly globalised world, Israel too has to operate in a non-Jewish sphere.
But what does this have to do with women? Well, you only need to look at the tactics of those involved. Mordechai realised that in order to succeed at his mission he needed both female and male leadership, enlisting the help of the star of the story - Esther. It is clearly not just a male-led operation as Mordechai and Esther freely debate their tactics, each taking each other's suggestions. Mordechai leads all the people in a fast, according to Esther's instructions, and Esther goes to the King, according to Mordechai's instructions.
It is only through this combination that the evil plot of Haman is defeated, but not only this. Esther is then also key in convincing the people to continue the tradition of Purim into the future, writing letters to all the Jews in the land to persuade them to institute this new festival. And it worked.
Esther tells us to get involved with politics - if we want change, we have to fight for it. It tells us to fight for our voices to be heard in the highest of chambers, the innermost sanctum of the emperor. But crucially, it tells us not to abandon the leadership of women in a world which denies women rights.
Achashverus' world is one where he tries out all the virgins in the land before picking the one he liked the most. Where Vashti, the legitimate ruler of the empire, is cast away for refusing to obey the voice of her consort.
The Jewish world is one were women are leaders, where they have a voice and a right to be involved in the most crucial of political aims. It is clear that the Jewish people in exile respect the authority and voice of a woman, obeying her letters to keep Purim a festival for ever after.
This is a crucial message of Purim. It is no accident that megilla readings have been one of the first areas where orthodox women successfully asserted their desire to be involved in shul services.
This Shabbat, the first Shabbat of Adar Sheni, which is the month of Purim and the Shabbat after International Women's day, have a think about how you can incorporate the message of Purim into your life. Is there a cause you feel passionately about? Then get involved and change the world. If that cause is about women in Judaism, then World Union of Jewish Students are setting up a campaign to give a voice to all those who need it. You can find more information here.
Hannah Cowan is a first year history student at Durham University (UK). She spent a year studying at Midreshet Lindenbaum in Jerusalem and was involved in this years WUJS International Women's Day campaign.
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