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Midrash Esther IX: That’s Funny! Print E-mail

EstherAs Rabbi Akiva was once sitting and expounding, his disciples became drowsy. In order to rouse them, he said: How did Esther merit to reign over 127 provinces? Because, thus said God: “Let Esther, the descendent of Sarah, who lived a hundred and 27 years, come and reign over 127 provinces.”

I can't imagine sitting at the feet of Rabbi Akiva and listening to his teaching and falling asleep. Okay, perhaps it happens even to the best! This Midrash is usually described as the Rabbi using the joke to wake his students. However, I see a different sort of lesson:

Rabbi Akiva is teaching his students the cost of drowsing off while studying Torah. One may miss subtle hints to profound concepts. One may read that Esther became queen over the kingdom of hundred and 27 provinces and say, “how interesting!” However, points out Rabbi Akiva, we cannot take even a number in the Bible for granted. We must look for that same number somewhere else and is that parallel we will find an important lesson. In order to understand Esther, we must re-examine the life of Sarah.

Sarah, much like Esther, is first described as following the lead of her husband, Abraham. However, Sarah soon becomes the leader in a number of important situations. She is so significant, that God instructs Abraham, “All that Sarah says to you listen to her voice!”

The docile, cooperative Esther, becomes much more in her story. It is she who leads the way to deal with Achashveirosh and to prepare the Jews for the future.

The book of Esther begins with the story of Vashti, the battle of the sexes, much as we can read the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs as stories of the profound differences played by men and women in the development of our nation.
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