Esther (In honor of Purim)
Sholem Aleykhem

Now I'll tell you: not a tale about the classroom, about the Rebbe, and not about the Rebbe's wife. I have already told you of them enough times. Perhaps I will be allowed this time, in honor of Purim, to tell you a story about the Rebbe's daughter, Esther.


If the Esther of the Megile was such a beauty as the Esther that I am telling of here, it's no wonder that she gained the admiration of every one. Everybody loved her. Everyone, everyone, even I, and even my older brother, Motl. Although he was long past his Bar Mitzvah, and our parents had for a long time spoken of marriage matches. And he already had a pocket watch with a chain. (If I am not mistaken, at that time he had sprouted a little beard.) And that my older brother, Motl, loved her — ask me. I will tell you exactly. He thinks that I didn't know that he went every Sabbath afternoon to the classroom, as it were to study a verse with the Rebbe — it was nothing of the kind. The Rebbe snores to raise the dead. The Rebbitsn gossips with the women out on the bench. And we kheder boys play “mem-shin-hey”. And Motl and Esther look with big eyes: he at her and she at him. And occasionally it happens that we kheder boys are just playing “blind-man's bluff”. Do you know what “blind-man's bluff” is? Here, I will tell you what it is. They take you and they bind your eyes with a scarf. Then they place you in the middle of the room, and twirl around you while singing to you: “ger — ger — ger — grab me!”

Motl and Esther also play “blind-man's bluff” with us. They say they like it. I don't know why they like it. Because when they play “blind-man's bluff” with us they continue chasing and catching each other.

And a lot more signs I have which I could recount and recount for you. But I am not that kind of person. ...

One time I caught them when they were holding hands. Actually not on Sabbath; actually on a weekday. It happened before nightfall. It was between minkhah and mayriv. He, as it were, went into the synagogue. He wandered to us in the classroom. “Where is the Rebbe?” “The Rebbe is not here.” And he goes and gives her his hand, to Esther, that is. I stand and look. She removes her hand. He gives me a groshn so I won't tell anyone. I say “two”. He gives me two. I say “three” — he gives me three. You know what? If I would have said “four”, he would have given me four. And “five” and “six”? But I am not that kind of person. ...

One more time an event occurred ... but enough of stories. Let me better tell you the real story that I promised you.


My brother, Motl, as I have told you is already an adult. He no longer goes to kheder to study. That's why Father calls him “scoundrel”. Mother does not stand for this. What kind of label is “scoundrel” for a young man, almost adult, ready to be a groom? But father says: “He is, after all, a scoundrel.” They argue. I don't know about other parents. My parents argue continually. Day and night, night and day they argue.

If I were to tell you how my parents argue, you would hold your sides. But I am not that kind of person. ...

Anyhow, my brother no longer studies in the kheder. Nevertheless, he does not forget to send shalakh-mones to the Rebbe every Purim. After all, he once was a student. So he sends him a beautiful poem written in Hebrew with a drawn Star of David, along with two paper rubles as a gift. With whom does one send the Rebbe such a shalakh-mones? Naturally with me. So my brother says to me: “Here, take the Rebbe shalakh-mones. And when you come back, I will give you ten groshn.” Ten groshn is a pretty penny, one can't deny. But so what? I want, I say, the money right now. So my brother says that I am a smart aleck. “It might be, I say, that I am a smart aleck. I don't want to quarrel with you, but I want to see the money.” Who do think won out?

Having paid me the promised ten groshn, he gives me the Rebbe's shalakh-mones, a letter with a seal. And as I am just about to leave, he puts into my hand another letter and says to me quick and quietly: “And this you will give to Esther.” “To Esther?” “To Esther.” ... Somebody else in my place would immediately ask twice as much for such a favor. But I am not that kind of person. ...


— “Dear God!” I think going with the shalakh-mones — “what can my brother be writing to my Rebbe's daughter? One must certainly take a look. Not more than just a look, and not a bite off it …” So I open the letter for Esther, and I read a whole Megile. You will hear as I give it to you word for word.

From Mordecai to Esther

“Ish— a person, yehudi — a youth, hayah — was, b'shushan habiro — in our town, u'sh'moy mordekhay — his name is Motl. va'yehi omeyn — he loved hadassah — this little Hadassah — is Esther. v'hana'aro — and that girl, yefas — has a beautiful appearance — toyer — a beauty. vatitav hana'aro — and that girl pleased him. loy higido ester — Esther tells no one. ki mordekhay — because Mordecai, tsivo oleho, made her promise, asher loy sagid, she should not tell. u'vkhol yoym vayoym — every day, mordekhay mis'haleykh — motl passes by, loda'as sh'lom ester — to take a look at Esther. uv'higiyo tor ester — and when the time for Esther, bas avikhayil — she will have to marry. vatilokakh ester — he will take Esther, vayamlikheho — and he will go with her — takhas vashti — under the khupah.”

What do you think of my brother and how he translated the Megile? I would love to discover what, for example, the Rebbe would say about such an interpretation. But how does the cat cross over the river? Wait! There is a way, as I am a Jew! I will mix them up: The Rebbe's poem I will give Esther, and Esther's Megile I will give the Rebbe to enjoy. So, after this will there be a set-to? Am I to blame? Doesn't it happen that a person makes a mistake? Now the postman might sometimes fail to deliver a letter. For me such things will never happen. I am not such a person ...


— “Good yontef, Rebbe!” I enter the classroom with such a rush that the Rebbe jumps up — “my older brother has sent you a shalakh-mones, and wishes for you that you should live another year.”

I go and hand over the Rebbe the Megile. He opens it up, looks, thinks, peers, and turns it in all directions. He's clearly looking for something else. “Look, look,” I think. “You'll find something there!”

So my Rebbe puts on his silver glasses, reads through the Megile and — you would expect, he would even make a face. But he only gave a sigh, not more. After that he says to me: “Wait here. I will write you a few words.” In the meantime I take a turn around the classroom, take from the Rebbitsn a little cake with a fruit cake. And in between, when no one is looking, I give into Esther's hand the Rebbe's poem with the shalakh-mones. She becomes flushed, hides in a corner, opens the letter slowly, and starts burning like a light. And her eyes burn with mortal danger. “Apparently not pleased with the shalakh-mones” — I think to myself, and I go to the Rebbe, who gives me “the few words” that he had written.

— “Good yontef to you, Rebbe!” I say with the same energy as when I came in. “May you live out the year!” And I go home.

As soon as I'm on the other side of the door, Esther runs after me with red, crying eyes: “Here ” — she says to me in anger, “give this to your brother!”

On the way, I first open the Rebbe's little letter; the Rebbe comes first. Here is what is written there: “To my beloved and loyal student, Mordecai, may his candle shine! I thank you very much for the shalakh-mones which you have sent me. Last year and the year before you really sent me shalakh-mones, actual shalakh-mones. This year you sent me a new commentary on the Megile. I thank you for the Megile. But I must tell you, Motl, that this interpretation does not even begin to please me. First of all, shushan habiro is the capital city, not, as you say, “our town”. And secondly, I would like to know where does it say that Mordecai was a youth? And why do you call him Motl? What kind of a Motl? And where do you get that “omeyn” means “loved?” The word “omeyn” means “raised”, from the phrase “omeyn pedagog: raised as a teacher.” And what you translate: “vayamlikheho takhas vashti” — and that he would take her under the khupah — this sounds wild and senseless. First of all, “and he made her queen” refers to Akhashveros, not to Mordecai. And secondly, it is not mentioned anywhere in the Megile that Akhashveros went with Esther under a khupah. Is this some sort of joke, to take a verse and twist it like crazy? Each interpretation has to have a method. Last year and the year before that, you sent me something different. This year it pleased you to send your Rebbe an interpretation of the Megile, a twisted one at that. Well, why not? Perhaps it must be so. Therefore I send back your Megile, and may God give you a good year, as your Rebbe wishes for you.

Now that's really rubbing it in! A good deed for my brother! I think he will no longer write such Megiles.

Finished with the Rebbe's letter, one now has to take a look at what she writes, the Rebbe's daughter, that is. I open up her letter, and the two coins fall out. What kind of misfortune is this? I read it over — in total two lines:

“Motl, I thank you for the two coins. You can have them back. Such a shalakh-mones I did not expect from you. I do not want any gifts from you, and no handouts for sure.”

Ha-ha. What do you say to that? She doesn't want any handouts. A nice story, as I am a Jewish child. In short, what does one do further? Another one in my place would probably tear up both letters and put the money in his pocket. Two figs he would bring home, not two coins. But I am not that kind of person. Rather, I did something nicer. You will hear. I considered the matter thus: Compensation for the trip I have already received from my brother, Motl — so why do I need any more? So I go and give both letters to Father. I will listen to what Father will say. He will better understand the Megile than my Rebbe, although Father is a father, and the Rebbe is a Rebbe.


What happened when Father had read over both letters with the Megile? He took hold of my brother, Motl, and took him to task, demanding he explain what was going on here. Don't ask. If I wanted to impersonate my brother, Motl, I would have needed to say, using the language and intonation of the Megile:

“And the City Shushan was be-wil-dered!”

But that is not the essential point. You would certainly want to know the ending of this story: What came of the Rebbe's daughter and of my brother, Motl? What should have happened? Nothing. Esther got married. A widower took her. Oh! Did she cry! I was at her wedding. Actually, why did she cry so much — I don't know. I guess her heart told her that her marriage would not last for long. And thus it was. She lived with him altogether a half year, and then she died. From what — I can't tell you. I don't know. No one knows. The Rebbe and his wife don't know either. People said that she poisoned herself, that she simply went and took some poison. But it's a lie. “Enemies dreamed that up.” That's what I heard from the Rebbitsn herself.

And my brother, Motl? Aha! He got married first. Even before Esther got engaged. He travelled to be with his father-in-law. But he soon came back, actually alone. What was the story? He wanted a divorce. Father told him “You are a scoundrel.” But Mother would not stand for this. So they quarrelled. It was jolly. Nevertheless, nothing helped. He divorced her and got married to another. He even had two small children: a little boy, and a little girl. The boy's name was Hertzl, after Dr. Hertzl. And the little girl was named Esther. Father said she should be named Gitl, after his mother, granny Gitl. And mother wanted, was dying for, naming her Leahtsi, after her mother, granny Leah. So a quarrel arose between my parents. An entire day and night they quarreled. It ended up that the child should be called Leah-Gitl. Enough! Father reconsidered. He didn't want Leah-Gitl. “What's the problem?” Why does she get to put her mother's name first?” My brother Motl comes back from the synagogue, and announces that he has actually named her Esther. So Father says to him: “Scoundrel! Where do you get the name Esther from?” Motl answers him: “Did you forget that we will soon celebrate Purim?” Well, what would you say to him? Enough! We no longer hear “scoundrel” from father. But father and mother look at each other in a queer way, and they say nothing.

What did this look and this silence mean? I don't know. Perhaps you know?