By Rabbi Adam J. Rosenbaum
Perhaps the most legendary manager in baseball history, Casey Stengel, once commented on how he prevented his New York Yankees teams from turning against him: “The secret of successful managing is to keep the five guys who hate you away from the four guys who haven’t made up their minds.”
Indeed, building and maintaining consensus is a never-ending struggle. The most successful leaders rarely stay in power without nurturing many key relationships. At the same time, those leaders realize that they will never have unanimous or even widespread approval.
This insight is key to understanding how, in the book of Esther, the heroic queen saves the Jewish people in the unlikeliest of fashions. According to Tal Davidovich in his book Esther, Queen of the Jews:
The position of Esther is possibly further indicated by the way the eunuchs behave towards her. She is treated better than the rest of the royal women. This is obvious both before and after her night with the king. It is not entirely clear, however, if this is due to any formal position or simply due to the personal relationships she developed.
Davidovich then explains that Esther’s strategy in winning over her husband is a different matter; rather than simply currying favor through camaraderie, she takes risks to win him over:
In the beginning, [King Ahahsuerus] appreciates her so much that he removes the title from Vashti and gives it to Esther instead. However, after getting what he wanted, it seems that he has no further interest in contacting Esther. Instead, she has to stay in the second house for those women who have already spent a night with the king. … But Esther broke free from this house: only by breaking the rule of awaiting the King’s call can she reach him again; only by making her own decision to approach him does she truly awaken the king’s passion and reach ultimate power.
Esther therefore wins favor within the entire royal apparatus by a combination of gentility and boldness. One cannot overemphasize how remarkable her actions are; in this male-dominated society in which women are essentially treated like objects, Esther seems to know when to turn on the charm and then when to break all the rules. One misstep could have led to her failure and the demise of the Persian Jewish population.
As leaders and shapers of the Jewish future, Esther’s success may or may not provide a blueprint for future action. But, just as Stengel’s quote reveals, her example reminds us that effecting change doesn’t mean that everyone has to love you, nor does it mean that you can act at will to achieve your goals. The key is to know when to keep the rules – and when to break them.
Adam J. Rosenbaum is rabbi of Temple Beth Tzedek, a LiNK educator, and grateful for the start of Spring Training