Central Characters in the Book of Esther


The heroine of the book bearing her name. From the moment King Ahasuerus of Persia chose her as his wife, she is known in the Megillah as Queen Esther.

The Megillah describes Esther as a naive young Jewess, but possessed of a heroic spirit. She used her cunning to cause a schism, tension, and jealousy between the king and Haman, one of his ministers. On this basis, the miracle occurred, and Esther is recorded by history as the person who saved the Jews of Persia from Haman's extermination plan.

Esther was previously known by the name Hadassah. Her father, Avihayil, was Mordekhai's uncle (brother of Mordekhai's father). After Esther's parents died, Mordekhai took her to live in his house and was responsible for her education.

Mordekhai (referred to in the Megillah as Mordekhai the Jew):

A member of the Jewish people, the source of his name is Babylonian. The name seems to be derived from the name of the Babylonian god, Mardukh, mentioned in Babylonian inscriptions of the Persian period. It is known that Jews living in the Babylonian exile, gave their children Babylonian names.

Mordekhai was a member of the tribe of Benjamin (Binyamin) and is therefore described in the Megillah as an "ish yemini". Mordekhai's family, the clan of Kish, was forced into exile along with those exiled with the Jewish king, Yehoyakhin, by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, 72 years before Ahasueruss ascent to the Persian throne.

Kish, one of Mordekhai's ancestors, was the father of King Saul. From here, we understand that Mordekhai was a descendant of the family of Saul, who fought against Amalek and its king Agag (I Samuel 15), some 500 years before. Haman, described as "the Agagite", was, according to our Sages, a descendant of Agag, king of Amalek. Accordingly, after the passage of many generations, history brought about another fateful confrontation between Mordekhai and Haman, the descendants of two eternal enemies. The book of Esther describes the continuation of the historic struggle, and its successful resolution with the victory of the Jews over the Amalekite.


King of Persia and Mede. He reigned over 127 countries from India to Nubia. Ahasuerus was the son of Darius I, and grandson of Cyrus. He is usually identified with the Persian king, Xerxes who reigned from 486-465 B.C.E.

Ahasuerus is described as a king not particularly tolerant of the peoples of his kingdom. He also treated his Jewish subjects badly. In the Megillah he is described as wishy-washy and lacking character, unable to decide for himself, and in need of his aides' advice at every turn. The atmosphere of his court was alien to Judaism--waste and ostentation, opulence and bacchanalian feasts. His regime is portrayed as arbitrary, dependent on the king's mood at any given time. Important decisions that determined the fate of individuals and nations were taken by the king at drunken feasts in an atmosphere of frivolity and decadence.

Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite:

Chief minister of King Ahasuerus. Haman suggested that the king exterminate all Jews living in the Persian Empire on a single day, the thirteenth of the month of Adar. According to the Sages of the Talmud, Haman was cowardly and hesitant, though in the Megillah he is portrayed as a courageous and clever minister. 2 Ibid.

Exercise: Teacher Focus

What dramatic change occurred in the life of each of the four central characters of the Megillah, and in the lives of the Jews of the time?

Use the sources cited to fill in the table: Quote from the parallel or similar verses at the beginning and the end of the Megillah. These verses highlight the changes that occurred to the principals listed.

  Early Source Quote End Source Quote
Figure from the Megillah        
Ahasuerus Esther 3:10   Esther 8:10  
Haman Esther 5:14   Esther 7:10  
Mordekhai Esther 4:1   Esther 8:15  
Esther Esther 2:20   Esther 7:3  
The Jews Esther 4:3   Esther 8:16  

Traditions of the Holiday:

In Esther 9:20-22, we read:

Then Mordekhai set these things on record and sent letters to all the Jews in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, far and near, binding them to keep the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month Adar, year by year, as the days on which the Jews obtained relief from their enemies and as the month which was changed for them from sorrow into Joy, from a time of mourning to a holiday. They were to keep them as days of feasting and joy, days for sending presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.

In verse 28 of the same chapter, we read:

And these days are remembered and kept, generation after generation, in every family, province, and city--that the days of Purim always be observed among the Jews, and that the memory of them never cease among their descendants.

Teacher Focus Questions:

Read the preceding passages carefully.

  • Which words suggest the commandment of reading the Megillah?
  • What other commandments are mentioned?




Translated from the Russian language pilot series of educational modules from the Jewish Agency CIS Syllabus Project [1996]:
Purim in the context of attitudes towards Jews and Jewish attitudes towards their persecutors.
General Editor: David Pur
Project Director: Yossi Pnini
Production: Dvorah David-Shwartz, Meir Levinov [MIR]
Internet Editor: Gila Ansell Brauner
English Version: Chaim Mayerson
With the support of: The L. A. Pincus Fund for Jewish Education in the Diaspora
& In cooperation with: The Israel Ministry for Education & Culture




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15 Jun 2005 / 8 Sivan 5765 0