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Esther, the Mishkan, and the “Divine Miss M”

A question was brought: Why do we read about the building of the Mishkan, or Tabernacle, in the month of Adar, when Purim falls?

What does the Tabernacle have to do with Purim? And further, why is Hadassah called Esther? And why is Bette Midler referred to as “The Divine Miss M”?

Rabbi Lina opened:
This question has deep meaning. Purim and the Tabernacle are intimately connected. The Book of Esther takes place in the palace of the king. While you might think that the “palace of the king” is a metaphor for the Mishkan, it is not. It only points to it. The power in the Persian palace rests not with the king, who is easily manipulated by those around him, but in both of his queens, Vashti and Esther, who know their own minds and take decisive action. This is why the Book is called Esther, and not Ahashverosh.

So why is Hadassah called Esther?
Hadassah is Esther’s real name, as we are told in the Book of Esther (2:7). Esther is the name Hadassah is called outside of the Jewish community. If this seems unusual, consider Betty Joan Perske (Lauren Bacall), Issur Danielovich (Kirk Douglas), Bernice Frankel (Bea Arthur). But why did she choose the name Esther? Esther is a version of the name Ishtar, the goddess and lead divinity of the region.

Ishtar is also known as Astarte, and, when later adopted by Greeks and Romans, Aphrodite and Venus. She is the goddess of love and fertility and sexuality. She was known as the Queen of Heaven throughout ancient Mesopotamia. Why would Hadassah choose this name, the name of a goddess, for her public name? This is another deep secret. And המבין יבין/hameivin yavin/if you understand, you understand – if not, there’s no explaining it to you.

What does this have to do with Jews?
Ancient women worshipped Ishtar, baking small cakes in her image. There is archeological evidence found in Mari, a site in northwest Mesopotamia, where several clay molds in the image of a nude female figure were found. Israelite women did as well. How do we know this? Because the Bible tells us so! “The children gather sticks, the fathers build the fire, and the mothers knead dough, to make cakes for the Queen of Heaven” (Jeremiah 7:18). And, lest you deem this an insult by a disapproving prophet, the Israelite women speak in their own words: “We will fulfill the vows which we made, to burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and to pour libations to her” (Jeremiah 44:17) and, if you think it was only the women who worshipped the Queen of Heaven, they say: “Do you suppose that we were burning incense and pouring out liquid offering to the queen of heaven, and making cakes marked with her image, without our husbands knowing it and helping us? Of course not!” (Jeremiah 44:19).

Therefore, Esther is Ishtar, Goddess of Love, and Hadassah means Myrtle: our heroine is Fertile Myrtle! And the cakes that we still bake for her holiday, that are called Hamantaschen, are Queen of Heaven cakes. They were not always called hamantaschen – Haman’s hats or ears or whatever you think belongs to Haman. They were, are, and have always been mahn taschen, poppyseed pockets. Triangular cakes filled with life-giving seeds. Calling them hamantaschen is a ruse to disguise the reality that we are eating cookies that represent the womb of the world. These are Esther’s cookies, not Haman’s!

And how is any of this related to The Divine Miss M?
Listen to Bette Midler sing Come on a-My House. You might think this song is about a woman enticing a lover. It is not. The singer is the Shekhinah, also known as the Queen of Heaven. The house is the Tabernacle. It is also the heart (“build Me a Tabernacle and I will dwell within them” – Exodus 25:8). She sings to each of us: Come to My House and I will give you everything. Everything! Everything!

The Zohar connects this when it teaches: רחמנא ליבא בעי/rakhmana liba ba-ei: The Womb of the World desires the Heart. When we eat womb cookies, we symbolize giving Her our hearts.

The Divine Miss M teaches us that the Shekhinah calls us back to our Source, to the original Garden, where we could eat the fruits together and give each other our hearts and everything.

Rabbi Lina Zerbarini serves Kehillath Shalom Synagogue in Cold Spring Harbor. She has served as the Suffolk County Human Rights Commissioner, Secretary of the Huntington Anti-Bias Task Force, member of the Huntington Interfaith Council. Previously, Rabbi Zerbarini was Director of Jewish Life and Learning at the Sid Jacobson JCC, Associate Rabbi at Yale Hillel and Director for Domestic Affairs and Rabbinic Consultant at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia. A graduate of Barnard College and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, she has served on the leadership of Boards of Rabbis in each community she has lived, including as President of the Long Island Board of Rabbis. A student and teacher of Torah, yoga and meditation, she seeks to build relationships and communities of mindfulness, connection and caring.

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