If one was not familiar with the scroll of Esther, you might not expect her to speak up on behalf of her people. Mordechai warned her not to reveal that she was Jewish, and based upon the text, to appear before King Achashverosh without invitation could risk death. At the right moment, Esther recognized that this was why she was in the King’s harem, and used her power and influence to save her people. God put her in that place for that time.
The Biblical prophets were very important members of the Israelite society. They recognized the failings of humanity, and continuously chastened the people to follow God’s law and treat others as they would wish to be treated. Their moral voice and clarity of purpose continues to ring true today, particularly in the absence of modern day prophets. Where are they, the prophets of yore to speak up when the people fail? Certainly in my mind, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. filled that role of modern prophet. He reminded us all of our failings, and exhorted us, in magnificent oratory laced with quotes from the biblical prophets, that we had much work to do. So too did Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, which is why so many recall the famous photo of both of them marching side by side in Selma.
Alas, Dr. King was cut down in his prime (he would have turned 90 this year), and the power of his voice was silenced. His speeches continue to resonate, but the lack of a human presence makes it far more challenging. Where are the prophets of the 21st Century to remind us of our responsibilities to our fellow human beings? Who dares speak to us with a voice that is respected and heeded?
The list of societal ills is rather lengthy, and might seem daunting, but that never silenced the prophets, and it certainly did not silence Esther. As we are on the cusp of celebrating Purim, who will be our modern Esther(s) to speak up not only on behalf of the people, but also directly to the people? We could certainly use a biblical prophet today.