Esther by Sholem
If the Esther of the Bible was as beautiful a creature as the Esther
of my story, then it is no wonder she found favour in the eyes of King
Ahasuerus. The Esther of whom I am going to tell you was loved by
everybody, everybody, even by me and by my older brother Mottel,
although he was Bar-mitzvah long ago, and they were making up
a match for him, and he was wearing a watch and chain this good while.
(If I am not mistaken, he had already started to grow a beard at the
time I speak of.) And that my brother Mottel loves Esther, I am
positive. He thinks I do not know that his going to Cheder
every Sabbath to read with the teacher is a mere pretext, a yesterday's
day! The teacher snores loudly. The teacher's wife stands on the
doorstep talking with the women. We boys play around the room, and
Mottel and Esther are staringshe at him, and he at her. It sometimes
happens that we boys play at blind-man's-buff. Do you know what
blind-man's-buff is? Well, then I will tell you. You take a boy,
bandage his eyes with a handkerchief, place him in the middle of the
floor, and all the boys fly round him crying: Blindman, blindman,
Mottel and Esther also play at blind-man's-buff with us. They like
the game because, when they are playing it, they can chase one
anothershe him, and he her.
And I have many more proofs I could give you thatBut I am not that
I once caught them holding hands, he hers, and she his. And it was
not on the Sabbath either, but on a week-day. It was towards evening,
between the afternoon and the evening prayers. He was pretending to go
to the synagogue. He strayed into Cheder. Where is the
teacher? The teacher is not here. And he went and gave her his hand,
Esther, that is. I saw them. He withdrew his hand and gave me a
groschen to tell no one. I asked two, and he gave me two. I asked
three, and he gave me three. What do you thinkif I had asked four, or
five, or six, would he not have given them? But I am not that sort.
Another time, too, something happened. But enough of this. I will
rather tell you the real storythe one I promised you.
* * *
As I told you, my brother Mottel is grown up. He does not go to
Cheder any more, nor does he wish to learn anything at home. For
this, my father calls him Man of clay. He has no other name for him.
My mother does not like it. What sort of a habit is it to call a young
man, almost a bridegroom, a man of clay? My father says he is nothing
else but a man of clay. They quarrel about it. I do not know what other
parents do, but my parents are always quarrelling. Day and night they
If I were to tell you how my father and mother quarrel, you would
split your sides laughing. But I am not that sort.
In a word, my brother Mottel does not go to Cheder any
more. Nevertheless, he does not forget to send the teacher a Purim
present. Having been a pupil of his he sends him a nice poem in
Hebrew, illuminated with a Shield of David, and two paper roubles. With whom does he send this Purim present? With me, of
course. My brother says to me, Here, hand the teacher this Purim
present. When you come back, I will give you ten 'groschens.'
Ten groschens is money. But what then? I want the money now.
My brother said I was a heathen. Said I: It may be I am a heathen. I
will not argue about it. But I want to see the money, said I. Who do
you think won?
He gave me the ten groschens, and handed me the teacher's
Purim present in a sealed envelope. When I was going off, he thrust
into my hand a second envelope and said to me, in a quick whisper: And
this you will give to Esther. To Esther? To Esther. Any one else
in my place would have asked twice as much for this. But I am not that
* * *
Father of the Universe, thought I, when I was going off with the
Purim present, what can my brother have written to the teacher's
daughter? I must have a peeponly just a peep. I will not take a bite
out of it. I will only look at it.
And I opened Esther's letter and read a whole Book of Esther. I
will repeat what was there, word for word.
FROM MORDECAI TO ESTHER,
And there was a man, a young man in Shushanour village. His name
was Mordecai and he loved a maiden called Esther. And the maiden was
beautiful, charming. And the maiden found favour in his eyes. The
maiden told this to no one because Mottel had asked her not to. Every
day Mottel passes her house to catch a glimpse of Esther. And when the
time comes for Esther to get married, Mottel will go with her under the
* * *
What do you say to my brotherhow he translated the Book of
Esther? I should like to hear what the teacher will say to such a
translation. But how comes the cat over the water? Hush! There's a way,
as I am a Jew! I will change the letters, give the teacher's poem to
Esther, and Esther's letter to the teacher. Let him rejoice.
Afterwards, if there's a fine to do, will I be to blame? Don't all
people make mistakes sometimes? Does it not happen that even the
postmaster of our village himself forgets to give up letters? No such
thing will ever happen to me. I am not that sort.
* * *
Good 'Yom-tov,' teacher, I cried the moment I rushed into
Cheder, in such an excited voice that he jumped. My brother Mottel
has sent you a 'Purim' present, and he wishes you to live to
And I gave the teacher Esther's letter. He opened it, read it,
thought a while, looked at it again, turned it about on all sides, as
if in search of something. Search, search, I said to myself, and you
will find something.
The teacher put on his silver spectacles, read the letter, and did
not even make a grimace. He only sighedno more. Later he said to me:
Wait. I will write a few lines. And he took the pen and ink and
started to write a few lines. Meanwhile, I turned around in the
Cheder. The teacher's wife gave me a little cake. And when no one
was looking, I put into Esther's hand the poem and the money intended
for her father. She reddened, went into a corner, and opened the
envelope slowly. Her face burnt like fire, and her eyes blazed
dangerously. She doesn't seem to be satisfied with the 'Purim'
present, I thought. I took from the teacher the few lines he had
Good 'Yom-tov' to you, teacher, I cried in the same excited
voice as when I had come in. May you live to next year. And I was
When I was on the other side of the door, Esther ran after me. Her
eyes were red with weeping. Here, she said angrily, give this to
On the way home I first opened the teacher's letter. He was more
important. This is what was written in it.
MY DEAR AND FAITHFUL PUPIL, MORDECAI N.
I thank you many times for your 'Purim' present that you
have sent me. Last year and the year before, you sent me a real '
Purim' present. But this year you sent me a new translation of the
'Book of Esther.' I thank you for it. But I must tell you, Mottel, that
your rendering does not please me at all. Firstly, the city of Shushan
cannot be called 'our village.' Then I should like to know where it
says that Mordecai was a young man? And why do you call him Mottel?
Which Mottel? And where does it say he loved a maiden? The word
referring to Mordecai and Esther means 'brought up.' And your saying
'he will go with her under the wedding canopy' is just idiotic
nonsense. The phrase you quote refers to Ahasuerus, not to Mordecai.
Then again, it is nowhere mentioned in the 'Book of Esther' that
Ahasuerus went with Esther under the wedding canopy. Does it need
brains to turn a passage upside down? Every passage must have sense in
it. Last year, and the year before, you sent me something different.
This year you sent your teacher a translation of the 'Book of Esther,'
and a distorted translation into the bargain. Well, perhaps it should
be so. Anyhow, I am sending you back your translation, and may the Lord
send you a good year, according to the wishes of your teacher.
* * *
Well, that's what you call a slap in the face. It serves my brother
right. I should think he will never write such a Book of Esther
Having got through the teacher's letter, I must see what the
teacher's daughter writes. On opening the envelope, the two paper
roubles fell out. What the devil does this mean? I read the
letteronly a few lines.
Mottel, I thank you for the two 'roubles.' You may take them
back. I never expected such a 'Purim' present from you. I want
no presents from you, and certainly no charity.
Ha! ha! What do you say to that? She does not want charity. A nice
story, as I am a Jewish child! Well, what's to be done next? Any one
else in my place would surely have torn up the two letters and put the
money in his pocket. But I am not that sort. I did a better thing than
that. You will hear what. I argued with myself after this fashion: When
all is said and done, I got paid by my brother Mottel for the journey.
Then what do I want him for now? I went and gave the two letters to my
father. I wanted to hear what he would say to them. He would understand
the translation better than the teacher, though he is a father, and the
teacher is a teacher.
* * *
What happened? After my father had read the two letters and the
translation, he took hold of my brother Mottel and demanded an
explanation of him. Do not ask me any more.
You want to know the endwhat happened to Esther, the teacher's
daughter, and to my brother Mottel? What could have happened? Esther
got married to a widower. Oh, how she cried. I was at the wedding. Why
she cried so much I do not know. It seemed that her heart told her she
would not live long with her husband. And so it was. She lived with him
only one-half year, and died. I do not know what she died of. I do not
know. No one knows. Her father and mother do not know either. It was
said she took poisonjust went and poisoned herself. But it's a lie.
Enemies have invented that lie, said her mother, the teacher's wife. I
heard her myself.
And my brother Mottel? Oh, he married before Esther was even
betrothed. He went to live with his father-in-law. But he soon
returned, and alone. What had happened? He wanted to divorce his wife.
Said my father to him: You are a man of clay. My mother would not
have this. They quarrelled. It was lively. But it was useless. He
divorced his wife and married another woman. He now has two childrena
boy and a girl. The boy is called Herzl, after Dr. Herzl, and the girl
is called Esther. My father wanted her to be named Gittel, and my
mother was dying for her to be called Leah, after her mother. There
arose a quarrel between my father and mother. They quarrelled a whole
day and a whole night. They decided the child should be named
Leah-Gittel, after their two mothers. Afterwards my father decided he
would not have Leah-Gittel. What is the sense of it? Why should her
mother's name go first? My brother Mottel came in from the synagogue
and said he had named the child Esther. Said my father to him: Man of
clay, where did you get the name Esther from? Mottel replied: Have
you forgotten it will soon be 'Purim'? Well, what have you to
say now? It's all over. My father never calls Mottel man of clay
since then. But both of themmy mother and my fatherexchanged
glances and were silent.
What the silence and the exchange of glances meant I do not know.
Perhaps you can tell me?