Esther and Moses are both children of (or in Esther's case, related to) the leaders of their generation, Mordechai and Amram respectively. They both have their true names, Hadassah and Tuvia, and secondary names (although perhaps more important), Esther and Moses. They are both taken from their houses and brought to the royal palace, where they are chosen against all odds to represent their people. Moses is raised as a son to Bithia and by extension Pharoah, perhaps becoming a Prince of Egypt, while Esther becomes Ahaseurus' Queen. Both of them seem to hide their identities, Esther, because she is charged to do so, and Moses, because he dresses in Egyptian fashion and carries himself in that way. In perhaps the high point of their careers, they both put their lives in danger when they walk toward the King, Moses because he is returning from exile when he was to have been put to death for his crime, and Esther because it is death to come before the King unsummoned. And in both scenarios, they are the ones who must save their people.
Tangential to these points, there is also the fact that evil advisors and good advisors are significant players in both stories (although by Pharoah, Bilam, Jethro and Job are only mentioned in a Midrash, while in the Megillah, Haman, Memuchan and Charbonah are written about in the very text.)
The great distinction between Esther and Moses lies in the techniques they utilize when attempting to help their people. Esther was originally charged by Mordechai not to reveal her Jewish origin or birth (Esther 2: 10). She refrains from doing so for as long as possible, but when Mordechai informs her it is her duty- and it seems that she needs persuading, for he warns her that if she does not fulfill her destiny, "relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but thou and thy father's house will perish" (Esther 4: 14), she dons royalty and appears before the King in the inner court. He extends his golden scepter to her and bids her approach; when she does so she creates the setting for a clever game, a deadly tea party. Esther has clearly mastered the art of diplomacy; she will create a situation that is conducive to her petition, and it is only then that she will ask it, in words that are meant to gain the King's pity and compassion.
Moses is quite different. Rather than engaging in any diplomatic sort of meeting with either Bithia his adoptive mother or Pharoah, his grandfather, he goes out unto his brethren and mingles with them, sharing their burdens and their pain. He does not enjoy the sly games and clever exchanges of diplomats; this easy exchange of words does not come naturally for one such as him. After all, is he not "slow of speech, and of a slow tongue?" (Exodus 4: 10) Moses is hotheaded, his actions impulsive; he acts without considering the full ramifications of his actions.
- 11 And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown up, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren. 12 And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he smote the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.
It is peculiar that the Midrash ascribes Moses a role in the proceedings that was diplomatic, and that did not involve his actually visiting his brethren in efforts to help him. Here, Moses takes on a more legislative role:
- The royal favor, which the king accorded him in ever- increasing measure, he made use of to lighten the burden laid upon the children of Israel. One day he came into the presence of Pharaoh, and said: "O my lord, I have a request to make of thee, and my hope is that thou wilt not deny it." "Speak," replied the king. "It is an admitted fact," said Moses, "that if a slave is not afforded rest at least one day in the week, he will die of overexertion. Thy Hebrew slaves will surely perish, unless thou accordest them a day of cessation from work." Pharaoh fulfilled the petition preferred by Moses, and the king's edict was published in the whole of Egypt and in Goshen, as follows: "To the sons of Israel! Thus saith the king: Do your work and perform your service for six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest; on it ye shall do no labor. Thus shall ye do unto all times, according to the command of the king and the command of Moses the son of Bithiah." And the day appointed by Moses as the day of rest was Saturday, later given by God to the Israelites as the Sabbath day. [ footnote72, which is Shemos Rabbah 1: 28, Yashar Shemot, 133a, Shibbole Haleket 55-56]
Esther, on the other hand, is not a particularly passionate, reckless, active creature. Indeed, she is far more measured; she deals in practicalities and realities as opposed to rash anger. When she is informed of a plot to kill the king, she tells it over "in Mordecai's name" (Esther 2: 22), perhaps thinking of how this will aid him, perhaps simply acting the dutiful daughter. Later, although she is deeply pained by the appearance of Mordechai at the gate, her first response is not to inquire as to why he is there, or what his message may be, but to send "raiment to clothe Mordecai; and to take his sackcloth from off him; but he accepted it not" (Esther 4: 4). She does not wish to act; indeed, she does not even ask in order to determine how she should act, and whether he desires clothes- she simply sends them, for no daughter should see a father thus disgraced. The text never suggests that she exerted any effort in an attempt to seduce Ahaseurus; rather, she "obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins" (Esther 2: 17). Esther is a more passive creature; she does what she is told. She appears before the King, and passively wins his regard. She refrains from telling the King about her birth and people because Mordechai has told her not to do so, and she obeys. When Mordechai informs her that she must go before the King unsummoned, although she is afraid for her life, she reverts to what she has always done, which is to obey Mordechai, and obeys him here as well. It is possible, then, that her diplomacy could be seen as a weakness; she uses words as weapons because she does not dare to truly act. On the other hand, it could simply reflect on her status as a woman, and thus someone who truly has no other ability to make her will known.
It's interesting to compare the respective walks of Moses and Esther. Both of them go before Kings who have every reason to kill them. Both of them must be coerced into doing so (God literally forces Moses to act as a leader, and sends Aaron along for moral support, while Mordechai informs Esther that she must act now if she does not wish to be utterly destroyed.) There is a famous Midrash about Moses' walk to Pharoah:
- Thereupon Moses invited the elders to go to Pharaoh with him, but they lacked the courage to appear before the king. Though they started out with Moses, they dropped off stealthily on the way, one by one, and when Moses and Aaron stood in the presence of the king, they found themselves alone, deserted by all the others. The elders did not go out free. Their punishment was that God did not permit them to ascend the holy mountain with Moses. They durst accompany him on the way to God only as far as they had accompanied him on the way to Pharaoh, and then they had to tarry until he came again.[ footnote 153, Shemos Rabbah 5: 13-14]