Princess Zelda and Queen Esther: How the Legend of Zelda Helped Me Understand Purim.
Facing a towering dungeon boss, you already have what you need to be victorious.
The Legend of Zelda and the Book of Esther both center around women of royalty taken against their will and held captive. They also both involve big battles, drinks, and in more recent iterations of the video game, quite a bit of dress up. But on top of that, the two are even more connected than one might think.
Most versions of the Legend of Zelda are sprawling adventures that span the Kingdom of Hyrule. You control the silent protagonist, Link, as he ventures to save the captive Princess Zelda from the clutches of the evil Ganon. In addition to exploring the vast overworld, a critical component of the game are the dungeons. These elaborate labyrinths contain brooding enemies, complex puzzles, and ultimately a challenging bad guy at the end (usually referred to as “the boss”).
Bosses are often invulnerable to your regular attacks. You have to use your special weapon found in the dungeon. It could be a bow and arrow or a giant hammer; in one game it was a skateboard-like spinning top. Whatever the shiny new weapon is, you can be sure it will uncover and exploit the boss’s weakness and enable you to be victorious.
God provides the cure before the affliction.
The dungeons are designed in such a way that you can’t get to the boss without first finding this special weapon. When you walk in that room and the barred door slams shut behind you, you already have what you need to win the day. This is reminiscent of a Jewish maxim: God provides the cure before the affliction.
Jewish wisdom teaches that when you have a problem, look back to what you already have to find a solution. Whether it is your talents, tools, contacts, or other resources, something has been given to you for this very obstacle. And sometimes it's something that you've completely forgotten.
The source of this idea is from the Book of Esther. Is there a magical grogger? A hamantaschen that restores vitality and invincibility? Where does “God provides the cure before the affliction” come into play in the Purim story?
Amazingly, the cures in the Purim story actually first appear as a curses!
Haman’s decree to destroy the Jewish people results in uniting the Jewish people in fasting and praying, generating a wave of repentance that elevates their spiritual standing, making them worthy of returning to Israel and build the Second Temple.
The gallows Haman constructed for Mordechai’s execution ends up being the gallows from which Haman is hanged. And the abduction of Esther and subsequent marriage to King Achashverosh allows her to flip the whole situation around and turn the tables on Haman.
Esther is a role model for taking ownership of one’s destiny and doing whatever needs to be done to fight for her people, despite the risks and consequences.
Whereas Princess Zelda is stuck waiting for you (as Link) to save her, Queen Esther acts to save herself and the Jewish people. Recent incarnations of Zelda games have tried to break Zelda out of her damsel-in-distress role by elaborating on the character. The most popular entry in the franchise, Ocarina of Time, disguised Zelda as the mysterious Sheik. The most recent game, Breath of the Wild, tried to flesh out the character by having Link experience flashbacks to give Zelda a character arc. But neither attempts gave Princess Zelda what she really needed to become a developed character: growth.
Enter your dungeon
Esther, on the other hand, transitions from passive to active when she faces almost certain death and approaches the King in his forbidden chambers. She serves as a role model for the ages for taking ownership of one’s destiny and doing whatever needs to be done to fight for her people, despite the risks and consequences. That is true heroism.
As much as I love the Legend of Zelda, I find that the “cures” of the Esther story are far more profound because they come in the form of curses. Using a gift you’ve received to solve a problem is great. But to take something that you think is a detriment or obstacle and then use it to turn things around and create a success… that’s really the key to getting out of any dungeon, whether it’s a secret crypt under the Kakariko Village or being stuck in line at the DMV. And developing your inner character through confronting your challenges and finding solutions is something truly worthy of the title of Legend.