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In an attempt born of desperation, Mordechai instructed Esther to offer herself to Achashverosh, although she had not been ordered by the king himself to do so. Until the news of Haman's decree, Esther had not been with Achashverosh unless he requested her presence; this time she would come of her own free will. It was permitted because the future of the Jewish nation was at stake. (The rule of "Yehareg v'Al Ya'avor" did not apply, as the Gemara explains in Sanhedrin 74b.) All this was going through Esther's head as she advanced towards the throne room, praying silently all along that Hashem would put her favor in the eyes of the evil king whose golden scepter dictated the fate of those who appeared before him unbidden.

The Gemara in Megilah (15b) relates that on her way, Esther passed the palace room of idol worship. Suddenly she was all alone; the Divine Presence that had accompanied her until that point, giving her confidence, had left her. "My Hashem, my Hashem, why have you deserted me?" Esther cried out. "It is true that the act I am going to do is normally prohibited -- but are You comparing what is performed under duress ("Ones") to what is done willfully? Although I am going by choice, I am doing so only because I must save Your nation!" "Or perhaps, she continued, "You are upset with me for calling Achashverosh a dog ('Kelev Yechidasi,' Tehilim 22)? Then I shall make amends and call him a lion ('Hoshi'eni mi'Pi Aryeh,' ibid.)!" Apparently that worked; the Divine Presence returned to Esther and she approached the king with renewed confidence.

In what way did Esther "sin" by calling Achashverosh a dog? Why should belittling Achashverosh cause the Shechinah to depart from her? And in what way is calling Achashverosh a dog related to Esther's first concern, that Hashem was punishing her for what she did out of compulsion? RAV YAKOV EMDEN (in Megilah 15b) quotes his father, the CHACHAM TZVI, who offers the following beautiful answer.

The Mishnah in Bava Metzia 93b teaches that if a lion attacks sheep, the shepherd (who is a Shomer Sachar) is exempt from paying for the damages, since he is not expected to repel a lion; such an attack is considered an "Ones." However, if the sheep are attacked by a dog -- or even a number of dogs -- the shepherd is held liable for the damages, because it is not considered an Ones. A shepherd is capable of repelling dogs.

This, then, is what the Gemara in Megilah means. Esther had justified her actions by claiming that she was "Ones," acting under duress. But then she realized that she had called Achashverosh a dog. If she only considered him comparable to an attacking dog, her act should not be considered "Ones," as the Mishnah in Bava Metzia states! She immediately corrected her mistake, admitting that Achashverosh was more than just a "dog." Taking into account the extent of his domain and his nearly unlimited power, it was clearly more appropriate to compare him to a lion than to a dog. Esther was vindicated, and the Shechinah returned to her!

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