What is it:
Purim is named for the Pur, a lot used in gambling. Purim is the plural of
pur, that is to say, Lots. The holiday is called Purim because the Arch Villain, Haman,
the Snidley Whiplash of our story cast lots to determine the day of annihilation of all the
Jews in the kingdom of King Ahausharus. I think everyone is familiar with the story in
which Queen Esther convinces King Ahausharus (Xerxes I) to allow the Jews in his
kingdom extending from Hodu to Cush, that is from India to Ethiopia, to kill their enemy
Haman and his family and followers before Haman could carry out the sentence (he had
convinced the King to seal and send to all 127 provinces) that he had prescribed for the
Jews. Mordechai, Esther’s guardian (her uncle or some say first cousin) was made grand
visier and everyone (except Haman and his guys who ended up being real “swingers”)
lived happily ever after. These events are reputed to have occurred in the 4th century
BCE, specifically during Xerxes’ reign from 485-465 BCE and were to have been
recorded in the Annals of the King at that time. Of note of interest is that the mention
of Mordechai in the Megillah Esther is the first recorded instance of our people being
called Jews: "There was a Jewish man in Shushan the capital, whose name was
Mordechai the son of Yair. a Benjaminite" (Esther 2:5
). Is there any reason to
suspect this story to have been true? Is is mentioned by Josephus in his Antiquities XI:],
vi, 11 in which he states that he “cannot forbear to admire G-d, and to learn hence His
wisdom and His justice”. Other than this statement, we have, at present, no other
verifiable sources, although its authorship has been ascribed in Talmud to the men of the
Grest Synagogue (Baba Basra 15a) and by Rashi and others to Mordechai himself. All
we can say today is that the author was most likely a Persian Jew.
How do we do it:
Purim is one of the most joyous holidays in the Jewish calendar and
is one of the few holidays which are expected to be celebrated after the coming of the
Mashiach. It is celebrated with much joy and irreverence. The Megillah (scroll of
Esther) is read and Haman’s name is drowned out by noise makers and stamping of feet.
Some communities produce a “Purimshpeel” which is a play which makes fun of the
officials of the community, teachers and rabbis. Sometimes a child is elected to be the
leader of the community for the day. Gifts of already prepared foods, ready to eat, are
given to friends (Shaloach Manot) which consist of two sweets or one sweet and one
fruit. What are the requirements for a kosher celebration:
• Hear the Megillah Esther read (this means hearing each and every word.
• Giving Mattanot l’Evyanoim (gifts of food or money to the poor).
• Drinking sufficient alcohol so that one is unable to distinguish between the
phrases “cursed by Haman” and “blessed be Mordachai”.
• Enjoy a large festive meal “se’udah” during which hamantashen are served for
• A special prayer “Al ha’nisim” is included in the grace after meals (Birkat
ha’Mason) and during the Shemoneh Esrei.
This is a typical Jewish holiday in the “they tried to kill us; we won; let’s eat” mode.
What is unusual about this holiday
• G-d’s name is not mentioned at all in the Megillah. How can we account for
this? We thinks that the author of the text was a Persian Jew with considerable knowledge of Persian court behavior. Perhaps G-d was not mentioned because the author relates the story in the form of a letter published in all the Jewish communities of the then known world, after the event had occurred and that, because the letter might be intercepted by non-Jews who would treat it as a common letter, G-d’s nome should not be included out of respect for H’shem. Others have pointed out that since this document was included in the annals of the Persian court, the scribes would have not dared for the Jewish G-d to be elevated above the king. For whatever reason, G-d goes unmentioned, but not un-noticed in this story. Midrashim have pointed out that G-d is the prime mover in this saga and it is G-d who causes the King to do what takes place in it. It is said the “the axe doesn’t fell a tree, but the wielder of the axe is the cause” just as it is G-d and G-d alone who is responsible for saving us in Sushan.
• Another unusual feature is that Purim is not celebrated on the 14th of Adar in
all cities. In walled cities (Jerusalem, Hebron and Safed) it is celebrated one day later on Sushan Purim, the 15th of Adar (see Megillot Esther 9, 18-19). Thus it is possible to have two separate celebrations in Israel.
• Purim is one of the two Rabbinical Festivals (the other being Hanukkah). It is
regarded as less important than the days specified in Torah, so generally, one can continue to work on this holiday. Maimonides observed that “even if all the festivals should be annulled in the Messianic Era, Purim will never be annulled” since it is such a perfect example of the Jewish community being protected by divine providence.
Finally, what can we learn from Purim
• G-d helps us, but only when we help ourselves.
• It’s important to treat women whit respect as equals to men.
• Anti-Semitism is nothing new and continues to pursue us up to this present
Telushkin, J. Jewish Literacy, William Morrow and C. 1991
2. Cohen, A. The Five Megilloth , Soncino Press 1984 3.
Bronstein, H.N. and Friedlander, A.H., The Five Scrolls, CCAR Press 1984
Eisenberg, R.L., JPS Guide Jewish Traditions, JPS 2008
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