The holiday of Purim is slowly creeping up on us and Israel has already started its preparations! Costume stores have popped up on nearly every corner, hamentashen (a triangle shaped cookie stuffed with something sweet) have made their appearance in bakeries, and people have begun considering what to put in their Mishloach Manot– traditional gift baskets– and what to make for their Seudah– festive meal.
While it all sounds fun, and it really is, what is the story behind this day of celebration?
The Jewish day starts at sunset, meaning so does the holiday! Purim starts off with the reading of Megillat Esther- the Scroll of Esther– both at sunset and after morning prayers the next day. Megillat Esther is not only the story of the Jewish queen Esther, but of also how the Jewish people were saved from a horrible plot and the hidden work of G-d, as His name is never mentioned in the story.
The story begins in Persia, where the king, Achashveirosh, hosts parties for his empire, and invites his wife to sit besides him. She refuses to come to King Achashveirosh’s party which leads to her execution and the King is in need of a new queen. All the eligible women in the kingdom make their way over to Shushan, the capital of Persia at the time, which includes a Jewish woman named Esther. Esther has been living with a relative of her’s, Mordechai, and the two decide that she must not share her Jewish identity with the king. Mordechai would still come to visit Esther at the palace. One day, Mordechai overheard two servants discussing how to murder King Achashveirosh, and immediately reported it to Esther, who told the king. The king was grateful for Mordechai’s actions.
Ultimately, Esther was chosen to be the queen, and Mordechai helped her out along the way with whatever she needed. However, Haman, King Achashveirosh’s advisor, disliked the fact that Mordechai would never bow whenever he passed by, as would the rest of the Persian Kingdom. Haman grew to dislike the Jewish people and convinced the king that all the Jewish people should be executed on the 13th of Adar. Esther and Mordechai find out about this evil scheme and decide to take action.
Esther hosts a private party and invites King Achashveirosh and Haman, as a way to continuously gain their trust, but Haman’s hatred towards the Jews continues to grow the more he sees Mordechai, and the more Mordechai refuses to bow. This hatred becomes even worse when King Achashveirosh decides to honor Mordechai for saving his life, and have Haman parade Mordechai around town, dressed in royal clothing and on the king’s horse. Haman believe he deserves this position and he begins to prepare the gallows to hang Mordechai on.
Queen Esther then hosts another party with King Achashveirosh and Haman, but this time, Esther announces her heritage and how Haman is plotting to kill the Jewish people of Persia. King Achashveirosh is shocked and angered by Haman’s plans and ultimatly send Haman to his death. The king chooses to back the Jews and demands that they protect themselves against those who wanted to kill them. On the 13th of Adar, the Jews fight for their right to live and celebrate victory on the 14th, which is today Purim.
Those who were in the walled capital of Shushan had an extra day of fighting and celebrated on the 15th. Adar 15 is still commemorated as a day of victory in walled cities such as Jerusalem, where Purim is celebrated a day later.
Today, Purim is celebrated as a hidden miracle, which is why everyone is in costume. Hamentashen are eaten to remember Haman’s triangular shaped hats and a festive meal takes place with family and friends to celebrate this miraculous story. We take the time to show care for one another as Esther did with the Jewish people by sending gift baskets to our loved ones. This is a day full of fun but one must also take the time to remember the seriousness of the occasion, as we listen to the story not once, but twice.