The Purim story revolves around the Book of Esther – Megilat Esther; which is a part of the third section of the Tanach – Ketuvim. (Abbreviated from an article in MyJewishLearning.com)
Purim in a nutshell
- King Ahasuerus of Persia dethrones Queen Vashti.
- Esther, a Jewess, is crowned queen after winning a beauty contest.
- Mordechai, Esther’s uncle, uncovers a plot to kill the king and reports it.
- In the meantime, King Ahasuerus promotes Haman – one of the countries ministers, making him more powerful than all the others.
- Haman demands that everyone bow down before him.
- Mordechai, a confident of the king, refuses to bow before Haman
- After this Haman decrees to destroy the Jews
- Mordechai appeals to Esther to save her people. Esther approaches King Ahasuerus and invites him and Haman to a banquet.
- Mordechai is honored for having saved the king’s life. Esther entertains the king and Haman, and invites them to a second banquet.
- Esther pleads for her people at the second banquet. She accuses Haman.
- The king grants Esther’s request and condemns Haman to die on the gallows that had been built for the Jews.
- The Jews defend themselves against the decree to destroy them
- The holiday of Purim is established.
- Mordechai advances to a position of importance.
Antisemitism is the central theme of Purim and, even today, because the Jews are different and have their own laws, they are always under suspicion. Unfortunately, this type of reasoning has, again and again throughout Jewish history; been the rationale for the persecution of Jews.
The word God is not mentioned in the entire Book of Esther. This omission exists in spite of the fact that throughout the Bible, God’s intervention is ever present. Mordechai does, however, make an indirect reference to God when he speaks with Esther about intervening with the king.
In other words, not only does Mordechai suggest that God might indeed play an active role in resolving the crisis, but further suggests that Esther’s becoming queen may have been the work of God, Who was preparing for the day when the Jewish people would face crisis. Another explanation for the absence of the name of God is that since the book was written in scroll form and sent to Jews throughout Persia, the name of God was omitted in case the scroll was desecrated in any way.
Unfortunately, this story of Antisemitism, persecution and annihilation has been repeated throughout Jewish history on many occasions. The Book of Esther serves as an allegory describing the life and lot of the Jewish people in an alien and hostile world.
Why do we dress up for Purim?
Jewish holidays are full of clear miracles; the parting of the Red Sea, the Ten Plagues are typical examples for Pesach. The miracle of Purim is not so obvious. The Purim story is almost like a movie script; a rich and powerful man falls in love with a beautiful, compassionate girl of strong moral character. Unbeknownst to him, her family are being threatened by her husband’s dishonest business associate. As soon the threat is uncovered, she immediately tells her beloved husband. With his contacts, power and wealth, he acts fast and eliminates the threat.
The miracle of Purim is hidden in a string of coincidences. The strength and power of G-d is not so obvious in this story and it is in this spirit that we hide ourselves on the outside, but on the inside G-d is always with us.
It is customary to give charity on Purim. It is suggested that in order to hide the identity and uphold the dignity of the needy, they can hide or mask their faces from their benefactors. Similarly the benefactors, might prefer anonymity too. Dressing up or putting on a mask, helps hide our true identity.
It is also customary to get drunk on Purim. However, in a drunken state, you may act without dignity. In order to protect yourself from an embarrassing situation you can hide your true identity by dressing up.
Do you know the answers to these 3 questions?
- The name Esther is Persian. What was Queen Esther’s Hebrew name?
- It took King Ahasuerus 4 years to find a new queen after Vashti was killed. How many women contestants did he consider before he finally decided on Esther?
- Who was Vashti’s great-grandfather?
- Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian emperor who destroyed the first Holy Temple