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The Complete Story of Purim

by Nissan Mindel

  

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Introduction

Purim celebrates the salvation of the Jewish people, in the year 3405 from Creation (356 bce), from Haman's plot "to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women, in a single day."

Haman was prime minister to the Persian emperor Achashverosh. Enraged that Mordechai the Jew "would not bow or prostate himself before him," Haman argued before Achashverosh that "one people, scattered and divided in all provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of all peoples" ought not be allowed to exist. Endorsed by an emperor whose dominion extended from India to Ethiopia, Haman's decree boded the physical destruction of every Jew alive on the face of the earth at that time.

Mordechai rallied the Jews to repentance, and gathered 22,000 Jewish children with whom he prayed and studied Torah to awaken G-d's mercy. He also sent word to his cousin, Esther, who had been chosen by Achashverosh as his queen several years earlier, to appeal to the king. At great risk to her own life, Queen Esther engineered Haman's downfall at a private wine-party to which she invited the king and the minister. She prevailed upon Achashverosh to hang Haman and to issue a second decree, empowering the Jews to defend themselves against those who sought to destroy them.

On the 13th of Adar--the day selected by Haman's pur (lottery)--numerous battles were fought throughout the empire between the Jews and those who attempted to carry out Haman's decree (which was never actually revoked). The following day, Adar 14, became a day of feasting and rejoicing in celebration of the Jews' victory over their enemies. In the ancient walled capital, Shushan, where the battle went on for two days, the victory celebration was held on Adar 15.

Mordechai and Esther instituted that these two days should be observed for posterity as the festival of Purim, Adar 15 in walled cities, and Adar 14 in unwalled towns by public readings of the story of the miracle as recorded in the "Scroll of Esther," sending food portions to friends, giving gifts of money to the poor, and enjoying a festive meal accompanied with inebriating drink (recalling the fateful wine-party at which Esther turned Achashverosh against Haman).

A time-honored Purim custom is for children to dress up and disguise themselves--an allusion to the fact that the miracle of Purim was disguised in seemingly natural events. This is also the significance behind a traditional Purim food, the hamantash--a pastry whose filling is hidden within a three-cornered crust. The day before Purim is "The Fast of Esther," in commemoration of the fasts of Esther and her people as they prayed for G-d's salvation from Haman's decree.

Achashverosh Ascends the Throne of Persia
"And it came to pass in the days of Achashverosh..."1  

More than two thousand years ago (in the year 3392 after the creation of the world), King Achashverosh (Ahasuerus) ascended the throne of Persia. He was not the rightful heir to the Persian throne, but he succeeded in impressing the populace with his riches and power, and he established his government throughout all Persian territories. He waged many successful wars, until he ruled over a vast kingdom of 127 countries, extending from India to Ethiopia.

The people of Persia, already in awe of King Achashverosh's wealth, were further impressed when he married Vashti. She was the daughter of the Babylonian King, Belshazzar, and the granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar, the powerful world ruler. The people now firmly believed that the Nebuchadnezzar dynasty was destined to rule forever.

King Achashverosh proceeded to rule with an iron hand, never hesitating to persecute those he suspected of treason.

Many years before, King Cyrus of Persia issued a royal edict which permitted the Jews to rebuild the Bet Hamikdash - the Holy Temple, in Jerusalem.

The sly enemies of Yehudah - the Samaritans and the Ammonites - who led a movement to abolish the edict of King Cyrus, now took advantage of the situation. They bribed the Persian governors who ruled over Yehudah and the neighboring countries, to spread the rumor throughout the Persian court that the Jews intended, with the rebuilding of their Temple, to rebel and free themselves entirely from Persian rule.

Knowing that no law could be nullified without the consent of the king, these unscrupulous Samaritans decided to lie. They declared that the Jews were not only rebuilding the Temple, but that they were also reconstructing around the city the fortress walls that had been destroyed by the Babylonian conqueror, King Nebuchadnezzar.

Since the rebuilding of the fortifications of Jerusalem was forbidden by the decree of King Cyrus, the Samaritans claimed that there was sufficient reason for repealing the edict that had allowed the Jews to start rebuilding the Temple.

Yet they were frightened to tell an untruth that might be easily discovered, and even more frightened at the thought of the consequences when the source of the falsehood would be traced to them.

So they contrived a clever scheme by which they could not be held responsible for the false accusations. As the original accusation was written in the language of the Samaritans, they bribed the corrupt secretaries of the King who were to translate it, to add the words "fortress-walls" to the manuscript which spoke of the Temple. Thus, if caught, it would seem an accidental error in the translation.

The two secretaries who presented the document to the King were Rachum and Shamshi,2 both of whom felt bitter hatred for the Jews. The scheme proved successful, and the Jews were ordered to halt the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

King Solomon's Throne
"In those days, as King Achashverosh was about to sit upon the throne of the Kingdom..." 3

As soon as Achashverosh proclaimed himself King of Persia, he decided to use King Solomon's throne, which had been captured from Jerusalem, as his own.


King Solomon's throne was the most wonderful throne that any king ever sat upon. It was fashioned of ivory and covered with gold. It was set with rubies, sapphires, emeralds and other precious stones that shone with the most brilliant, the most dazzling, the most fascinating hues and colors.

Six steps led to the seat, and each step served to remind the king of one of the six special commandments that the kings of Israel were commanded to observe.

Footnotes

  • 1. Megillat Esther 1:1.
  • 2. Shamshi was one of Haman's sons.
  • 3. Megillat Esther 1:2.

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Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Passover
A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Kosher
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
Kohanim
Plural form of Kohain. Priests of G-d. This title belongs to the male descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses. The primary function of the Kohain was to serve in the Holy Temple. Today the Kohain is still revered and it is his function to recite the Priestly Blessings on certain occasions.
Purim
A one-day holiday celebrated in late winter commemorating the miraculous deliverance of the Jewish people from a decree of annihilation issued by Persian King Ahasuerus in the year 356 BCE.
Shofar
The horn of a Kosher animal. The Shofar is sounded on the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, and is intended to awaken us to repentance. Also blown to signify the conclusion of the Yom Kippur holiday.
Haman
Descendant of anti-Semitic tribe of Amalek and prime minister of the Persian Empire in the 5th century b.c.e. Schemed to annihilate all the Jews, and the holiday of Purim was established when the plot was foiled.
Amalek
Anti-Semitic tribe descendant from Esau; first to attack the Jews upon leaving Egypt. We are commanded to remember their vile deed and obliterate all memory of them.
Esther
1. Jewish wife of Persian King Ahasuerus in the 4th century BCE. Foiled the plot of Haman, the prime minister, to exterminate all the Jews. The holiday of Purim commemorates this miraculous salvation. 2. One of the 24 Books of the Bible, which chronicles the abovementioned story.
Ahasuerus
King of the Persian Empire in the 4th century BCE. Husband of Esther, heroine of the Purim story.
Mordechai
Cousin of Queen Esther, and Jewish leader in the 4th century BCE. Played a large role in saving the Jews after Haman, the Persian prime minister, plotted to exterminate them all. The holiday of Purim was established to commemorate this miracle.
Sanhedrin
The Jewish Supreme Court. The court would convene in a designated chamber in the Holy Temple, and was comprised of 71 of the greatest scholars of the time. Continued after the destruction of the Temples, but was dissolved in the 5th century when due to Roman persecution the seat of Torah scholarship relocated from Israel to Babylon.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Adar
The twelfth month on the Jewish calendar. This month (which falls out approx. February-March), is the most joyous month on the calendar due to the holiday of Purim which is on the 14th and 15th of this month.
Mishloach Manot
Gifts of food which every Jew is required to give to an acquaintance on the holiday of Purim.
Abraham
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
Shavuot
Early summer festival marking the day when the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai in the year 2448 (1312 BCE).
Menorah
Candelabra. Usually a reference to the nine-branched candelabra kindled on the holiday of Chanukah.
Aaron
Brother of Moses. First High Priest of Israel and progenitor of all Kohanim (priests) until this very day. Died in the year 1272 b.c.e.
Noah
Tenth generation from Adam. Of all humankind, only he and his family survived the Flood which destroyed all civilization in the year 2106 BCE.
Adam
The first man, created by G-d on the sixth day of creation. He was banished from the Garden of Eden after eating from the forbidden fruit of the forbidden knowledge. Died in 2830 BCE.
Fast of Esther
The fast commemorates the fasts which the Jews fasted during the perilous times of the Purim story. Observed on the day before Purim, the 13th of Adar (unless that date falls out on the Sabbath).
Jerusalem
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
Saul
First king of Israel, anointed by the prophet Samuel in 878 BCE. Was dethroned because he failed to carry out G-d's command, and the royal crown was transferred to King David and his descendents.
Solomon
Son of King David, and succeeded him on the throne of Israel in the year 836 BCE. he was the wisest man to ever live. He built the first Holy Temple and authored several books of the Bible.
Daniel
1. A Jerusalemite exiled in Babylon after the destruction of the 1st Temple. He interprets dreams, gives accounts of apocalyptic visions, and is divinely delivered from a den of lions. 2. One of the 24 Books of the Bible, which describes the events of Daniel's life.
Chronicles
The final book of the Bible. This book summarizes the events described in the first 23 books of the Bible, from Creation until the destruction of the 1st Temple.
Pesach
Passover. A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
Levi
1. Name of Patriarch Jacob's third son. 2. A Levite -- a Jew who is a patrilineal descendant of Levi. Levites had special duties in the Holy Temple, and are still accorded special respect.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.