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What is Purim?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht

  

Library » Holidays » Purim » About | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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A. Purim is a Jewish holiday celebrating G-d's problem with one ancient anti-Semite's Final Solution. The story of Purim is the subject of the Scroll of Esther, one of the 24 books in the Tanach. Purim is one of two Jewish holidays enacted by the Sages in contrast to the biblical holidays commanded to Moses. (The other is Chanukah.)

B. Purim is the plural for lots in Persian. Haman (pronounced Hah-mahn), the chief of staff of the Persian Empire, attempted the ethnic cleansing of the kingdom's Jewish population. He cast lots to determine what date would be best to wipe out the Jews, came up with the 13th day of the Hebrew month Adar, dispatched an imperial Jew-annihilation order to every government office, and sat back to take a drink. Little did Haman know that the recently coronated Queen Esther was Jewish and the cousin of his arch-nemesis, the Jewish government official Mordechai. Through his palace contact Hatach, Mordechai begged Esther to intervene, which she did—greatly annoying her royal hubby Ahasuerus, who was rather ruffled to hear that someone wanted to murder his wife and her whole extended family. "Who's the slob?" snarled the king. "He's sitting right in front of you," sobbed Esther. "'Tis Haman!" Haman and family were hung, the annihilation order was countered with a Jewish self-defense provision (which resulted in empire-wide street combat between the Jews and their enemies), and the Jews triumphed.

Jews were the doctors and lawyers of their day. They were successful... they climbed all social ladders, they were Persians. But somewhere, somehow, they forgot about G-d
C. To mark this great miracle, Mordechai and Esther instituted that every year the 14th of Adar, the day the Jews rested from battle against their foes, be celebrated with feasts and rejoicing.1

D. Purim is more than just a dramatic true story. While outwardly an ethnic celebration, its inner significance is its hidden spiritual side--the restoration of the Jewish people's tarnished spiritual identity. At the time of the Purim story, all the world's Jews made their home in the contemporary superpower, the Persian Empire, which stretched from India to Ethiopia. They were the doctors and lawyers of their day. They were successful--profoundly, proudly successful. They were doing great. They identified with their host society, they fit in, they climbed all social ladders, they were Persians. But somewhere, somehow, they forgot about G-d. When their prestige, position and powerful connections failed them in the face of Haman's hate, when even their own sister in the palace did lunch with their main malefactor, they turned all their hopes to Heaven and rushed headlong into the open arms of their Fathers' faith. The resulting spiritual renaissance so reinvigorated and revolutionized Jewish society that in a few short years, the Second Temple was built and the 70-year Persian Exile came to a close.

See also When is Purim? and How is Purim celebrated?

Footnotes

  • 1. Esther 9:20-32. In Shushan, the Persian capital, the Jews continued to defend themselves on the 14th of Adar and rested on the 15th. The 15th of Adar is also a holiday. See "What is Shushan Purim?"

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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.
Chanukah
An eight day mid-winter holiday marking: 1) The miraculous defeat of the mighty Syrian-Greek armies by the undermanned Maccabis in the year 140 BCE. 2) Upon their victory, the oil in the Menorah, sufficient fuel for one night only, burned for eight days and nights.
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.
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.
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.
Tanach
Acronym for Torah, Nevi'm (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Holy Writings). Tanach refers to the 24 books of the Bible: the 5 books of Moses, the 8 books of the Prophets, and the 11 books of Holy Writings.
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.
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.