Purim is a merry Jewish holiday that commemorates the effort of the biblical Queen Esther of Persia who though not allowed to speak by tradition, prayed and found a way to speak to her husband the king, and by her courage saved the Jewish community of Persia from extermination.
Purim is sort of an unofficial Jewish holiday.
We are aware of the irony that traditionally only men celebrate Purim. What’s with that guys? However, Purim is a celebration of a great woman and how she broke tradition to save her people.
The date of Purim is the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar. A few communities celebrated on the 15th day of Adar.
In 2023, we celebrate starting on the evening of Monday-Tuesday, March 6-7, 2023.
Our country needs the spirit of Esther now
The story of Esther is from The Scroll (The Megillah) of the Hebrew Bible, and the Book of Esther in the Christian Old Testament. It is not clear whether the story is history or allegory.
The Persian empire once controlled what is now Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Egypt. Persia was the richest of the ancient royal courts. The royal courts of Europe are patterned after it. Under penalty of death, it was not permitted to approach the king of Persia.
Esther was a orphan who became Queen to King Ahasuerus, but she did not let her Jewish heritage be known. Haman was the empire’s newly appointed prime minister. Mordecai, the leader of the Jews (and Esther’s cousin and foster parent), earned the king’s favor by uncovering a murder plot.
Mordechai refused to bow to Haman, so Haman planned to kill Mordechai and all the Jews of Persia as well. He got the king to issue an “executive order” on this. Mordecai asked Esther to ask her husband to help.
Not knowing what to do, Esther fasted and prayed for three days. Then she committed herself to her fate, whatever it might be. Her courage and presence of mind is an example for us all.
Meanwhile Haman built a gallows on which to hang Mordecai.
On the third day Esther arranged a dinner with the King and Haman. At dinner the King requested that Mordecai be honored. Esther arranged a second dinner.
At the second dinner, Esther revealed that she was Jewish and Haman had plans to wipe out her people. The king got angry and ordered Haman to be hanged on the gallows prepared for Mordecai. Then he allowed Mordecai and Esther to write their own decree. The decree allowed Jews to kill those who threatened them. Quite a massacre followed, but the Jews of Persia were saved.
It all came down to Esther finding a way to do the impossible.
Every community observes Purim in its own way. The day before Purim is a fast. The basics (Purim mitzvahs) are:
- Reading The Megillah (Book of Esther)
- Giving charity to the poor
- Giving gifts of food to a friend
- Enjoying a Purim feast
Some Purim celebrations are parties. Children and even adults can wear masks and costumes. Kids play with Purim graggers (wooden noise makers) whenever the name of Haman is read aloud from The Megillah.
Some party-goers follow the Talmudic recommendation to celebrate until you can’t tell the difference between the cursed Haman and the blessed Mordecai, and get completely drunk.
Purim is the one day when it’s good to be completely Jewish and completely silly.
So Chag Purim Sameach (Hebrew), Freilichin Purim (Yiddish), or Purim Allegre (Ladino). Happy Purim! It’s great to be alive.