Purim Sameach!

Purim begins on Wednesday evening, March 16. Here are a few ways in which Purim is celebrated today.

Reading the Megillah.  The Tenach is divided into three sections.  The first part is the Torah.  The second part is the Nevi’im (Prophets) and the third part is the Ketuvim (Writings).  Tenach is an acronym for those three parts.  The book of Esther is part of the Writings.  In Hebrew, the book is called Megillat Esther  (Scroll of Esther).  Megillah is the Hebrew word for scroll.

It is mandated that all men, women and children should hear the reading of the book of Esther (Megillat Esther) on the evening and morning of the 14th of Adar.  It is traditional that during this reading, whenever the name Haman is read, there is loud booing and noisemakers (groggers) and shaken.

Sending food to friends.  It is mandated in Esther 9:22 that on Purim to show our joy and thankfulness, we should send gifts to one another and to the poor.  This custom became knows as mishloach manot (“sending portions”).

Common foods.  Hamentaschen, which I mentioned in a previous post, are the common pastries made for Purim.  Some other customs are challah with extra-long braids, to represent the ropes set up by Haman to kill Mordechai, but were used on Haman; as well as sweet and sour dishes together, to remind us of the initial sadness and ultimate joy this holiday represents.

Masquerading.  Finally, it is common to dress up in costumes and celebrate.  This was introduced by the Italian Jews at the end of the 15th century.  Today, both children and adults dress us in costumes.  Unfortunately, today many people have turned it into a type of “Mardi Gras” which is dishonoring to G-d.

Information about the holiday of Purim is found in the book of Esther.  It is a very interesting story, from which we can glean some important principles.  Let’s take a look at it.

Chapter one of the book of Esther begins with the introduction of King Ahasuerus of Persia.  It describes the reach of his empire (from Ethiopia to India) and a great feast which he hosted for all of his princes and servants.  We find that there was feasting for a long period of time and quite a bit of wine was consumed.  While people were in a state of drunkenness, basically, the King called for Queen Vashti to come to the feast.   Knowing the state of the men there, she refused to present herself at the feast.

Therefore, King Ahasuerus relieved Queen Vashti of her position.

In chapter two, the King sends for the fair young virgins to be brought to be contenders to become the new queen.  They go through a year of preparation before being presented to the king.  One of the virgins brought to the palace was Esther (Hadassah in Hebrew).  She was Jewish but did not reveal this at this time.

Esther was chosen to be the new queen.

Her relative (Mordechai) who raised her after her parents died, heard of a plot to kill the king.  He told this to Esther, who relayed the information to the king.  He then had the traitors hung.

In chapter three, we are introduced to Haman, who was promoted within the King’s staff to be over the princes.  Haman hated Mordechai, because Mordechai would not bow to him.  Haman, with his evil pride, became very angry and sought to destroy Mordechai.  But once he found out that Mordechai was Jewish, he decided he wanted to destroy all of the Jewish people.

So, Mordechai went before the king and told him that there was a group of people scattered throughout the kingdom which were troublemakers, and would the king decree that all of them be killed.  The king agreed and so letters were sent out throughout the kingdom stating that the Jewish people were to be killed on the 13th day of the month of Adar.

Chapter four begins by saying that Mordechai rent his clothes and put on sackcloth with ashes.  Then there was an exchange between him and Esther where he wishes for her to intercede on behalf of the Jewish people.  But the rules of court state that if one appears before the king without being summoned, they will be killed unless he stretches out his golden scepter.  Esther asks Mordechai to fast.

In chapter five, Esther goes before the king and is received well.  She invites him and Haman to a feast.  Haman is happy, but loses that happiness whenever he sees Modechai, so Haman’s wife and sons encourage him to build a gallows to hang Mordechai.

Chapter six we find the king unable to sleep.  So he commands that the book of the records be brought to him.  He reads about what Mordechai did in revealing the plot to overthrow the king.  The king calls to Haman and asks what should be done to the man whom the king would like to honor.  Haman goes through a list of things, thinking that he is that man.  Haman was commanded to do those things for Mordechai.

Haman returned to his home and his family told him that he would not prevail in this situation.

Chapter seven finds us at the feast Esther had prepared.  She shared with the King that she was Jewish and that she and her people were scheduled for destruction because of Haman. The king was furious, and Haman was hanged on the gallows which Haman had prepared for Mordechai.

Chapter 8 brings the good news that the king reverses the decree to destroy the Jewish people.  We find in verse 16 that the Jewish people had light and gladness and joy and honor.

In chapter 9, the Jewish people are allowed to retaliate and kill their enemies on the 13th day of Adar, and also the 10 sons of Haman are hanged.  We then read that on the 14th day of Adar the people rested and made it a day of feasting and gladness.  The people turned mourning into gladness and even today, the Jewish people send food to one another and to the poor.

We read:

27The Jews ordained, and took upon them, and upon their seed, and upon all such as joined themselves unto them, so as it should not fail, that they would keep these two days according to their writing, and according to their appointedtime every year;

28And that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city; and that these days of Purim should not fail from among the Jews, nor the memorial of them perish from their seed.

And in chapter 10 we find that Mordechai became the king’s right hand man.

This concludes the story of Purim.  

Perhaps you were not very familiar with the holiday of Purim.  Perhaps you knew the story but did not realize that it is celebrated today.  Pray about how you can incorporate this important holiday into your own life.

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