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Telling the story of Purim Print E-mail

Purim is one of the most joyous and fun holidays on the Jewish calendar. It commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination. Purim is celebrated on 14 Adar.

It is preceded by a minor fast on the 13th, the Fast of Esther /Ta’anit Esther, which commemorates Esther’s three days of fasting in preparation for her meeting with the king.

The story of Purim is told in the Book of Esther. The heroes of the story are Esther, a beautiful young Jewish woman living in Persia, and her cousin Mordechai, who raised her as if she were his daughter. Esther was taken to the house of Ahashverosh, King of Persia, to become part of his harem.

King Ahashverosh loved Esther more than his other women and made Esther queen, but the king did not know that Esther was Jewish, because Mordechai told her not to reveal her identity.

The villain of the story is Haman, advisor to the king. Haman hated Mordechai because he refused to bow down to Haman,so Haman plotted to destroy the Jewish people.

Mordechai persuaded Esther to speak to the king on behalf of the Jewish people. Esther fasted for three days to prepare herself, then went into the king. He welcomed her. Later, she told him of Haman’s plot against her people. The Jewish people were saved, and Haman was hanged on the gallows that had been prepared for Mordechai.

The book of Esther is unusual in that it is the only book of the Bible that does not contain the name of G-d. In fact, it includes virtually no reference to G-d.

Mordechai makes a vague reference to the fact that the Jews will be saved by someone else, if not by Esther, but that is the closest the book comes to mentioning G-d. Thus, one important message that can be gained from the story is that G-d often works in ways that are not apparent, in ways that appear to be chance, coincidence or ordinary good luck.

In cities that were walled in the time of Joshua, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of the month, because the book of Esther says that in Shushan (a walled city), deliverance from the massacre was not complete until the next day. The 15th is refered to as Shushan Purim.

The word “Purim” means “lots” and refers to the lottery that Haman used to choose the date for the massacre. The primary commandment related to Purim is to hear the reading of the book of Esther.

The book of Esther is commonly known as the Megillah, which means scroll. It is customary to boo, hiss, stamp feet and rattle gragers (noisemakers) whenever the name of Haman is mentioned in the service. The purpose of this custom is to “blot out the name of Haman.”

We are also commanded to eat, drink and be merry. According to the Talmud, a person is required to drink until he cannot tell the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai,” though opinions differ as to exactly how drunk that is.

In addition, we are commanded to send out gifts of food or drink, and to make gifts to charity. The sending of gifts of food and drink is referred to as mishloach manot (lit. sending out portions).

Among Ashkenazic Jews, a common treat at this time of year is hamentaschen (lit. Haman’s pockets). These triangular fruit-filled cookies are supposed to represent Haman’s three-cornered hat.

It is customary to hold carnival- like celebrations on Purim, to perform plays and parodies, and to hold beauty contests.

Purim is not subject to restrictions on work that some other holidays are; however, some sources indicate that we should not go about our ordinary business on Purim out of respect for the holiday.

Supplied by Judaism 101 website: www.jewfaq.org

(Issue February 2010)

 

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