Esther and Mordecai write Megillat Esther, oil on canvas by Arent de Gelder [Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons]
Today, Jewish people from around the world celebrate the holiday of Purim. Purim commemorates the day in which the Jewish people living in areas controlled by the Persian empire were victorious in fighting against their enemies – those who had plotted to destroy them – and were victorious. The word purim or “lots” in Hebrew refers to the lots which were drawn by the wicked Haman, advisor to King Ahasuerus, to determine the best date to eradicate the Jews on. It was during the period between the destruction of the first Holy Temple and the building of the second Holy Temple that the majority of the Jewish people resided in areas controlled by the Persian empire, which during the Purim story, was ruled by King Ahasuerus. Haman had asked the King for permission to destroy the Jewish people – a request that the king agreed to without hesitation. Haman then drew the purim to determine which day would be most suitable for him to carry out his wicked plot.
The day that Haman’s purim fell out on was the 13th day of the Hebrew month of Adar. After a series of independent events which worked together in the Jewish people’s favor, in a most miraculous and beautiful way, King Ahasuerus reversed his decision, had Haman and his 10 sons were hung, the king gave the Jewish people permission to kill their enemies and promoted Mordecai to one of the most senior positions in his kingdom – replacing Haman. Some of the events that led up to the Jewish people’s victory and which are an integral part of the Purim story include: the capital of the kingdom being moved to the city in which Mordecai resided, the king killing his first wife, Vashti, the subsequent marriage of King Ahasuerus to Esther – a Jewish woman who he fell in love with and, Mordecai saving the life of the king. The full story of Purim is recorded in Megillat Esther (Scroll of Esther).
To commemorate the miraculous string of events that led to the Jewish people’s victory, the following customs are observed on the holiday of Purim.
- Megillat Esther is read once at night and once on the following morning.
- Select portions of the Bible that relate to the day are read in synagogue.
- Food gifts are given to one another.
- A festive meal with wine is held.
- Charity is given to poor people for the purpose of enabling them to also participate in the celebrations of the day.
This year, Purim will be celebrated from sundown on Wednesday to sundown on Thursday night. In Jerusalem, Purim will be observed from sundown on Thursday to sundown on Friday night. From all of us at Lev Haolam, we wish you a happy and festive Purim!