Today is the Jewish holiday of Purim. This holiday celebrates the deliverance of the Jews from an evil minister who would destroy them. The full story can be found in the book of Esther, but I will give a brief summary.
The Persian king Ahasuerus, known to the Greeks as Xerxes, gives a banquet and calls for his queen to show herself to his guests. She refuses so he puts her away and holds a sort of beauty contest to select his new queen. The winner of this contest is Esther, a young Jewish woman who is the cousin and adopted daughter of Mordecai, one of the king’s ministers. Ahauserus’s chief minister, the evil Agagite Haman, is enraged when Mordecai does not bow down to him and decides to kill not just Mordecai but every Jew in the Persian Empire. He gets Ahauserus to issue an edict to that effect.
Esther, who has not revealed her Jewish origins previously, now does so to the king and foils Haman’s plan. Ahauserus has him hanged on the same gallows he had planned to hang Mordecai. Unfortunately, no edict of the Persian king can be reversed, but Ahauserus issues another edict granting the Jews the right to defend themselves against any attackers and they slaughter their enemies.
Purim means “lots” in Hebrew. The origin of the name can be found towards the end of the book of Esther.
23 So the Jews agreed to continue the celebration they had begun, doing what Mordecai had written to them. 24 For Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them and had cast the pur (that is, the lot) for their ruin and destruction. 25 But when the plot came to the king’s attention,[a] he issued written orders that the evil scheme Haman had devised against the Jews should come back onto his own head, and that he and his sons should be impaled on poles. 26 (Therefore these days were called Purim, from the word pur.) Because of everything written in this letter and because of what they had seen and what had happened to them, 27 the Jews took it on themselves to establish the custom that they and their descendants and all who join them should without fail observe these two days every year, in the way prescribed and at the time appointed. 28 These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never fail to be celebrated by the Jews—nor should the memory of these days die out among their descendants.(Esther 9:23-28)
The book of Esther, by the way, has not always been a popular book of the Bible. It is the only book that does not mention God at all. Martin Luther did not feel it really belonged in the Old Testament canon and would have included it among the apocrypha if it hadn’t been written in Hebrew. Many have felt the violent and nationalistic ending is not appropriate, though Joshua and Judges have more violence in them.
I think Purim celebrates a triumph over oppression though. The message seems more timely than ever. The nation of Israel is perhaps in a more precarious position than it has been since the 1967 war with a nuclear Iran becoming ever more likely and the international campaign to delegitimize Israel gathering force. With the rise of militant Islam and an increasingly anti-Semitic Left, Jews are in more danger all over the world than they have been since the 1930s. I suppose one could consider Iranian president Ahmadinejad to be a latter day Haman.
This happens to be my 500th post. I never thought this blog would make it so far.
- Purim, Israel 2012 (cifwatch.com)
- Celebrate Purim! (jewishvoice.wordpress.com)
- Six Things You Might Not Know About Purim (newsfeed.time.com)
- Obama, Netanyahu & Esther (alethonews.wordpress.com)