What is Purim All About?
Purim 2020 (5780) begins in the evening of Monday, March 9 and ends in the evening of Tuesday, March 10th.
Purim is arguably the most fun of all the Jewish holidays! It's actually a mitzvah to feast and get drunk. We also give food gifts to our friends and charity to the poor. Traditionally we dress up in costumes, and party and eat hat-shaped costumes. What's not to love?
What Do We Do on Purim?
Give Gifts of Food. Mishloach manot (Hebrew: משלוח מנות) means, literally, "sending of portions". Also called a Purim basket, these are gifts of food or drink that are sent to friends, relatives, neighbors, teachers, or colleagues on Purim. The mitzvah of giving mishloach manot - at least two different ready to eat food and/or drink - derives from the Book of Esther. The mitzvah is meant to ensure that everyone has enough food for the Purim feast and to increase love and friendship. Love that!
Listen to the Megillah, twice. People read and listen to the whole Megillah, Esther's scroll, twice. Sometimes the story is acted out with people in costume. Whenever the name of the villain "Haman" is read during the reading of the Megillah, people boo and make loud noises with "groggers" to drown out his name.
Eat and drink and play while wearing silly costumes.
The Purim Story - The "Whole Megillah"
A Self-Respecting Woman Loses Her Head
It all began in Ancient Persia in the 4th century BCE after the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed and the Jews were subjects of the powerful Persian empire.
Three years after King Ahasuerus took the Persian throne, he threw a huge party for all his subjects lasting 180 days. In the palace's women's quarters, Ahasuerus' wife, Queen Vashti, hosted her own party for the Shushanite women.
On the seventh day of this party, Ahasuerus' heart "was merry with wine," and he commanded his wife Vashti to appear before all the partying men: basically, he wanted to show off his hot wife. Vashti balked at this request and, angry, Ahasuerus ordered Vashti's execution. You don't mess with Ahasuerus.
Desperately Seeking Mrs. Shushan
When Ahasuerus' anger passed, he was naturally lonely for a wife. He held a beauty pageant and beautiful girls from across the land would be brought to Ahasuerus and the most beautiful girl would be the new queen.
The leader of the Jews at that time was a Shushanite resident named Mordechai. He had a cousin, Esther, who was orphaned as a young girl. Mordechai raised her and treated her as a daughter. Though she had no desire to be the queen, Esther was forcibly taken to the king, to participate in the contest. While all the other contestants primped with perfumes and lotions, Esther did nothing. However, when Esther appeared before the king, he immediately liked her, and Esther became the new Queen of Persia. But Mordechai told her never to divulge that she is Jewish.
Mordechai is a Hero
Shortly after Esther became queen, Mordechai overheard two of the king's assistants discussing a plot to assassinate the king. Mordechai had them reported, and the traitors were hanged.
Haman the Hater
Meanwhile, Haman, one of Ahasuerus' ministers, was promoted to the position of Prime Minister. Haman was a virulent Jew hater. Booo.
Immediately after Haman's promotion, the king issued a decree ordering everyone to bow down whenever Haman appeared. When Mordechai, a proud Jew, refused to bow down, Haman was infuriated. Haman resolved to take revenge against all the Jews and threw lots to determine the "lucky" day when he would implement his plan. The lot fell on the 13th day of the Hebrew month of Adar.
Haman approached Ahasuerus and offered him a bunch of money in exchange for permission to exterminate the Jews. Ahasuerus, who wasn't fond of Jews either, told Haman, "The money is yours to keep, and the nation is yours to do with as you please."
Haman immediately sent a decree to all the king's land. This decree ordered the people to rise up against the Jews and kill them all – men, women, and children – on the following 13th of Adar.
Mordechai became aware of the decree and sent a message to Esther, asking her to approach the king and beg him to spare her people. Esther responded that according to the rules anyone who entered the king's presence un-summoned would be put to death—unless the king extended to that person his golden scepter. "And I," Esther said, "have not been summoned by the king for thirty days already!"
Mordechai sent another message: "Do not think that you will escape the fate of all the Jews by being in the king's palace. For if you will remain silent at this time, relief and salvation will come to the Jews from another source, and you and the house of your father will be lost. And who knows if it is not for just such a time that you reached this royal position."
Esther agreed to approach the king. But she asked Mordechai to gather all the Jews in Shushan and let them all fast for three days and nights. After this fast Esther would put her life in her hands and approach the king.
Mordechai complied with Esther's request. He gathered the Jews of Shushan and they fasted, repented and prayed to G‑d.
After three days of fasting, Esther donned royal garb and entered Ahasuerus' chambers. Immediately, the king extended his scepter. "What is it?" Ahasuerus asked. "What is your request?"
"I would like to invite the king and Haman to a small feast I have prepared," Esther responded.
So the king and Haman joined Esther for a wine-feast. During the feast, the king again asked Esther whether she had anything to request. "Yes," Esther responded. "I would appreciate if tomorrow, again, the king and Haman would join me for a feast. And then I will tell the king my request."
A Comedy of Errors
Haman left the party a happy and proud man. But standing at the king's gate was Mordechai – who still refused to bow to Haman – and Haman was enraged. When he arrived home, his wife and advisors counseled him to erect a gallows, and then to go to the king and request permission to hang Mordechai. Haman excitedly went ahead and put up the gallows.
The king couldn't sleep that night, so he asked his servants to read for him from the Royal Chronicles. His servants read from the Chronicles how Mordechai saved the king's life when two of his assistants hatched a plot to kill him.
"Was he rewarded for this fine act?" Ahasuerus asked. "No, he was not," the servants responded.
At that moment Haman entered the king's courtyard. His purpose? To ask the king's permission to hang Mordechai! Before Haman could utter a word, Ahasuerus addressed him: "My Haman, in your estimation, what shall be done to a person whom the king wishes to honor?"
Haman, who was certain that the king wished to honor him, responded: "Bring royal garment and a royal horse. And let one of the king's nobles dress the man and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, 'So is done for the man whom the king wishes to honor!'"
"Great idea," Ahasuerus responded. "Now go get the garments and the horse and do so for Mordechai the Jew!"
Haman had no choice but to comply. On the next day he went and honored Mordechai as the king had ordered, and then immediately rushed to join the king and Esther for...
"If I have found favor in your eyes, O King," Esther pleaded, "and if it pleases the king, let my life be granted me by my plea, and the life of my people by my request. For my people and I have been sold to be annihilated, killed and destroyed!" Esther then identified Haman as the evil person who wished to perpetrate this atrocity."What is your request?" a curious King Ahasuerus asked Esther at the feast.
The king was greatly angered. When he was then informed that Haman had built a gallows for Mordechai, he ordered that Haman be hanged on that very gallows.
Do Unto Others... as They Would Have Done Unto You?
Haman was dead, but his evil decree was still in effect. On that day, Haman's estate was given to Esther, and Mordechai was appointed Prime Minister.
But Esther's work was not yet done. Haman was dead, but his evil decree was still in effect. According to Persian law, once a king issues a decree it can not be rescinded. But the king gave Mordechai and Esther permission, and they promptly wrote up a decree that reversed Haman's edict. The decree granted the Jews permission to defend themselves against their enemies. By this time, considering that everyone knew that the queen and Prime Minister were both Jewish, no one would prevent the Jews from doing just that!
On the 13th of Adar that year, the Jews throughout the Persian Empire mobilized to kill the enemies who had wanted to kill them. On the 14th of Adar, the Jews celebrated, and the Jews of Shushan hung Haman's sons. The Jews of Shushan then rested and celebrated on the 15th of Adar.
Today We Celebrate
Mordechai and Esther established a holiday to commemorate these amazing events. Jews worldwide celebrate on the 14th of Adar, while residents of walled cities – like Shushan – celebrate on the 15th of Adar. This holiday, called "Purim," is the most joyous holiday on the Jewish calendar.