SIDEBAR - "Purim"

Purim occurs on the 14th of Adar. (In certain walled cities like Jerusalem, "Shushan Purim" is celebrated on the 15th of Adar.)

The events commemorated by Purim took place in the ancient Persian Empire, in the fifth century BCE, under the reign of King Achashverosh.

Mordechai, a Jew, refused to bow down and prostrate himself before Haman, the vizier to the King. Haman immediately set out "to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Achashverosh" (Esther 3,6). In order to effect his vicious racist plan, Haman decided to enlist the aid of the unsuspecting King Achashverosh. Since Haman was a very superstitious person, he had lots cast to determine on which day he should carry out his design. The word for lots is "Purim", and from it we get the name for the holiday. The chosen date was the thirteenth of Adar.

The king, who trusted Haman, agreed to his plan to murder the Jews. For Haman had told him that the Jews were "scattered abroad in all the provinces," and that "their laws are different from those of every people" (Esther 3,8).

Letters, written by Haman and signed by the king, were sent out throughout all the provinces, commanding all persons "to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish all the Jews" (Esther 3,13). The Jews would have been massacred, had it not been for Esther, Mordechai's cousin, who had been chosen queen a few years earlier. Queen Esther was able to intercede and save the Jewish community from genocide.

Haman was hanged on the gallows which he himself had  prepared for Mordechai. The Jews of Persia were spared and judgements were executed on their enemies.

Mordechai thereupon sent letters to all the Jews, calling upon them to observe the fourteenth and the fifteenth of Adar, "the days wherein the Jews had rest from their enemies, and the month which was turned for them from sorrow to gladness, and from mourning into a good day; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions (mishloach manot) one to another and gifts to the poor (matanot la'evyonim)" (Esther 9,22).

The main event is reading the Book of Esther. Set in Persia 2,300 years ago, the "Megillah" (as it is commonly called) recounts how a seemingly unrelated series of events spun together to save the Jewish people from annihilation.

The name Megillat Esther (Scroll of Esther) actually means "revealing the hidden." Unlike every other book in the Bible, Megillat Esther never mentions G-d's name even once. The hidden hand of God is revealed through the maze of events. There are no coincidences.

Megillat Esther teaches us that life's challenges work out for the best, because what appears as obstacles are really opportunities to develop ourselves for the better. And it all comes from G-d's invisible hand that guides our fate, every step of the way.


There are four mitzvot specific to the holiday of Purim:

  • Reading the Megillah (Scroll of Esther)
  • Festivity and rejoicing (the Purim meal)
  • Sending food to friends (Mishloach Manot)
  • Giving gifts to the poor (Matanot La'evyonim)

The Book of Esther is read on Purim night, and again the next day. Every word must be clearly heard. We read it in the synagogue, because the larger the crowd, the greater publicity is given to the miracle of our being saved.

On Purim morning, we bustle around town visiting friends and delivering tasty treats -- Mishloach Manot. Purim is the day we reach out to embrace our fellow Jews -- irrespective of any religious or social differences. After all, Haman did not discriminate amongst us... that's why it is particularly good to give gifts to those who you may have had an argument with, or someone new in the community who needs a new friend.

On Purim, it is also a special mitzvah to give gifts of money to the poor. The Jewish people are one unit -- we can't possibly enjoy the holiday if poor people don't have enough.

Then comes the day's grand finale -- the festive meal. We eat our fill and pamper our bodies -- because it is the Jewish bodies that Haman sought to destroy. Also, we are obliged to imbibe alcohol until one doesn't know the difference between "cursed is Haman" and "blessed is Mordechai." In other words, we are to drink until the point that we don't know good from bad.

From: Woodbury Jewish Center, Woodbury, NY

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