Purim is the celebration of the story told in the Book of Esther of the Satanic attempt to exterminate God’s Chosen People, the Jews. It is probably the least known of all Bible celebrations. When was the last time you heard a Purim sermon?
In the story of Esther, wicked Haman plots to kill all the Hebrews, but this evil plan is stopped by Esther and her cousin Mordechai. Since that time Hebrews everywhere have celebrated this appointed time with joy and ruckus!
v Purim commemorates the book of Esther, a time when the Hebrew people living in Persia were saved from extermination. It is one of the most joyous and fun holidays.
v The word “Purim” means “lots” and refers to the lottery that Haman used to choose the date for the massacre.
v Purim is also called the “Festival of Lots.”
v Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar, which is usually in March. The 13th of Adar is the day that Haman chose for the extermination of the Jews, and the day that the Hebrews battled their enemies for their lives. On the day afterwards, the 14th, they celebrated their survival. 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 referred to as Shushan Purim.
v It’s a historical celebration of victory over foreign oppressors.
v Judaism teaches four ways to celebrate Purim. Each of these four mitzvah are ways to experience the spirit of the season and the story. They are the reading of Megillat Esther, festivity and rejoicing, Shalach Manot (sending gifts), and Matanot L’Evyonim (gifts to the poor).
v “Megillat” or “Megillah” is the Hebrew term for a small Torah scroll on which one book of the Bible is written. Megillah are pulled open from one side and read aloud.
v Reading the Megillat or book of Esther is a big part of the day. It is considered a great mitzvah to read the entire book and hear the entire book read on this day.
v Esther is the only book in the bible that does not mention the name of God.
v Poor people are also remembered on Purim. It is tradition to remember at least two poor people with gifts of tzedekah (charity). These are called “Matanot L’Evyonim” or “gifts to the poor.” The gifts to the poor are given during the day, usually after the reading of the Megillah.
v Another tradition is to give gifts to one another on this day. In Hebrew this is called “Shalach Manot.” Just like many holidays, presents are part of the fun. If at all possible, these gifts should be sent by messengers, rather than delivered personally because the Megillah uses the word mishloach (sending) for these gifts.
v This is a festive time to remember God and celebrate His promise of the preservation of the Nation of Israel and the Jews.
v A short overview of the story of Purim from an unknown source is as follows:
The story relates the downfall of the vicious anti-Semite Haman, a descendent of Amalek, the traditional enemy of the Hebrew. As Prime Minister of ancient Persia, around 2300 years ago, he sought to murder all the Israelites of that land. Events happen such that Haman himself plays a crucial role in the coronation of Queen Esther, after the former Queen Vashti was banished. No one realizes that Esther is a Hebrew.
Haman who has become a powerful man in the kingdom, is upset that Mordechai does not bow down to him. He succeeds in getting King Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes) to authorize a royal decree to annihilate an unspecified nation he claims is an enemy of the King. Initially, he does not identify the nation so that the King can later claim that he did not know that the decree was against the Israelites. Haman casts lots (called PUR) to determine the day this was to happen. Mordechai and Esther lead the Hebrews in a return to God, through prayer and fasting. Esther invites the King and Haman to join her for dinner, and in response to the king’s offer of “half my kingdom for your wishes,” all she asks is they come again tomorrow to another dinner “and I’ll tell you then.” (She’ll reveal the reason for her invitation).
We then find Haman working through the night to construct a gallows upon which to hang Mordechai. At daybreak, he will appear before the King to denounce Mordechai. Unknown to Haman, the King had not slept the night before, suspecting a coup led by Haman. In desperation to get some sleep, he had asked his servants to read from the Royal Chronicles. The Book opens to a long forgotten story of how Mordechai discovered an assassination plot by two royal servants against the King. At the exact moment the King is inquiring whether Mordechai was rewarded for his loyalty, who should appear, but Haman. Before getting a chance to make his request to hang Mordechai, Haman is ordered by the King to parade Mordechai through the capital city in royal garments on a royal horse while proclaiming “This is what is done to the man the King wishes to honor.”
Immediately afterwards, a crestfallen Haman is whisked to the second Royal dinner, hosted by Esther. At the dinner she reveals to the King that she is Jewish and that Haman, is an enemy of the King because he seeks to destroy the Jewish people. The embarrassed and angry King storms out of the room. Haman pleads to Esther for his life. He “somehow” loses his balance and falls on the couch where Esther is reclining. The King comes back at just this moment. He is very upset and blows up. On the spot, Harbonah, a royal minister tells the King about the gallows Haman constructed for Mordechai, who saved the King’s life. The King orders Haman to be hanged on the gallows intended for Mordechai. The King elevates Mordechai to Haman’s recently vacated position. Since the King’s decree cannot be reversed, Mordechai issues orders, with the King’s permission, allowing the Hebrews to fight against their enemies. On the thirteenth and fourteenth days of Adar the Israelites won tremendous victories and were saved from the threat of total annihilation. Since that time, we celebrate Purim.
v Tradition teaches that Ahasuerus searched four years for a queen, during which he considered more than 1400 contestants, before choosing Esther.
v Mordechai, who refused to bow to Haman, was a descendant of Benjamin, the only one of Jacob’s sons who didn’t bow to Haman’s ancestor Esau.
v Mordechai is considered the first person in history to be called a “Jew”? (Before then, Jews were called “Hebrews” or “Israelites”)
v Did you know …Vashti (King Ahasuerus’s first queen) was the great-granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian emperor who destroyed the first Holy Temple?
v Esther’s Hebrew name was “Hadassah.” Esther is from Persian origin.
v Just a tidbit…Haman’s decree was never revoked? King Ahasuerus only issued a second decree, giving the Hebrews the right to defend themselves.
v Tradition says that Mordechai was a very old man during the story of Purim. He was already a member of the Sanhedrin, the highest court of Torah law in Jerusalem, 79 years before the miracle of Purim!
v There are many traditions surrounding this holiday. You can use these, adapt them to fit your family, or start your own.
v This is a time for family and friends to get together and celebrate being Israel.
v It is customary to hold carnival-like celebrations on Purim, to perform plays and parodies, and to hold beauty contests.
v When the story of Esther is read on Purim it is tradition to interrupt the reading with celebration. Yes, interrupting the reading with noise-making devices at the mention of Haman’s name is encouraged. Fifty-four times Haman’s name is read in the Megillah, and fifty-four times the congregation erupts in a deafening chorus of “graggers,” clanging pots, cap-guns, clapping, booing, and sirens. The congregation can also applaud and celebrate when the hero, Mordechai, is mentioned.
v Another great way to blot out Haman’s name is to write Haman’s name on the soles of your shoes and stamp your feet at every mention of Haman.
v The gragger (Yiddish for rattle), is also traditional to use during the reading. (The Hebrew word for this noisemaker is ra’ashan, from the word ra’ash, meaning noise.) The custom of the Purim “gragger,” was obviously introduced to amuse the children, and so keep up their interest in the reading, as children (over 6) are also required to hear the Megillah.
v There is an old joke about summing up many a Hebrew Holiday: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.” A big Purim meal is just part of the fun.
v Tzedekah, or gifts to the poor, can also be given during this season.
v One wonderful way to keep the appointed time is to give Machatzit Hashekel, (half a shekel) – three half-dollar coins (or their equivalent in local currency), as charity to the poor, before the reading of the Megillah. This symbolizes the half-shekel which every believer used to give as dues to the Bait Hamikdash in Yerushalayim (Exodus 30:11-16). The reason we give three half-shekels is because the term terumah (contribution) is mentioned three times in the account of the mitzvah of the half-shekel.
v The Fast of Esther or “Ta’anit” is a new tradition that has sort of evolved concerning Purim. The day before Purim is observed as a minor fast day. Participants can fast from sun up to sundown on this day as a reminder of three days of fasting that the Hebrew people did before Esther went before the King. (Read the story to know more about this.) One source sites that, “The 13th of Adar is also the anniversary of the day the fighting against the anti-Semitic forces occurred; Purim is the day the victorious Jews rested and celebrated. The 13th of Adar was then established as an annual fast day for every generation, known as The Fast of Esther. (Esther 9:31).”
v Just as there is a day to celebrate before Purim there is also a day to celebrate after Purim. This is called “Shushan Purim.” According to Megillat Esther, the fight against the anti-Semites in the walled capital city of Shushan, the city in which King Ahasuerus lived, took a day longer than in the rural areas. The Jews in Shushan didn’t get to rest and celebrate until the day after those in rural areas. In commemoration of this, Megillat Esther says that Purim is celebrated a day later in cities, on the day now known as “Shushan Purim.” Our Sages decided that a “city” in this case means a city that had walls (whether they are still standing or not) at the time of Joshua. For example, Jerusalem celebrates Purim on Shushan Purim.
v Matanot L’Evyonim is considered a symbol of foolishness among the peoples of Europe, and especially among the Jews. So we remember Ahasuerus as the “stupid” king (as mentioned in Midrash Megillah XII).
v Hamenstaschen or “Haman’s Hats” are a special triangle shaped cookie that is traditionally made and eaten during Purim. Here’s an easy recipe for making these fun cookies:
Recipe for Hamentaschen
2/3 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange juice (the smooth kind, not the pulpy)
1 cup white flour
1 cup wheat flour (DO NOT substitute white flour! The wheat flour is necessary to achieve the right texture!)
Various preserves, fruit butters and/or pie fillings.
Blend butter and sugar thoroughly. Add the egg and blend thoroughly. Add OJ and blend thoroughly. Add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, alternating white and wheat, blending thoroughly between each. Refrigerate batter overnight or at least a few hours. Roll as thin as you can without getting holes in the batter (roll it between two sheets of wax paper lightly dusted with flour for best results).
Cut out 3 or 4 inch circles. Put a tablespoon of filling in the middle of each circle. Fold up the sides to make a triangle, overlapping the sides as much as possible so only a little filling shows through the middle. Squeeze the corners firmly, so they don’t come undone while baking. Bake at 375 degrees for about 10-15 minutes, until golden brown but before the filling boils over! Traditional fillings are poppy seed and prune, but apricot is my favorite. Apple butter, pineapple preserves, and cherry pie filling all work quite well.
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