PURIM: The Most Joyous Holiday
As foreigners in Israel, we know Purim as the day when people, especially children, are in colorful costumes to celebrate the feast. But, do you really know the story and significance behind this holiday?
Well, it’s more than just the dress-up and masks.
Purim is considered as the most joyous and happy feast among other Jewish holidays. People are seen in colorful costumes. Children get to enjoy this feast so much because they can be either their favorite superhero or girls can be a princesses with their crown and tiara. Grown ups are also allowed to wear costumes and of course, getting drunk is part of the celebration.
But behind this amusement and carnival atmosphere, is a story of bravery and heroism of a Jewish woman - Esther.
The story of Esther began in 4th Century BCE. The Jerusalem Temple was destroyed more than 50 years earlier. King Ahasuerus was the reigning King of Persia. Ahasuerus was lonely and longing for a wife that time after he executed his wife Vashti. The King decided to orchestrate and beauty pageant where all the beautiful ladies of Persia would be brought to him and the girl that would favor the King’s eye will be the next Queen of Persia.
The Jewish leader named Mordechai has a cousin named Esther who was an orphaned and was raised under Mordechai’s guidance. Mordechai convinced her to participate in the contest despite of her not desiring the throne. While all the girls beautified themselves with perfumes and lotions, Esther came as she was. When the King saw her, he instantly liked her and Esther became the Queen of Persia. Esther did not divulged her nationality even to the King.
Mordechai, as brave as he is, saved the King from death when he overheard the King’s chamberlains plotting the King’s assassination. Mordechai immediately reported it and the chamberlains were hanged.
Haman, one of the King’s ministers was promoted to become the Kingdom’s Prime Minister. Haman was a virulent hater of Jews. Immediately after his promotion, the King signed a decree ordering everyone to bow down whenever Haman appeared. Everyone followed the King’s order and Haman became ver proud. When Mordechai refused to bow down to him, he was not very happy about it. He vowed to take revenge to all Jews because of this and since then planned 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 asked permission to execute all the Jews. It was told that he offered 10,000 silver to the king but the Ahasuerus, who was not a friend to the Jews told Haman that he will not accept the silver and Haman can do whatever he pleases to the Kingdom.
Haman immediately sent proclamations to everyone, giving them permission to kill all Jews, man, woman and children on the following 13th of Adar.
Mordechai heard the proclamation and immediately sent a message to Esther asking her to beg to him to spare his people. Esther responded that there are rules in the Kingdom that no one can enter the King’s presence un-summoned or else, that person will be put to death.
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 ordered Mordechai to gather all the Jews and let them fast for 3 days and 3 nights. Mordechai followed Esther’s request and gathered all 20,000 Jews and they fasted and prayed to God.
After 3 days, Esther put her life on her hand and entered the King’s chamber. The King immediately extend his scepter (a sign that he is accepting Esther and she will not be executed). The King asked “What is it? What is your request?”
Esther immediately responded “ I would like to invite the King and Prime Minister Haman for dinner that I prepared”
So the King and Haman joined Esther for a small feast and the King once again asked Esther about her request. Esther responded “ I would like to invite the King and the Prime Minister again tomorrow for another feast, then I will tell the King my request”
Haman was so proud that he was given a privileged to eat with the King and Queen. That night, he met Mordechai at the door and still refused to bow down to him. Haman was infuriated. When he got home, his wife and advisers told him to approach the King to immediately order the execution of Mordechai. Haman instantly went back to talk to the King.
That night, the King cannot sleep so he ordered his servants to read to him the Royal Chronicles. They read from the chronicles how Mordechai saved the King’s life when he reported about the plotting of the King’s assassination.
“Was he rewarded with his heroism?”, the King asked. “No he was not”, the servants responded.
At that moment, Haman entered the King’s chamber to asked him about Mordechai’s execution. Before he could utter a word, the King suddenly said “My Haman, in your opinion, what do you think is the best reward for the person that the King wishes to honor?”
Haman, who thought that it was him that the King is wished to honor 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!'"
“That’s a great idea!”, the King said. “Now get the garments and a horse and do so to Mordechai the Jew!”
Haman had no choice during that time but to honor Mordechai. Later that day, Haman went to join the King and Esther for another feast.
The King curiously asked Esther, “What is your request?”
“My King”, Esther said. “I found favor in your eyes and if I may please beg for my life and the life of my people. For my people has been sold to be executed, annihilated and destroyed”. Esther then told the King that it was Haman who plotted everything.
The King was furious and immediately ordered the execution of Haman.
The estate of Haman was given to Esther and Mordechai was declared as the new Prime MInister of the Kingdom.
But, their battle for their freedom was far from over. It was said that once the decree has been implemented, it cannot be reversed. Mordechai and Esther immediately asked permission from the King to have another decree which counters the previous one that Haman signed. The decree gave permission to the Jews to defend themselves against their enemies.
On the 13th of Adar that year, the Jews mobilized and kill all their enemies including Haman’s ten sons.
Esther asked permission to the King to extend another day for the Jews to finish their enemies and the King obliged. On that day, the 14th of Adar, the Jews all over the world celebrated their victory and continued to kill all their enemies. The Jews of Sushan rested on the 15th day of Adar. This holiday was called “PURIM”. It became the most joyous holiday in a Jewish Calendar.