The Story Of Purim
This article was written by Ariel Hindle
Jam filled pastries, absurd costumes, masks and loud, rowdy noise makers. These are just a few traditions that make up one of the most enthusiastic Jewish holidays of the spring. Purim is a story told of a young Jewish woman named Esther who goes against the empire and the palace protocol for the life of her people. She gave up her regular life to take the responsibility as a queen, while hiding her religion and ethnicity.
The story begins around 486 BC in Persia, which is now known as Iran. A lavish party was being held in the palace of Susa by king Xerxes the Great. The King ordered his queen, Vashti, to come dance for him and his friends, so that they might enjoy her beauty. Vashti refuses the King’s request. It is assumed that the reason Vashti defies her husband's request is because she states that her body is private, and not to be used for entertainment. King Xerxes is outraged by his wife’s defiance and casts her out of the kingdom. Before long, the King grows lonely. He decides to hold a contest for all the women in the kingdom to see who will catch his eye and be the next queen. A young Jewish woman by the name of Esther is greatly encouraged by her cousin Mordechai to enter into the contest. Having a Jew in a high position, within the King's court, would be of great benefit to the Jewish people. Esther goes to the palace and does indeed catch Xerxes eye. Esther does not reveal her heritage to the King. Unbeknownst to him, he has married a Jew. Queen Esther grows lonely in the palace, so she sends for her cousin to visit regularly, one day when leaving the palace Mordechai overhears a plan to assassinate the King. He reports this news and is celebrated by the King, and named a hero.
Some time goes by and the King promotes a man named Haman to become his prime minister, taking a large amount of the King's responsibilities. Haman, being a greedy man with evil intent, made the people of the kingdom bow to him as he passed through villages. Mordechai defied him and stated that he bows to no man. This greatly angered Haman and swore he would destroy, kill and annihilate not only Mordechai but also his people, the Jewish people. Haman fabricated a lie to the King, “the Jewish people are defiant and refuse to bow to you”. King Xerxes, trusting Haman, condoned the genocide.
It is said that Haman cast stones on a calendar to chose the day he would execute the mass genocide on the Jewish people. The stones fell on the 13th day of the month of Adar. We get the word Purim from the Persian word “pur”, which roughly translates to small stones, such as the ones that Haman used for his deadly deed. Mordechai heard of the plan and told Esther she must go before the King and ask him to stop the attack on her people. At first Esther feared for her life because going before the King without an invitation meant execution on the spot. In order to harness strength for this difficult task, Esther fasted and prayed for three days, and asked Mordechai to do the same. She devised a plan to throw a grand party for the King, and invite Haman to it. In order to set the plan in motion and request him to attend, she risked her life by standing before the King without being summoned. When the party came, she declared Haman's plan to destroy her and her innocent people in front of the King and all the guests. The king was outraged and ordered Haman to be executed. Haman was hung on the gallows he had built for Mordechai and the Jews.
Why is this story important to Jews? It’s important because this story once again shows how our people overcame another tyrant attempting to annihilate the Jewish people. How is Purim celebrated? Jews gather together to retell the story of Esther. While the story is being told aloud, we use fun noise makers called graggers to drown out the evil name of Haman everytime the story teller speaks it. We bake a pastry called Hamantaschen, which has three points and is filled with jam or poppy seeds. This represents the hat that Haman wore. We dress up and wear masks as a reminder that we never know when the face of G-d is right in front of us. This holiday, despite its dark story, is a sweet time to celebrate freedom through storytelling, dancing and delicious food.
I grew up looking forward to all of these traditions and continue them as an adult today. One of my favorite Purim memories is reacting to the story with my Hebrew day school classmates for our congregation at my synagogue. Afterwards we celebrated with food and dancing. After all, the Jewish community considers Purim to be the most joyous day of the year. Tel Aviv holds the world's largest Purim parade every year, and they certainly know how to make the most out of this exciting day celebrating our resilient culture and religion.