I love the Jewish holiday Purim, partly because it is the story of a woman and partly because I am named after a woman who was named after that woman. Chag Purim Sameach, or as that phrase loosely translates from Hebrew to English, happy festival of Purim!
Here are 12 things to know about celebrating Purim, which in 2013 will be commemorated Feb. 23-24:
Purim is a Jewish holiday that reminds us of how Queen Esther of the Old Testament delivered the Jewish people by simply remembering who she was. She remembered her God, regardless of those around her, and she knew that it was God who placed her in the position of queen. She stayed true to herself, and to her God, and in this way an entire people were rescued.
Esther lived during a time when the Jewish people were under the rule Ahasuerus of the Persian Empire. He gave a six-month month party for his army, closing with a party for the common people. Many people were drunk, and the king tried to show off his wife. The queen — who may be a silent hero for all women in this moment — refuses, and the king fires her as queen. He orders that all the young women be presented to him so that he can choose a new queen. Esther is an orphan girl who has been raised by her cousin, Mordecai. When the king chooses her as his new queen, she does not tell him that she is Jewish.
The culture clash
Since Esther was Jewish and was married to a non-Jewish king, she wanted to practice her religion — but it was dangerous for the Jews at the time. Megillah tradition says she had seven different maids, and used one for each day of the week. Accordingly, no maid noticed that her behavior was any different on the Sabbath than other days. The Talmud says that because she had no access to kosher food, Esther ate only fruit and nuts and seeds.
After the king and Esther are married, Mordecai uncovers a plot where some courtiers plan to kill the king. Mordecai catches them; they are hung on the gallows; and the king knows Mordecai is on his side.
However, the king’s prime minister, an antagonist named Haman, does not like Mordecai. He knows Mordecai is Jewish because Mordecai won’t bow down to Haman. This makes Haman so angry that he wants not to just kill Mordecai, but all Jews. Haman gets permission from the king to kill all the Jews, and starts building the gallows to hang Mordecai.
First, Mordecai and Esther tell all the Jews to repent, to fast, and to pray for three days. Then, on the third day, Esther goes to the king — while Haman is there — and invites him to a party.
The night before the party, the king cannot sleep. He tries to bore himself to sleep by having records read to him, and in this way he is reminded of how Mordecai saved his life. He asks about this, and is told that Mordecai was never rewarded for this great service and never received any recognition.
At this very moment, Haman shows up, trying to flatter the king. The king looks at Haman, and asks him what the king should do to honor a faithful man. Haman thinks the king is talking about him, and so he says that the man the king wishes to honor should be dressed in the king’s royal robes and be taken around on the king’s royal horse. Haman is mortified when the king then orders him to do this for Mordecai!
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