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ANSHE EMES -- Purim
A survey of Purim thoughts from Gedolei Yisroel
compiled by Fred Toczek. 

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Approximately 70 years following the First Templeís destruction, Haman (a descendant of the Jew-hating tribe of Amalek) devised a scheme to annihilate every Jew. Hamanís plan was thwarted by Mordechai (a descendant of King Saul) and his niece Queen Esther). With G-dís help, the Jews were able to rise up against their enemies and destroy them on the 13th of Adar, the very day destined for the "final solution". Purim speaks of the tremendous courage and self-sacrifice of Esther and Mordechai, as well as the entire Jewish nation (who, throughout the whole year, refused to convert and returned wholeheartedly to Torah and Mitzvos). In celebrating Purim, we reaffirm our commitment to the Torahís eternal values, and share in the same merit that redeemed the Jews in the days of Mordechai and Esther.

PURIM OBSERVANCES

The Month Of Adar: When Adar arrives, happiness increases. On the Shabbos before Purim, after the reading of the weekly portion, the paragraph in the Torah (Parashat Zachor) dealing with the villainous attack of Amalek is read; it ends with the words "lo tishkach!" ("do not forget!"), calling us to remember what Amalek and all enemies of our people have done.

Megillah: We listen to the reading of the Megillah (Scroll) of Esther during the evening and day of Purim (see summary below). Men and women are obligated, and children are encouraged, to hear the Megillah. As Hamanís name is read Ė 54 times in all Ė we sound a gragger (noisemaker).

Costumes: Children of ages wear costumes and masks, adding to Purimís revelry.

Gifts to the Needy: On Purim, it is a special Mitzvah to remember the poor. We give charity ("Matanot Laíevyonim") to at least two, but preferably more, needy individuals on Purim day. This Mitzvah is best fulfilled by giving directly to the needy; if one cannot find poor people, money should be placed in charity boxes. Children are also encouraged to fulfill this Mitzvah.

Gifts of Food: On Purim, we emphasize the importance of Jewish unity and friendship by sending gifts of food ("Mishloíach Manot") to friends. Such gifts should consist of at least two kinds of ready-to-eat foods (e.g., pastry, fruit, beverage), and should be given to at least one friend during the day of Purim.

Festive Meal: We celebrate Purim with a special festive meal ("Seudat Purim") during the day, at which we gather with friends and family to rejoice in the Purim spirit.

Fast of Esther: To commemorate the date of prayer and fasting which the Jews held before their victory, we fast before Purim (from approximately two hours before sunrise until 40 minutes after sunset; please see a calendar for the specific times)

Machatzit Hashekel: It is a tradition to give 3 half-dollar coins to charity to commemorate the half-shekel given by each Jew in the time of the Holy Temple.

Special Prayers: On Purim we recite the ĎAl HaNissimí prayer in the Amidah for evening, morning and afternoon, as well as in the Grace After Meals. In the morning service, there is a special reading from the Torah Scroll.

Traditional Purim Treats: Traditional Purim treats include kreplachs (triangle-shaped pieces of dough filled with chopped meat) and hamantashen (triangular filled pastries).

MEGILLAH ESTHER : A BRIEF CHAPTER-BY-CHAPTER OUTLINE

    1. King Achahverosh throws a lavish 180-day celebration, marking the 3rd year of his reign. When Queen Vashti refuses his request to appear at the celebration to display her beauty for the guests, the kingís advisors counsel that she be replaced.
    2. Across the Persian Empire, officials were appointed to identify Vashtiís potential successors. A Jewish girl called Esther (instructed by her Uncle Mordechai to conceal her identity), is brought to the capitol as a candidate and ultimately selected as Queen. Mordechai learns of a plot to overthrow the king; he informs Esther, who in turn tells the king and the plotters are hung.
    3. Haman is appointed Prime Minister. Mordechai refuses to bow down to Haman, invoking his wrath. Haman vows to kill the Jews of Persia, and prevails upon the king to issue a royal edict designating the 13th of Adar to exterminate the Jews and plunder their possessions.
    4. Mordechai tears his clothes and puts on sackcloth and ashes as a sign of public mourning. He sends a copy of the decree to Esther and asks her to intercede with the king (recognizing that to approach him without being summoned is to risk death). Esther tells Mordechai to ask the Jews to fast/pray for 3 days before she approaches the king.
    5. King Achashverosh receives Esther and grants her virtually any request. She simply requests that he and Haman join her at a banquet. After the banquet, Haman sees Mordechai, who once again refuses to bow. After Haman recounts this to his wife Zeresh, she suggests that Mordechai be hung. The gallows are prepared.
    6. When the king canít sleep, he asks that the royal chronicles be read, at which time he learns for the first time of the plot that Mordechai foiled. That same night, Haman comes to the king to discuss hanging Mordechai. Before Haman can speak, the king tells Haman to honor Mordechai by dressing him in royal garments and placing him on a royal stallion and personally leading him through the streets of Shushan (capitol of Persia).
    7. At the second banquet, Ester reveals her identity and announces that she and her people are about to be murdered, identifying Haman as her arch enemy. The king has Haman hung on the gallows that had been prepared for Mordechai.
    8. Mordechai is named Prime Minister to replace Haman. A second royal edict is issued empowering the Jews to fight and kill anyone who would try to harm them.
    9. On the 13th of Adar, (the day designated for the destruction of the Jews), the Jews are victorious over their enemies. Hamanís ten sons are hung. The 14th and 15th of Adar are designated to celebrate. Mordechai initiates the Purim practices of a festive meal, the exchange of gifts of food and monetary gifts to the poor.
    10. Persia flourishes. Mordechaiís role in the history of the Persian Empire is recorded in the kingís chronicles.

PURIM: A FEW FINAL THOUGHTS

Purim: Then and Now. The Talmud teaches that "whoever read the Megillah backwards, does not fulfill his obligation". Chazel explain that "backwards" refers to one who reads the Megillah merely as ancient history. As The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Zítl wrote, the story of Purim is relevant to us today. We need not look far to find Hamanís modern-day heirs, who seek to scapegoat and eradicate us. Each time they rise us, however, their schemes are foiled by the miraculous Hand of G-d. Despite centuries of prosecution, we have survived and flourished through the grace of G-d. As Reb Baruch of Mezbiz said, "just as one must look upon him/herself as if he/she had been delivered from Egypt, so too must one feel as if he/she had been through the miracle of [Purim]".

Hidden Manifestations of G-d: At first glance, the Purim story has the appearance of a tale of palace intrigue and political infighting, a power struggle in which G-d plays no part at all. (The fact that neither G-dís name nor the word "miracle" is mentioned in the Megillah seems to lend credence to this assumption.) However, upon closer examination it becomes clear that

G-d is present on every page of the Megillah. It is He who guides the destiny of kings and nations Ė when things look bleak, Mordechai refuses to bow to the demands of the tyrant, Esther stands ready to give her life to save her people and the Jewish people repent and pray to G-d. In response, G-d, performs a nes nistar ("hidden miracle"), turning things around. Purim reminds us that the entire spectrum of "nature" and all the events of history are hidden manifestations of G-d, and that we must recognize G-dís hand in our everyday life. As in the days of Mordechai and Esther, circumstances may appear to be hopeless, but we can remove evil decrees and change the course of history through repentance, prayer, and good deeds.

An Astounding Omen. In Megillah Esther, we read that Hamanís ten sons were hung. In three of the ten sonsí names, one letter is written smaller than the others: the tav of Parshandata, the mem of Parmashata and the zayin of Vayzata. The combination of these three letters is the designation of the Jewish year 5707, which coincides with the secular year 1946-47. In 1946, the Nuremberg trials took place, at which 11 top German war criminals were sentenced to death by hanging. Goring committed suicide, and on October 16, 1946 Ė the ten Nazi chiefs were hanged. One of them, staring at the witnesses facing the gallows, shouted "Purimfest 1946!" The hanging of these "ten sons of Haman" was the literal fulfillment of the prophecy hidden in Megillah Esther!

 

A FREILICHEN PURIM!

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