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.
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
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
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
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
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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!