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Purim 5781

On This Day in Jewish History: Adar 13-14, 3405.


The events in Megillah Esther occur in the years between the destruction of the 1st Temple and the rebuilding of the Second (369-355 BCE). In fact the events of the Purim story lead directly to the re-establishment of an independent Judea and the return of the Jewish exiles to the Land of Israel. The Jews were outright sentenced for genocide by the evil Haman and the passivity of King Achashveirosh - to be saved by the bravery of Queen Esther and her cousin Mordechai, the leader of the Jewish community in exile at the time. Most Jews were living in the region of Persia / Babylonia at the time with the elite and a majority of Jews living in the capital of Shushan or Susa in modern day Iran. The King Achashveirosh decides to throw a party that lasts several weeks. At the party they actually paraded around relics and holy artifacts from the Temple. In a drunken state, the king demands his wife Vashti present herself naked in front of the guests, she refuses, and he is advised to kill her because she "will set a bad example for the rest of the kingdom". Achashveirosh listens to him and so he now needs a new queen. A big search begins and ultimately, after a beauty contest, the King falls in love with a young Jewish girl named Hadassah or as we all know her, Esther.

Her cousin happens to be the leader of the Jewish community, Mordechai, and he reluctantly allows her to become the queen while reminding her that she can never tell the king of her true identity. Inside, he knows there is a purpose for her being chosen. Esther becomes queen and one of the King's advisor, Haman (boooooo) is promoted to a high rank in the kingdom to the point that he actually obtains the signet from the king to pass decrees. He is outraged that Mordechai the Jew won’t bow down to him (Haman started forcing ppl to bow to him when he walked on the street) and decides he’s had enough of the Jews as a whole. Haman approaches the king and says that there is “a certain people whose laws are different from any other people and it is not in your majesty’s interest to tolerate them” - Sound familiar? What decree did he then want to pass with his newfound power? One to wipe out all of the Jews. Given that even Judea was in control of Achashveirosh at the time, this meant he planned to kill every single Jew alive. Haman is also a descendant of Amalek, the nation from where the irrationality of Jewish-hatred stems from. He pulled out lots to find a date “by chance” and landed on the 13th of Adar.

Mordechai gets wind of the decree and tells Esther that this is perhaps why she was put in this position of power- the fate of her People is in her hands, she must speak to the king. She is afraid and agrees even though she could be killed for even walking in unsummoned to the king - Mordechai then reminds her that just because of her position, she will not escape the decree. She agrees and asks Mordechai to tell the people to pray and fast for 3 days, after the 3 days, she will approach the king. After 3 days she approaches the king and he is actually happy to see her, she requests that he and Haman come to a dinner party she has prepared for and she would like to make her request then. The king is happy to offer her up to half the kingdom (consciously not including the half with Judea / Jerusalem). At the dinner she requests that they come to a second dinner, where she will make her request. Haman leaves in high spirits only to see Mordechai on the street and he becomes outraged again - that night he begins building gallows to have him hanged on.

At the second dinner, Esther tells the king that someone is out to kill her and her people, and that someone is Haman! The king is enraged and has Haman hanged on the very gallows that he had set up for Mordechai and Mordechai receives the job of viceroy that Haman held. Yet, the decree to have all the Jews killed was in motion and all of the provinces were ready to do so on the 13th of Adar. So Mordechai and Esther passed a new decree: Jews are allowed to defend themselves on the 13th. So when the day arrived, Jews organized and defended themselves against the onslaught and survived. The next day, the 14th was full of celebration. (On the 13th -today - we fasted, on the 14th - tomorrow - we party)

As a result, Mordechai and Esther recognized that this entire saga had been a miracle from God so Jews in every generation, everywhere would have to commemorate these days as a holiday called Purim (meaning "lots" since lots were cast to see what day we would be exterminated). Yet at no point was the miracle out in the open. They wrote down the story and at no point do they mention God’s name. The entire story seems to happen as pure coincidence after coincidence. This comes to teach us that in the exile, this is how Hashem / God interacts with us - in the hidden and its on us to reach out and do our part to build a Connection with Him that will allow for “miracles to emerge” - dont expect the sea to open and for the skies to bellow down in a loud voice - that’s not how it works anymore. God put us on His Earth to find Him and do our part in the project of Creation.

The same way Esther and Mordechai did their parts - we must do the same Esther eventually has a son with Achashveirosh who succeeds him, Cyrus, who allows the Jews to return to Judea and begin the rebuilding of the Second Temple, retroactively re-establishing independent Jewish rule that would last until 70 AD with the destruction of the 2nd Temple by the Romans. Customs and Laws of Purim: We fast on 13th of Adar to commemorate the 3 days they fasted and the decree of genocide against us - the period of sadness that Purim contains. We listen to the Megillah reading twice, night of the 13th at during the day on the 14th (everyone is commanded to hear every word - men, women and children) We give each other presents ("Mishloach Manot" which is supposed to be one item of 2 different blessings) We give tzedaka ("Matanot Levyonim"), a donation to the poor or provide a meal for the needy Those of age are told to drink alcohol because it is a festive time and it is encouraged in order to enhance the feeling (the actual commandment says to drink enough where you can't tell the difference of Mordechai being blessed and Haman being cursed) We are to have a festive meal (Seudah) and we dress to look different than we normally do - flipping the nature of things such as was the case during the story of Purim.

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