Purim

Meaning and celebration of the Feast of Purim

פורים

Chance doesn’t exist!

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Purim, פורים, is a Persian word meaning “to cast lots.” It was on the 13th day of the month of Adar that Haman, Achashverosh’s minister, decided to cast lots in order to destroy the Jewish people. This month was also the month in which Moshe died and Haman thought it was a good omen foretelling the death of the people he hated; but he had forgotten that the month of Adar was also the month of Moshe’s birthday! 

Purim is the story of a young Jewish queen who was instrumental in the salvation of the Jewish nation through the miraculous, but hidden intervention of G-d, who’s Name isn’t revealed in the Meguilat Esther (Esther scroll). Haman’s evil plan of genocide was reversed and instead, it became a day of victory over the enemies and an official day of rejoicing for the Jewish people and for future generations to come. 

In Jewish tradition, it is said that the Feast of Purim will still be celebrated in the Messianic times because it symbolizes the victory over Amalek and the demonstration of G-d’s love for His people. 

Purim is the last feast before the end of the Jewish year and comes before Pesach, already proclaiming the deliverance.

Historical context:

This story happens during the seventy years of captivity of the Jewish people in Babylonia, about 2370 years ago according to Jewish sources. Achashverosh (Atarxerces I or II depending on the source), is the ruler of the Persian Empire which succeeded the Babylonian one. His wife, Vashti, is the only remaining descendant of Nebuchadnezzar. 

The king gives a banquet to rejoice because the seventy years of captivity are almost gone; the Jewish people haven’t been delivered as yet and Jerusalem hasn’t been rebuilt as prophesied by the Jewish prophets . It was under his reign that the rebuilding of the Temple ceased and just like his predecessor, Belshatzar, he too sat drinking and serving wine in the sacred cups of the Temple.

Being drunk, he invites his wife Vashti, to appear naked (as mentioned in the Midrash) in front of his nobles and officers. After her refusal, he decides to divorce her and looks for a new wife among the young girls of the kingdom. 

Esther is chosen and will be silent about her Jewish birth until the right time. Meanwhile Haman is elevated by the king and seeing Mordechai’s refusal to bow before him, he will attempt to annihilate the Jewish population, thus enacting the first Jewish genocide. 

Esther, having fasted, will go and intercede to the king for the salvation of her people; the situation will be reversed giving advantage to the Jews and Haman will be hung, together with his sons. Mordechai will be elevated before the king and instead of a day of great mourning, as planned by the descendant of Amalek, it will be a day of official rejoicing for the descendants of Avraham. 

Purim depicts the evil fight against the Jewish people, a fight that is willing to eradicate the Name of G-d on earth. 

Haman was an Amalekite, descendant from Agag, himself a descendant of Amalek. 

After coming out of Egypt, all nations were afraid of the Jewish people because of the miracles of G-d, except for one nation, Amalek, who boldly attacked the weakened Jews in the desert .

Thus G-d ordered the destruction of Amalek:

Therefore, when ADONAI your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies in the land ADONAI your God is giving you as your inheritance to possess, you are to blot out all memory of ‘Amalek’ from under heaven. Don’t forget! Deuteronomy 25:19

Years later, king Sha’ul won’t obey G-d and will spare the life of the Amalekite king, Agag, who had time to give a descendant during the night (as told by the Midrash) before Shmuel (Samuel) kills him: 

However, Sha’ul and the people spared Agag, along with the best of the sheep and cattle, and even the second best, also the lambs, and everything that was good––they weren’t inclined to destroy these things. But everything that was worthless or weak they completely destroyed. 1 Samuel 15:9

Amalek, עמלק symbolizes doubt, hesitation, as is revealed to us in the numerical value of his name and is similar to the Hebrew word safek, ספק which means doubt: 240

Let’s also check the word used in verse18 from the 25th Chapter of Deuteronomy for “how he met you, korecha, קרך“ which means to get cold, from the root  kor, קר and also the one for “ by chance, mikreh, מקרא ”:

“Remember what ‘Amalek’ did to you on the road as you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you, korecha, קרך by the road, attacked those in the rear, those who were exhausted and straggling behind when you were tired and weary. He did not fear God. Deuteronomy 25:17

Amalek is the image of doubt and unbelief in G-d’s existence, the coldness towards the miracles and to the goodness of G-d and also the denial of G-d’s authority in men’s affairs. Haman would rather cast lots and trust in the occult power of chance rather than admit to the sovereignty of G-d.

In the same way that Amalek didn’t fear the divine wrath by attacking the Jewish nation, Haman, will also attempt to destroy once more, this people. 

The spirit of Amalek still infects the thoughts and minds of modern day Hamans, such as Hitler and others who will again try to annihilate the Jewish people….

Mordechai, who is the antidote for Haman, will not bow before his threat and will keep his faith in the same way that his ancestor BenYamin, from whose tribe he is issued, while still in his mother’s womb, wouldn’t bow before Esav. 

The Temple will be built on BenYamin’s territory and he will never leave the royal tribe of Yehuda, even in exile. 

In the Meguillat Esther, the Name of G-d is never mentioned. 

The word meguilla, scroll in Hebrew, comes from the word “to reveal” and the name Esther, אסתר who’s real name was Hadasa, comes from the root “to hide, to veil”. The book of Esther reveals to us the hidden face of G-d and his quiet but sure intervention for His people. 

From this comes the custom to “get costumed,” or to hide, at Purim; this interpretation goes all the way back to the desert where G-d announced to His people that He would hide Himself from them because of their sins. The word “hiding” has the same root as the name Esther: 

But I will be hiding, astir, אסתיר my face from them because of all the evil they will have done in turning to other gods. Deuteronomy 31:18

The feast of Purim reminds us that “chance” doesn’t exist, that G-d is faithful and that He will never forsake His people. His enemies will be destroyed and He will unveil Himself at the end time to the whole world and they will recognize Him and will bow in front of the King of kings and the L-rd of lords! Amen!

And I will no longer hide, astir אסתיר  my face from them, for I have poured out my Spirit on the house of Isra’el, ‘says ADONAI ELOHIM” Ezekiel 39:29

 Celebration of the feast:

  • Purim starts on the 14th of Adar.
  • The Fast of Esther:A day before the Feast, there is a day of fast to remind us of Esther’s intercession. 
  • Reading of the Meguilla : Everyone must hear the reading of the book of Esther, adults and children alike. 
  • Half Shekel: We are accustomed to give three coins (half dollar) for the poor to remind us of the half shekel offered by each Jew to the Temple. 
  • Costuming and gifts:We are also accustomed to wearing costumes and to send each other mishloach manot, gifts with cookies and sweets. In Israel, the neighbors bring to each other plates with sweets and blessings and the children eat delicious cookies called “Haman’s ears” in the shape of little triangles. 
  • When the Meguilla is read, the children shake rattles and stomp their feet to make noise each time the name of Haman is mentioned. 
  • Communities and families will have a big meal, for this is a time of celebration and an opportunity to rejoice with everybody because the whole community was saved all together. 
  • Many joyful songs are sung and custom says that we are to drink wine until mixing the names of Haman and Mordechai, but of course this is not to be taken literally! 

We wish you a happy Feast of Purim and may soon the memory of Amalek be erased so that our joy may be full! 

Chag Sameach   !

חג שמח 

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