Tonight we celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim, and in honor of that, I thought I’d post this piece from my website:
What is Purim?
The Jewish celebration of Purim is based on the Biblical Book of Esther. In this story, King Ahashverosh (Ah-HASH-vehr-ohsh… gesundheit!) of Persia has his wife, Vashti, executed because she won’t do the down and dirty for his staff. Needing a new queen, he holds a Miss Persia beauty contest and the winner gets to be his bride.
One of the lucky contestants is Esther, a very beautiful Jewish girl whose Uncle Mordechai likes to micromanage her life. Mordechai cautions Esther to not reveal her Jewishness to the King, as the King would undoubtedly be influenced by stereotypes and demand all of her credit cards. Esther does her best WASP impression, and catches the king’s attention. She wins the Miss Persia title and becomes his queen.
Enter the big bad evil Haman (boo!) who is the king’s chief advisor. One day while out strutting, Haman meets up with Mordechai at the city gate, where Mordechai is continuing to micromanage Esther’s life with his Palm Pilot. Haman demands that everyone, including Mordechai, bow down to him. Mordechai refuses, telling Haman that he will only bow down to G-d. When Haman insists that he is G-d, Mordechai counters by saying that if G-d ever came in human form, He wouldn’t be so ugly.
Incensed and smelling bad, Haman returns to the king and demands that not only Mordechai but all the Jews should be punished for being so blatant with the truth. Haman casts lots (purim) to determine the day when war shall be declared on the Jews of Persia. When Mordechai finds out about Haman’s evil plan, he sends an e-mail to Esther, asking her to reveal her true identity to the king and plead on behalf of the Jews.
Esther, wanting to look her best for the king, goes on a three-day Slim Fast diet, and then holds a couple of gluttonous banquets for the king and Haman. At the first banquet, Esther fluffs Haman’s pride and self-importance. Haman’s anger is again fueled against Mordechai and he builds a gallows for him. At the second banquet, Esther reveals to the king both Haman’s plot against the Jews and her own Jewish identity. She begs for the king’s mercy on her people, and the king — despite his state of drunkenness — grants it. Angered at Haman’s plan, and furious that Haman slept with his sister’s best friend who turned out to be her lover with whom she ran off to Bermuda, Ahashverosh (gesundheit!) orders that Haman be hanged on the very gallows intended for Mordechai.
Mordechai is appointed vice-president by the king, and promptly issues edicts that allow the Jews to fight their enemies — part of the plan set into motion by Haman (who later returns as a vampire and is staked to death by a future beautiful girl). On the 13th and 14th days of the month of Adar, the Jews are victorious over their enemies, and live happily ever after.
How do we celebrate Purim?
Some rabbinical scholars believe that Purim (Hebrew, meaning “lots”; pur=lot, purim=lots) is named after the lots that Haman cast to determine when the Jews would be set upon (as opposed to sat upon) by their enemies and destroyed. However, the majority opinion is that it is named so because on Purim, we drink lots of alcohol, make lots of jokes, and have lots of fun (source: “Greatest Hits of the Talmud, Vol. 2”).
Bible scholars also believe that the Book of Esther was written as a farce, perhaps as a play to be enacted, and never truly happened. There are clues to support this position strewn throughout the story. For instance, Ahashverosh (gesundheit!) uses eunichs in his castle, yet everyone knows that UNIX wasn’t developed until the 20th century with the proliferation of computers.
The other interesting fact is that the Book of Esther is the only book in the (Hebrew) Bible in which G-d is not mentioned. Because G-d is “hidden” in the story, so also the Purim festivities include dressing in costume to hide ourselves. The story is also about everything being topsy-turvy, evil plans are turned upside down and the perpetrator becomes the one ultimately punished. Nothing is as it seems.
Additional observances of Purim include the reading/hearing of the Megillah (scroll of the Book of Esther) while drowning out Haman’s name with groggers (noisemakers), gifts to the poor, an exchange of foods (Mishloach Manot) that celebrate the good will which Esther awoke among all Jews, Hamentaschen — three cornered pastry cookies that represent the triangular relationship Haman had with his king and one of the women from Temptation Island, drinking until one cannot tell the difference between the phrases “Cursed be Haman” and “Mordechai – what a guy!”, dressing in costume, and general fun and merriment.
Purim is the Jewish Mardi Gras with a little Halloween thrown in (though Purim came first), the cut-loose spring fever get-all-the-winter-cobwebs-outta-our-heads all-night party that allows us to face the daunting task of cleaning and cooking for Passover with the appropriate sobriety and solemnity. During Passover, we know how to eat. During Yom Kippur, we know how to pray. During Shabbat, we know how to rest. And during Purim, we know how to party!
Copyright ©2001 by Sheyna D. Galyan