The Queen who risked death to save a nation – the story of Purim

Purim is the story of a very brave Queen, who dared to approach her husband in fear of death. Because of her bravery an entire nation was kept from extermination. Her name was Queen Esther, she was the Queen of Persia, the wife of King Ahasuerus of Persia.1

Purim is on the 14 of Adar, typicality in February. The origin of the Purim is not religious, that is, it was not held in the honor of Israel’s God nor with Israel’s national origins. There are no Biblical dictates as to how Purim is to be celebrated. However, the story of Purim is given to us in the book of Esther. It is the only book in the Bible that does not mention God. There are some who dispute as to whether the Book of Esther is genuinely historical. In either case the Book of Esther contains great truth. Throughout the centuries, in keeping with that truth, loyal Jews reached out to protect and befriend Jews who were poor, persecuted and in danger. Purim is the annual celebration commemorating the Jewish people of the Persian empire saved from extermination.

Its story has four characters: King Ahasuerus, Queen Esther, Haman and Mordecai. Ahasuerus, King of Persia, was displeased with his queen, Vashti, and had her removed. He married Esther, a Jewish girl whose identity had not been disclosed to the King. Haman, the king’s chief minister hated the Jews and had convinced the king to let him have all the Jews killed. Haman had his magicians choose a lucky day by casting lots, “pur” (in Persian) from which we get the word Purim. They probably used colored sticks or stones to find just the right day.

Mordecai, Queen Esters cousin, asked her to plead with the king to save her people. But the rule of the Persian court was that no one could come before the king not even the queen, unless asked to do so. The punishment for breaking the rule was death. So Queen Esther was afraid to approach King Ahasuerus. She had all the Jews of Persia to fast and pray for three days so that the king would find favor with her and be allowed into the court. After three days she went before the king with the loyalty and courage to save her people and the humble attitude she expressed when she said, “If I perish, I perish.” Indeed God’s hand was on the situation and the king had extended the golden scepter and allowed Queen Ester into his court. She explained the plot Haman had devised for the execution of her people. The king had Haman hanged on the very same gallows that Haman had set up for Mordecai who tipped off Queen Esther of the plot to kill the Jews. The people rejoiced and have been rejoicing ever since over the deliverance and “miracle” of the Jews escaping death.

In memory of Queen Esters’ courage and the call that all Jews fasted and prayed for the three days, the day before Purim is officially a fast day called the “Fast of Esther”. At the services held during Purim the Megillah (scroll) is read. There are five books of the Bible that were often written as separate scrolls, and the book of Esther is one of them. When the name of Haman is read in the Megillah it is customary to drown it out with noise. Everyone turns a noisemaker or stomps his feet to keep the name of this hater of the Jews from being heard again among men. Another part of celebrating Purim is sending gifts one to another. This is called Shalach Manot, meaning “gifts of food”. Part of the gift giving is that the gifts are to be given to the poor. Even the poor are to give gifts, to others who are poor.

No holiday is complete without a special food that is symbolic of the festival. On Purim we have a three cornered pastry filled with either chopped prunes and nuts, poppy seeds or apricot filling. The hamantash is representative of the three cornered hat supposedly worn by Haman.

There have been numerous attempts to finally resolve the “Jewish problem” by totally eliminating Jewish people from among the living. As we read above Haman tried it. Even in the last century, a very serious attempt at genocide was repeated, by Hitler and his murderers, in what is know as the “Holocaust”. My we never forget!

by Jim Behnke

1King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) was King of Persia, his possible reign was from 486 – 465 BCE. However this is not certain. He is also mentioned in Ezra, and Daniel. Daniel describes him as the father of Darius the Mede. Some Bible commemorators place his reign between Cambyses II and Darius I. However because of conflicting historical information dates and events cannot be certain.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s