Jews worldwide celebrate the traditional feast of Purim

A section from the book of Esther, written on a scroll (megillah) and read on the festival of Purim. This 18th century parchment is in the Joods Historisch Museum in Amsterdam. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Jews worldwide will celebrate Purim Saturday and Sunday, a holiday commemorating the survival of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire. Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar, and is celebrated by Jewish communities with festivities, parties and costumes, as well the reading of the Book of Esther.

In Israel, celebrations began on Friday.

The story of Purim is found in the Book of Esther, where a plot made by Haman, the royal advisor to King Ahasuerus, was made to kill the Jews in the Persian Empire.

Following his three years as king, King Ahasuerus created a 180-day celebration period of parties and drinking for his kingdom. In a party in his capital city of Shushan, King Ahasuerus called on his wife Queen Vashti to appear before his men to show them her beauty. Queen Vashti refused his request and King Ahasuerus had her executed.

Following her execution, King Ahasuerus set out to find a new wife, ordering a beauty pageant in which he would choose a new a new bride. A law was decreed that all beautiful, single woman of the land would be brought to King Ahasuerus so he could pick a new queen.

One of the women brought was Esther, an orphaned girl raised by her cousin Mordechai who raised her as his daughter. Mordechai was a Shushanite resident and leader of the Jewish people. Mordechai called on Esther to keep her Jewish identity a secret as to protect her from any harm.

Esther was forced to join King Ahasuerus harem to participate in the contest of who would become the king’s new wife. The harem was an intense process for the woman from the kingdom, where they were trained and pampered in perfumes, oils and lotions in preparation for the King’s choosing.

When choosing, King Ahasuerus was taken by Esther’s beauty and married her, making her Queen Esther of Persia.

Shortly after their marriage, Mordechai overheard a plot by the King’s chamberlains to assassinate King Ahasuerus. Mordechai reported the plot to the king, who had them hanged as traitors to the kingdom.

One of the King’s ministers, Haman, was then promoted in rank. Haman was an anti-Semite, a descendant of the nation of Amalek. Shortly after his promotion, King Ahasuerus issued a decree that all must bow to Haman. Mordechai refused to bow to Haman.

Haman went before the king, offering him 10,000 silver talents in exchange for permission to exterminate all the Jews of the land. The king refused to take the money and told Haman that, “The nation is yours to do with as you please.”  This marked the 13th of the month of Adar.

Haman sent proclamations through out the kingdom, signed with the royal crest, calling on the people of the empire to rise against the Jews “to destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, even upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to take the spoil of them for a prey.”

Upon hearing of the decree, Mordechai called upon Esther to go the king and beg him to spare the Jewish people. Mordechai stating, “Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Esther agreed to go to the king, calling on the Jewish people to fast for three days. All 22,000 Jews in the empire fasted and prayed.

Following the three days of prayers and fasting, Esther approached King Ahasuerus. The King accepted her, Esther inviting Haman and the King to a feast she prepared. The King accepted the invitation and attended Esther’s feast. The King asked Esther is she had a request from him. Esther stated that she would ask him the following day in an additional feast, the King accepting the invitation.

Mordechai refused to bow to Haman during the feast. That night, Haman angry that Mordechai refused to bow before him, erected gallows and planned to ask the King the following day to hang Mordechai for his disobedience.

The same night before the second feast, King Ahasuerus could not sleep and called on his servants to read from the royal chronicles. The servants read to him on Mordechai saving the king’s life. The king called on Haman, asking him what a man should be rewarded for saving a king. Haman responded that the man should be given royal garments and a royal horse and be proclaimed through out the city streets of the honor the man holds for saving his king. King Ahasuerus ordered Haman to do this for “Mordechai the Jew.”

Haman complied and honored Mordechai, dressing him in royal robes and a royal horse, walking by his side through out the city streets proclaiming Mordechai’s honor.

The second feast arrived, and King Ahasuerus asked Esther what her request was. Esther revealed she was Jew and exposed Haman for the evil man he was. She told the king of the gallows he built were intended for Mordechai The King immediately ordered that Haman be hanged on the gallows.

Esther and Mordechai pleaded with the King to annul the decree of the 13th of Adar, however the King could not annul a royal decree. The King did however permit Esther and Mordechai to issue a new decree that the Jewish people were permitted to defend themselves and to preemptively kill anyone who put them at risk.

On the 13th of Adar, the Jews battled those who tried to kill them, including all of Haman’s 10 sons were killed in Shushan. Following the battle, Queen Esther requested from the King an additional day to slaughter those who attempted to kill the Jewish people. The King permitted her request, marking the 14th of Adar.

On the 15th of Adar the Jews of Shushan celebrated their victory, commemorating a holiday of the event. The holiday of Purim is a celebration and remembrance of the attempted destruction of the Jews of Shushan, and the remembrance of Queen Esther and Mordechai.

Observant Jews begin Purim on the 13th of Adar, fasting commemorating Esther’s bravery and call on the Jewish people to pray and fast for three days for deliverance from Haman’s evil plot.

Jews today celebrate Purim by wearing costumes, having parties and the reading of the Book of Esther. During the reading of the Book of Esther, it is customary to “boo” every time Haman’s name is read aloud.

Many communities hold a ‘Purim spiel,” a reenactment of the Purim story. The holiday is celebrated with “Oznei Haman” or better known as “Hamantaschen”- a pastry with different fillings.

Purim is a Jewish holiday, and remembrance of God’s delivery of the Jewish people and celebration of the victory in Shushan.

Today, we have the same spirit of annihilation of the Jews coming from the exact same part of the world. Modern Iranian leaders are obsessed with the spirit of Haman even today.

We don’t need an Esther anymore in the palace. We need the prayers of the saints worldwide.

“Behold, He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4)

This article originally appeared on Behold Israel, March 10, 2017, and reposted with permission.