Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Story of Purim

Today is the 7th day of Adar II, 5771

This year, 2011, we celebrate the festival of Purim on Saturday March19th at night and on Sunday March 20th.

The Story of Purim

Approximately 2400 years ago, the Persian Empire was ruled by King Achashverosh. It extended from India to Ethiopia. It was one of the largest empires in ancient history. Approximately one million Jews lived in the empire, including 40,000 living in the land of Israel, trying to rebuild the Bet haMikdash, under the leadership of Ezra and Nechemia.

In the capital of the empire, Shushan haBira, King Achashverosh appointed a very tough prime minister: Haman and gave him full authority to do as he pleased over the entire empire. Haman not only demanded respect but he also expected people to revere him as a god: everyone had to bow down (fully bow down to the floor!) upon seeing Haman.

Mordekhai was a leader among the Jews in Shushan. His niece, Esther, was taken to the palace and recently designated as the new Queen. Mordekhai respected the King and even thwarted a plot against the King's life, but he refused to bow-down to Haman because he considered it an act of idol-worshiping. The prime minister was furious and decided to take revenge from Mordekhai. He thought that just killing Mordekhai will not do justice to that 'great' personal offense.

He decided then to exterminate all of Mordekhai's people, who happened to be the Jews. Haman's final solution included the murder of all the Jews living in the Persian Empire, who were indeed all the Jews in the world!!!

Had Haman succeeded, it would have been the end of the Jewish people....

But how did Haman intend to kill a million people, spread all over a huge empire? Haman had a perfect genius evil plan. He issued an edict, which was immediately sent all over the empire, announcing that at the 13th of the month of Adar (few months from the issuing of the edict) every citizen of the Empire will have the lawful right to kill a Jew and take possession of his properties and assets…. By the laws of the empire, the Jews will not be allowed to defend themselves! That was Haman’s master plan: motivating every person in the Empire to kill his Jewish neighbors and take all their assets... legally!!! . A perfect plan... had Haman succeeded, no Jew would have ever escaped alive…

The Midrash tells that some gentile neighbors were fighting among themselves to determine who would kill this or that Jew on the 13th of Adar and take possession of his properties.

The only thing left to do for the Jews, was to talk directly with King Achashverosh, bypassing the evil Haman… but who was going to do it?

Mordekhai approached Esther and asked her to beg Achashverosh for her people. But there were very strict rules in the Persian Kingdom. For security reasons, no one was allowed to get closer to the King. If any person, even the Queen, came close to the King, he or she could be killed on the spot...
But Esther, risked her life and approached the King. Esther invited Achashverosh and Haman to a private party. Achashverosh ignored the nature of the edict and Haman did not know that Esther was Jewish,
Once at the private dinner, Esther announced to Achashverosh that ‘somebody’ wanted her, her family and her people killed. The King, taken by surprise, asked with indignation WHO was behind this evil plot. Esther, pointed to Haman, risking once again her life... At that critical moment, and still unsure if he would align himself with Haman or with Esther, the King leaves for his garden and when he comes back he sees Haman begging Esther for his life, allowing himself to get too close to her…The King saw this as an act of irreverence and ordered Haman to be immediately executed.

The edict was then reversed: the Jews now could legally defend themselves with the help of the Persian Empire’s enforcers and could get rid of their enemies.

Beyond the story with human protagonists, our rabbis taught us, the invisible "hand" of God Almighty was moving the strings in the right direction. God’s providence and miracles were performed in the small details, which ended up with the deliverance of our people from extermination.

Dear readers.

After 4 weeks, HOTD is back.

B'H this week we will focus on Purim, and from March 22nd, we will write about Pesach.

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024