Setting: The Persian-Median Empire. The time period – ah, somewhere around 70 years after the destruction of the first Temple, give or take a few years. The Jews knew this exile they were in would only last 70 years as they had that prophecy given to them, but who can ever get the count right? Was it 70 years yet?
Once upon a time…no, that isn’t how it starts. It actually starts with “and it was in the days of Achashverosh…” This king Achashverosh (a Persian dude) was ruler from Hodu (India) toKush(some translate as Ethiopia) – basically ruler of the world. The world at that time was divided into 127 provinces, all under the same rule. In the third year of his rule, Achashveirosh does the calculation and figures out the 70 years are up. Yet, the Jews are still under his control. This, he thinks calls for a party to celebrate that G-d would not redeem the Jews. Achashverosh shows off all his wealth and the loot from the Temple. He invites the Jews and makes sure the party is “glatt kosher” [Verse 8: “and the drink was according to the law”.]
The Jews attend – and they will be punished with the threat of extinction because they enjoyed this party. At the same time that Achashverosh is throwing his party for the men-folk, his wife, Vashti (who was a grand-daughter of Nebuchadnezer and the King had married her to solidify the kingdom), also threw a party for the women.
A week into the party, the king (and everyone else) was royally drunk. The King decided to flaunt his wife by asking her to wear less than the Kardashians. Although Vashti would normally go with such outrageous behavior, she had reason to be in hiding that time of her life – she had been afflicted with hideous skin problems. King gets angry and confers with his advisors, who tell ‘off must go the head’ of his royal wife. No sooner said than done. Off gets lopped the head and a decree is issued that each man should rule his roost. (Or is it every rooster should rule his hen?)
Party ends. Hangover time. King wakes up sober and wants to know where his Queen Wife is – and remembers he killed her. Now he’s lonely, hung-over and scary. So his servants quickly think of a fix – they tell him to hold a Miss Persia contest – most beautiful maiden gets to become next Queen. This is the original season of the Bachelor.
There was a man in Shushan, and his name was Mordechai, “the son of Yair, the Son of Shimi, the son of Kish,” of the tribe of Binyamin. He had been exiled from Jerusalem way back when and he had a cousin who had been an orphan. He had helped her, took her in, and married her. His wife’s name was Hadassah and/or Esther. Now Esther was no youngster. She shouldn’t have been targeted for an episode of Bachelor. However, there was a G-dly plan, and she was kidnapped from her home and hauled off to the harem of the King.
“Mee zeh yaamod l’chaper Shegagah” – we are told, who will stand up and atone for a mistake – Esther. Life is a journey in history. It doesn’t begin and end with our birth and death. We are born in the middle of things and die in the middle of things. It is kinda like being given a walk-on part in a movie – we walk into the middle of action and leave in the middle of action. Therefore, we sometimes need to think what happened before and what might happen after us. Esther will go through a horrible experience right now – she is kidnapped and forced into a marriage with a monster (think of someone having to marry Arafat!). She could have said, “G-d, life is so unfair.” But greater people realize there is a rhyme and reason to this world. Why did Esther have to go through this – because she had to set right the mistake her great-great-grandfather Shaul had made. Shaul had left alive Agag, the king of Amalek, by mistaken pity. He had the opportunity to finally wipe out Amalek and he messed up, leaving behind a survivor, who then had children, allowing eventually a Haman to be born in the world. Esther had to, therefore, be the one to save the Jews from Haman. When you have things happen in life, sometimes, you are being asked to do kindness to your ancestors and set right or finish up things that happened in their life. So, back to the story…
There was prep time for each girl before she was forced to meet the king. Esther did not ask for any prep items, did not put on makeup, etc. She had seven servants with her, one for each day of the week. Her time came up and she was hauled off to the King – and he loved her – placed the crown on her head and decided he had found the successor for Vashti. The King threw a party (he was a party guy). Then there was a second pageant (at the urging of Esther who hoped the king would find another damsel to love instead of her). Once again, Esther won the favor of the king. Esther told no one of her lineage, as per the instructions of Mordechai.
Mordechai used to be at the Gates of the Palace. While there, he overheard the plot of two fellows, Bigson and Little son – nah, just kidding. Bigson and Seresh. They wanted to do-in the ruler. Mordechai tattled on them, saved the king’s life and got inscribed in the king’s little book of favors.
After all this (G-d prepares the medicine before every illness so once all the elements are in place of the future saving of the Jews), Haman comes to power. He loves being worshipped and has all bow to him. All do, except for one stubborn Jew, Mordechai.
Haman is not happy about this. He decides he wants to kill all the Jews. In the month of Nissan to the 12th year of Achashveirosh’s rule, Haman cast lots (“Pur”) to see when he should go about his nefarious plan. He hits upon Adar. He then goes to pitch his plan to the king and offers him payment for the privilege of killing us all. The king agrees and gives Haman his signet ring to pass any anti-semitic edict he would so desire. Haman sends out messengers to all parts of the world with an edict that on the 13th of Adar all Jews should be killed.
And Mordechai knew all that happened, tore his clothing, went into mourning. What does it mean, he knew all that “happened” – he knew that there was a game plan and that Hashem wanted the Jews to repent for attending the party that celebrated their non-deliverance into Redemption. Esther is worried when she hears of Mordechai walking around in sackcloth and asks “wassup” and is told. Mordechai tells her to go save her people. She is scared to. He pushes her. If you don’t, he says, G-d will save the Jews somehow, but you will be losing out your place in history. Don’t think G-d can’t pick other folks to do His bidding. You must always rise to the occasion so you don’t lose out being the hero of the day when G-d sets it up for you to be one. Esther agrees to risk her life to save the Jews, but tells Mordechai to organize a three-day-fast (the original diet plan). The Jews begin their Teshuva process, repenting and returning to Hashem.
Esther goes to the king – unasked. He is charmed. Asks her what she wants. She invites him and Haman to a party she was planning (with wine as the featured drink). Her husband agrees to attend. Haman is happy with the invite – but as he goes out he comes across Mordechai, who doesn’t bow. Haman storms home and complains, and is advised by his wife to build gallows for Mordechai and hang him.
Haman gets to work right away building gallows for Mordechai, then rushes to the palace in the wee hours to get permission for his new plan. See how foolish are the wicked- – they can have everything, but focus on the one thing they don’t have. Haman was being honored more than anyone, but focused on the one Jew who didn’t bow to him and, therefore, said all his wealth and honor meant nothing if he couldn’t “have it all”. Ah, wickedness, focusing on the one thing he doesn’t have instead of focusing on all the positive in his life. That is a Haman trait.
That night the sleep of the KING was disturbed. (so while we know that Achashveirosh had insomnia, we are also being told that Hashem was feeling bad for the Jews because He had been “awoken” by the Jews’ Teshuva). Achashveirosh is feeling edgy. He doesn’t understand why his wife would invite Haman and begins to be paranoid. He asked for a reading of his black book of those who were loyal to him to see if anyone would care if the Queen and Haman whacked him off. He hears about Mordechai saving his life back during the plot of Bigson and Seresh and says, “I’ve got to repay the guy.” He asks who is in the palace in the wee hours – and finds out Haman is there. He asks Haman for advice on how to reward someone who did him a favor. Haman gives advice – and is told to do all those honors for Mordechai. He is to dress Mordechai in royal garb and lead him through the streets on a royal horse. He is not happy as he does this – especially when his own sweet daughter dumps her chamber pot on his head. He ends up running home to get ready for the party – and being warned that he will fail by his wife (boy, wasn’t she a supportive one!).
The Party. King wants to know what Esther wants. She asks for her people’s lives. “How can I live, when I see the bad happening to my people.” Esther was safe. She would have survived. But she tells Achashvayrosh that being safe is not enough for a Jewess, that we only feel secure when we are sure of our brethren’s well-being, too.
The King wants to know who would have the audacity to kill such a people (playing innocent) – -she points out Haman. Haman gets hung where he belongs, on the tree he had prepared for Mordechai. There is a great justice system in the world, and what you do to others, often boomerangs back to you, hence Haman built his own gallows.
This happens to be Pesach night. Most huge miracles for the Jews happen at the stroke of midnight on Pesach night, and the Purim miracle is just one of the many.
Law is promulgated at the advice of Mordechai that Jews can defend themselves. Esther asks that Haman’s sons be hung. The 13th of Adar rolls around, which was the day that Haman had set for the killing of all Jews, and the Jews defend themselves. Purim is the day that the Jews finally finished killing out all their enemies and get to celebrate their being saved. Mordechai gets Haman’s position. The Jews learn to love each other and to listen to rabbinical guidance. “keemoo V’Kibloo” they rose up and accepted the Torah.
CUT TO HALACHOS OF PURIM
The four Mems.
Megilla – we need to hear the reading of the Megillah (from a kosher scroll) twice, once at night and once during the day. We do this before the other Mitzvos of Purim.
Matanos L’Evyonim – we need to give $$ to two poor people
– If you need to make sure to locate poor folks to give it to on Purim, you can call in donations before or on Purim and have this charity fund distribute the money on your behalf on Purim day in Israel – Kupat Ha’ir 1-888-587-2842.
Mishloach Manos – we need to send two food items to ONE friend. Has to be ready-to-eat food.
Mishteh – we need to have a festive meal
Now to the Customs of the day:
Costumes: To show G-d “masked” Himself in the story and the Jews saw through the Mask and found the Director behind the film of events.
Drinking Wine: Yeah, much of the party happened with folks drunk, hence, we imbibe.
Hamantaschen: Those folded over pastries hiding good things inside.
Gragger: When Haman’s name is mentioned, we whirl around this noisemaking tool or drown out the sound of his name with any means at our disposal. Gragger and dreidel — very similar toys for different holidays signifying the lesson of the holiday. Gragger you swing from below and the noise comes out on top. At times, we must do things down here on Earth to create the results from G-d. In the Purim story, the Jews had to repent sincerely to get G-d to forward to them a full redemption.