Saturday, March 19, 2011

What The Heck Is Purim?

Contrary to popular misconceptions, Purim is not the Jewish Halloween.

Purim is one of the most joyous and fun holidays on the Jewish calendar. It commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination.

The story of Purim is told in the Biblical book of Esther. The heroes of the story are Esther, a beautiful young Jewish woman living in Persia, and her cousin Mordecai, who raised her as if she were his daughter. Esther was taken to the house of Ahasuerus, King of Persia, to become part of his harem. King Ahasuerus loved Esther more than his other women and made Esther queen, but the king did not know that Esther was a Jew, because Mordecai told her not to reveal her identity.

The villain of the story is Haman, an arrogant, egotistical advisor to the king. Haman hated Mordecai because Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman, so Haman plotted to destroy the Jewish people. In a speech that is all too familiar to Jews, Haman told the king, "There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your realm. Their laws are different from those of every other people's, and they do not observe the king's laws; therefore it is not befitting the king to tolerate them." Esther 3:8. The king gave the fate of the Jewish people to Haman, to do as he pleased to them. Haman planned to exterminate all of the Jews.

Mordecai persuaded Esther to speak to the king on behalf of the Jewish people. This was a dangerous thing for Esther to do, because anyone who came into the king's presence without being summoned could be put to death, and she had not been summoned. Esther fasted for three days to prepare herself, then went into the king. He welcomed her. Later, she told him of Haman's plot against her people. The Jewish people were saved, and Haman was hanged on the gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai.

The book of Esther is unusual in that it is the only book of the Bible that does not contain the name of G-d. In fact, it includes virtually no reference to G-d. Mordecai makes a vague reference to the fact that the Jews will be saved by someone else, if not by Esther, but that is the closest the book comes to mentioning G-d. Thus, one important message that can be gained from the story is that G-d often works in ways that are not apparent, in ways that appear to be chance, coincidence or ordinary good luck.

Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar, which is usually in March. The 13th of Adar is the day that Haman chose for the extermination of the Jews, and the day that the Jews battled their enemies for their lives. On the day afterwards, the 14th, they celebrated their survival. In cities that were walled in the time of Joshua, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of the month, because the book of Esther says that in Shushan (a walled city), deliverance from the massacre was not complete until the next day. The 15th is referred to as Shushan Purim.
For those who do not know where Persia was, it is now the modern nation of Iran. And today there is a modern Haman. He is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A man who is threatening like Haman to wipe the Jewish people off the face of the Earth. I wonder if he is of Haman's bloodline. Or it it just something Persian think of doing naturally?

An interesting fact that happened on a Purim past is:
On Adar 13, during the biblical story of Purim, the 10 sons of Haman were hanged (Esther 9:7). This would find eerie parallel over 2,000 years later when 10 top Nazi officials were hanged at the Nuremberg Trials. Incredibly, the Hebrew year of the hangings at Nuremberg, 5707, is encoded in the Book of Esther: In the listing of Haman's 10 sons, three Hebrew letters -- taf, shin and zayin, representing the year 5707 -- are written unusually small. (This anomaly appears in every authentic Megillah scroll, written that way for over 2,000 years.) Incredibly, when Nazi officer Julius Streicher ascended the gallows to be hanged at Nuremberg, he shouted, "Purimfest 1946."

On Purim the Megillah (Book of Esther) is read. Every time the name Haman is read, a loud noise must be made. Usually one uses a groggers (as seen in the picture on the bottom), other noise makers can be used. The horns one uses at New Years and birthday celebrations is also acceptable. But under no circumstances should you ever use an Marine Horn (as seen in the picture on the right). Can you imagine what this would do to the windows of a synagogue? Let alone the embarrassment to your parents? And then there is the safety issue to take into account. Let's just say it was a bad idea at the time and leave it at that. Just stick to the grogger, and you will be fine.

We dress up in costumes, to let our defenses down and open up to the deeper reality of ourselves and our world. Our costumes normally reflect the holiday with dozens of Esthers, Mordechais, etc... One enterprising youngster in Sderot dressed up as a Grad Rocket last year. This year one is dressing up as a Hamas fighter. Try doing that one Halloween. You will be sure to scare your neighbors.

On Purim expect to be subjected to many practical jokes. It is a Purim tradition and enjoyable one as long as you are doing the jokes, and not receiving them. So tomorrow, this blog just might have a few posts that aren't exactly Kosher. But it is in the spirit of the holiday and beer that in mind.

Purim is a time of gift-giving. Gifts of food and wine are given to family, friends, and especially those who are poorer than you. It is a time of great joy and feasting. And most especially drinking. It is the only time of the year you are commanded to get drunk. Not tipsy, but rip-roaring, stinking drunk. You are commanded to get so drunk that you cannot tell the difference between the names of the Blessed Mordechai and the Wicked Haman. And remember that even if you and your friends are passing around a couple of bottle of fine vodka, don't even consider using that marine horn I know you have hidden in your bag. Vodka and a marine horn just don't mix. I can tell you that from personal experience.

The most important thing about Purim is to have fun.

Here is a little fun to get you started:

The Maccabeats - Purim Song

The Lyrics:
Stand stand for a tale so grand
Shushan is the place where it all began
The hidden miracle

One man, second in command
Slay all the Jews was his wicked plan
A scheme so miserable

He chose a day for the disaster
It’s ironic what came after
He didn’t know a girl named Esther
Would turn it upside down

So raise your glass if you can see the hidden meaning
It's right in front of you
We will never be never be anything but proud to tell the story
V'nahafoch hu (it was turned upside down)

Won’t you come on and come on and raise your glass
just come on and come on and raise your glass
Esther became the queen
Cuz’ G-d was pulling strings from behind the scenes

She wore the royal crown
Three days the Jews just prayed,
Queen Esther risked her life went to save the day
She took Haman down

The streets were filled with celebration
Everyone ate Hamantashen
Jubilation for the nation
Ken tihiyeh lanu… (So should it be for us)

So raise your glass if you can see the hidden meaning
It's right in front of you
We will never be never be anything but proud to tell the story
V'nahafoch hu

Won’t you come on and come on and raise your glass
Just come on and come on and raise your glass
So get your costumes on
Make noise and drown out Haman

Don’t drink like a fool
And remember and remember
What the day’s about…

So raise your glass if you see G-d in hidden places,
He's right in front of you,
We will never be never be anything but proud to tell our story
V'nahafoch hu

So raise your glass if you can see the hidden meaning,
It's right in front of you,
We will never be never be anything but proud to tell the story
V'nahafoch hu

Won’t you come on and come on and raise your glass just come on and come on and raise your glass…
Have Fun Filled Purim!!!!