Judaism: A Purim Guide to the Perplexed
Amb. (ret.) Yoram EttingerAmbassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger is a consultant on US affairs, as well...
1. Purim's Scroll of Esther represents fundamental tenets of Judaism:
*Faith in God, in contrast to idolatry and cynicism;*Value/principle-driven realism (right vs. wrong and civil liberties), in contrast to opportunism and wishful-thinking;
*Attachment to roots (religious, cultural, historical), in contrast to detachment;
*Optimism confidence and courage, in contrast to fatalism, despair and fear;
*Tenacious defiance of enormous adversity, in contrast to defeatism, submission and accommodation;
*Community-driven responsibility, in contrast to selfishness/recklessness.
2. According to Jewish sages (as indicated by Yoram Hazony's, The Dawn.), the Torah was initially bestowed upon the Jewish people in Sinai, and then – symbolically - during the time of Queen Esther. Hazony explores the political sophistication of (the eventual vizier) Mordechai and Queen Esther, who snatched - against all odds - victory out of the jaws of a Haman-conspired holocaust.
Mordechai's political savvy was preceded by that of Joseph, who, a thousand years earlier, ascended to be the vizier for Pharaoh, and Daniel, who had risen to a similar position in the court of Persia's Darius a few decades earlier.
Hazony contends that the Mordechai-Haman confrontation was also a clash of civilizations between faith in God and idolatry, as was the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh and Abraham and pagan worshippers. Mordechai introduced civil disobedience, insisting that absolute right and wrong are superior to state decrees.
In addition, Mordechai, Moses and Abraham, as well as Gideon, the Judge and Samuel, the Prophet, ushered in the concepts of limited government, civil liberties and the centrality of the constituents.
3. Purim's Clash of Civilizations constitutes an early edition of the war between right and wrong, liberty and tyranny, justice and evil, truth and lies, as were/are Adam/Eve and the snake, Abel and Cain, Abraham and Sodom and Gomorrah, Jacob and Esau (grandfather of Amalek), the Maccabees and the Assyrians, the Allies and the Nazis, the West and the Communist Bloc and Western democracies versus Islamic rogue and terrorist regimes.
4. Purim's historical background according to Prof. Israel Eldad:
*Xerxes the Great, King Ahasuerus, succeeded Darius the Great. He ruled the Persian Empire (from India to Ethiopia) during 465-486BC, 150 years before the rise of Alexander the Great, who defeated the Persian Empire.
*Greece was Persia's key opponent in its expansion towards the Mediterranean and Europe, hence the alliance between Persia and the Phoenician-related Carthage, a rival of Greece.
*Greece supported Egypt's revolt against Persian rule, which was subdued by Persia with the help of the Jewish warriors of Yeb (in Egypt) and Carthage, which had a significant Jewish population and a Jewish-Hebrew connection dating back to King Solomon's alliance with the Phoenician kingdom (e.g., the names of Carthage's heroes, Hannibal and Barca, derived from the Hebrew names, Hananyah and Barak).
*Xerxes was defeated by Greece at the battle of Salamis (480 BC), but challenged Greece again in 470 BC.
*According to a Greek translation of the Scroll of Esther, Haman (the Agagi) was Macedonian by orientation or by birth. Agagi could refer to Agag, the Amalekite King (who intended to annihilate the Jews) or to the Greek Aegean Islands. Haman aspired to decimate the Jews of Persia and opposed improved relations between Xerxes and the Jews of Yeb. He led the pro-Greek and anti-Carthage faction in Persia, while Mordechai was a chief advocate for the pro-Carthage orientation.
5. "Purimfest 1946” were the last words of Julius Streicher, the Nazi propaganda chief, as he approached the hanging gallows (Newsweek magazine, October 28, 1946, page 46). On October 16, 1946 (in the Jewish year 5707), ten convicted Nazi war criminals were hanged in Nuremberg. An11th Nazi criminal, Hermann Goering, committed suicide in his cell. Julius Streicher's library, in his ranch, documented his interest in Purim and its relevance to the enemies of the Jewish people.
According to the Scroll of Esther, King Ahasuerus allowed the Jews to defend themselves and hang Haman and his ten sons. The Talmud (Megillah tractate, 16a) claims that Haman had an 11th child, a daughter, who committed suicide following her father's demise.
In the aftermath of the hanging of Haman and his sons, Queen Esther asked King Ahasuerus: "If it shall please His Majesty, allow the Jews who are in [the capital city] Shushan to act also tomorrow as they did today (in literary Hebrew, "tomorrow” refers sometimes to a distant future), and let Haman's ten sons be hanged on the gallows (Esther 9:13)."
Why would Esther request the hanging of Haman's already hanged sons? Esther's request was interpreted as a reference to a future event which would require a similar hanging. Moreover, the original Hebrew text of the Scroll of Esther – which documents the hanging of Haman's sons – features one very large letter, ו (which equals 6 – the 6th millennium), and three very small letters, ת, ש, ז (which equal 707), referring to the year 5707 during the 6th millennium – 1946/7 in the Gregorian calendar.
6. Purim is celebrated on the 14th/15th days of the Jewish month of Adar. Adar (אדר) is the root of the Hebrew adjective Adir ( - (אדיר glorious, awesome, exalted, magnificent. It is, also, a derivative of the Akkadian word Adura (heroism). Jewish tradition (Babylonian Talmud) highlights Adar as a month of happiness, singing and dancing. The zodiac of Adar is Pisces (fish), which is a symbol of demographic multiplication. Hence, Adar is the only Jewish month, which doubles itself during the 7 leap years, in each 19 year cycle.
Purim is celebrated on the 14th day (in non-walled towns) and (in Jerusalem) on the 15th day of Adar, commemorating the deliverance of the Jewish People from the jaws of a holocaust in Persia.
It also commemorates the 161 BC victory of Judah the Maccabee over Nikanor, the Assyrian commander.
Moses - who delivered the Jewish People from a holocaust in Egypt and whose burial site is unknown - was born and died (1273 BC) on the 7th day of Adar, which is Israel's Memorial Day for soldiers, whose burial sites are unknown.
The events of Purim occurred following the destruction of the 1st Temple by Nebuchadnezzar (586 BCE) and the exile from Zion - during the leadership of Ezra who returned to Jerusalem, and the inauguration of the Second Temple (on the 3rd of Adar, 515 BCE) by Ezra and Nehemiah.
Nebuchadnezzar died in Adar 561 BC (Jeremiah 52:31).
Albert Einstein published his Theory of General Relativity in Adar 1916.
7. Purim's Hebrew root is fate/destiny (פור), as well as "lottery" (commemorating Haman's lottery which determined the designated day for the planned annihilation of the Jewish People), "to frustrate,” "to annul” (להפר), "to crumble” and "to shutter” (לפורר), reflecting the demise of Haman.
8. Purim is the holiday of contradictions as well as tenacity-driven optimism:
Annihilation replaced by deliverance; Esther's concealment of her Jewish identity replaced by the disclosure of her national/religious identity; Haman's intended genocide of the Jews replaced by his own demise; Haman replaced by Mordechai as the vizier; national and personal pessimism replaced by optimism.
A national/individual Purim lesson: Life is complex, full of contradictions, ups and downs and difficult dilemmas, worthy of principled-determination and endurance. Threats and hurdles are integral parts of life, challenges and opportunities in disguise. The bigger the mission, the bigger the adversity!
9. Mordechai, the hero of Purim and one of Ezra's deputies, was a role model of principle-driven optimism in defiance of colossal odds, in the face of a super power and in defiance of the Jewish establishment. He fought Jewish assimilation and urged Jews to sustain their roots and return to their Homeland. He was endowed with the bravery of faith-driven individuals, such as Nakhshon - who was the first to walk into the Red Sea before it parted.
Mordechai was a politically-incorrect, out-of-the-box thinking statesman and a retired military leader, who utilized a "disproportionate pre-emptive offensive” instead of appeasement and defense. The first three Hebrew letters of Mordechai (מרדכי) spell the Hebrew word "rebellion” (מרד), which is consistent with the motto/legacy of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin: "Rebellion against Tyrants is Obedience to G-D."
Mordechai did not bow to Haman, the second most powerful person in the Persian Empire. He was a member of the tribe of Benjamin, the only son of Jacob who did not bow to Esau. The name Mordechai is also a derivative of Mordouch, the chief Babylonian god.
Mordechai was a descendant of King Saul, who defied a clear commandment to eradicate the Amalekites. He spared the life of Agag, the Amalekite king, thus precipitating further calamities upon the Jewish People. Consequently, Saul lost his royal position and life. Mordechai learned from Saul's error. He destroyed Haman, a descendant of Agag the Amalekite, and Haman's entire power base, thus sparing the Jewish People a major disaster.
In Gimatriya, "Cursed Haman" (ארור המן) equals 502, which is identical to "Blessed Mordechai" .(ברוך מרדכי)
10. Queen Esther, the heroine of Purim's Scroll of Esther, was Mordechai's niece. Esther demonstrates the centrality of women in Judaism, shaping the future of the Jewish People, as did Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Miriam, Batyah, Deborah, Hannah and Yael.
Sarah was the first Jewish woman, and Esther was the last Jewish woman mentioned in the Bible. Sarah lived 127 years and Esther ruled over 127 countries.
The name Esther (אסתר) is a derivative of the Hebrew word הסתר , "to conceal" - reflective of her initial concealment of her Jewish identity, while the Hebrew word for "scroll,” מגילה, derives from מגלה – "to reveal.” God is concealed in the scroll of Esther, which is the only Biblical book that does not mention God.
The Purim custom of wearing costumes highlights the transition from concealment to the revelation of identity.
The name Esther (pronounced Ester in Hebrew) derives also from Ishtar - a Mesopotamian goddess and Astarte, "star” - a Phoenician goddess. In fact, the one day pre-Purim Fast of Esther (commemorating the three day fast declared by Esther in order to expedite deliverance), was cherished by the Maranos in Spain, who performed Judaism in a clandestine manner.
While God's name is hidden/absent in Esther's Scroll, Michael Bernstein suggests that there are 182 references to "King," corresponding to 26 (the numerical value of God) times 7 (days of creation).
Esther's second name was Hadassah, whose root is Hadass (myrtle tree in Hebrew) - whose leaves are shaped like an eye.
The name Esther is identified with the planet Venus (hence, Esther's other Hebrew name - Noga, just like my oldest granddaughter - a shining divine light, which is Venus in Hebrew). In Gimatriya, Esther (אסתר) and Noga (נגה) equal 661 and 58 respectively, and the sum of 6+6+1 and 5+8 is 13 (the number of God's virtues). In "small Gimatriya," both Esther (1+6+4+2) and Noga (5+3+5) equal 13, which is also the total sum of "one” in Hebrew (אחד) ¬ which represents the oneness of God, monotheism, as well as the total sum of love in Hebrew (אהבה).
11. The Persian King appointed Mordechai to be his top advisor, overruling Haman's intent to prevent the resettling of Jews in Zion, the reconstruction of the Temple and the restoration of the wall around Jerusalem. He foiled Haman's plan to exterminate the Jews.
The king prospered as a result of his change of heart and escaped assassination. That was the case with Pharaoh, who escaped national collapse and starvation and rose in global prominence after he appointed Joseph to be his deputy.
12. Purim's four commandments:
*Reading/studying the Scroll of Esther within the family, highlighting the centrality of the family, education, memory and youth as the foundation of a solid future.
*Gifts to relatives, friends and strangers emphasize the importance of family, community and collective responsibility.
*Charity (at least the value of a meal) reflects compassion and communal responsibility. According to Maimonides, "there is no greater or more glorious joy than bringing joy to the poor." Purim is celebrated when Jews study the portion of the Torah, תרומה, which highlights giving and contributing to others as a means of enhancing solidarity and reducing egotism. According to the Torah, contributions mostly benefit the contributor.
*Celebration and Happiness sustain optimism and faith - the festive Purim meal highlights this -the backbone of individuals and nations.
13. A lethal enemy destroyed and a lethal threat commemorated. The pre-Purim Sabbath is called "Memorial Sabbath" (שבת זכור), commemorating the war of extermination launched by the Amalekites against the Jewish Nation, ongoing since the Exodus from Egypt.
A Purim lesson: Be wary of deadly enemies, posing as harmless partners of peace, who conceal a strategic goal of extermination.
Amb.(ret.) Yoram Ettinger, Jerusalem, author of "Second Thought: A US-Israel Initiative"