Purim Guide to the Perplexed

Purim facts and fancies as well as its historical background.

Amb. (ret.) Yoram Ettinger

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צילום: Hadas Parush/Flash90

1. Purim is a Jewish national liberation holiday – just like Passover and Hanukkah - which commemorates the transformation of the Jewish people from subjugation to liberty. It is celebrated seven days following the commemoration of the birth and death of Moses, who was a leading role model of liberty, leadership and humility.

Purim is celebrated, annually, at a time when the relatively cold and stormy winter shifts into the relatively warm and pleasant spring.

2. Purim commemorates the thwarting of an ancient 9/11.  Thus, the numerical value of the Hebrew spelling of King (מלך=90) Ahasuerus (אחשורוש=821) - who ordered the annihilation of Jews - is 911 (e.g., “a” = 1, “b”= 2, etc.).  

The Kristallnacht Nazi massacre of Jews erupted on another 9/11, that iis 9.11.1938 (9 November, 1938), and the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Jewish Temples in Jerusalem occurred on 9.11 – the 9th day of the 11th Jewish month.

3. Queen, Esther the heroine of Purim.  The Scroll of Esther is one of the five Biblical Scrolls: Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and The Scroll of Esther.  Esther, who was Mordechai's niece (or cousin), demonstrates the centrality of women in Judaism, shaping the future of the Jewish People, as did Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah (the four Matriarchs), Miriam (Moses’ older sister), Batyah (who saved Moses’ life), Deborah (the Prophetess, Judge and military leader), Hannah (Samuel’s mother) and Yael (who killed Sisera, the Canaanite General). Esther was one of the seven Biblical Jewish Prophetesses: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah and Esther (Megillah tractate, 14:71).  

Sarah lived 127 years and Esther was the Queen of 127 countries. 1+2+7=10, which is a symbol of totality, wholesomeness, completeness.

The name Esther was a derivative of Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of beauty and fertility, as well as Stara, the Persian morning star – which shifts darkness into light, thus becoming a symbol of deliverance – evolving into Aphrodite and Venus, the Greek and Roman goddesses of love, beauty and fertility. The Hebrew word of Venus is Noga, which is a Biblical divine light and the second-brightest star in the night-sky after the moon, as well as the name of my oldest granddaughter. 

4.  Mordechai, the hero of Purim and one of the deputies of Ezra the Scribe – who led a wave of Jewish ingathering from Babylon to the Land of Israel - 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. The first three Hebrew letters of Mordechai (מרדכי) spell the Hebrew word “rebellion” (מרד).  

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. Mordechai was a descendant of King Saul, who defied a clear commandment to eradicate the Amalekites, sparing the life of Agag, the Amalekite king, thus precipitating further calamities upon the Jewish People. Mordechai learned from Saul’s crucial error and eliminated Haman, a descendant of Agag the Amalekite, thus sparing the Jewish People a major disaster.

5. Purim is celebrated on the 14th/15th day of the Jewish month of Adar.  Adar is the root of the Hebrew adjective Adir (אדיר) – glorious, exalted and magnificent in English.  It is, also, a derivative of the Akkadian word Adura (heroism). The month of Adar ushers in happiness.

6. Purim’s historical background.  The 586 BCE destruction of the 1st Jewish Temple and the expulsion of Jews from Judea and Samaria - by the Babylonian Emperor, Nebuchadnezzar - triggered a wave of Jewish emigration to Babylon and Persia.  The latter replaced Babylon as the leading regional power. 

In 538 BCE, Xerxes the Great, Persia’s King Ahasuerus, the successor of Darius the Great, proclaimed his support for the reconstruction of the Jewish Temple and the resurrection of national Jewish life in the Land of Israel, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish Homeland.  

In 499-449 BCE, Ahasuerus established a coalition of countries, which launched the Greco-Persian Wars, attempting to expand the Persian Empire westward. However, Persia was resoundingly defeated (e.g., the 490 BCE and 480 BCE battles of Marathon and Salamis), and Ahasuerus’ authority in Persia was gravely eroded.

7. Purim's (פורים) Hebrew root is fate as well as "casting lots" (פור), commemorating Haman's lottery which determined a designated day for the annihilation of the Jewish People.  It also means “to frustrate,” “to annul” (הפר), “to crumble” and “to shutter” (פורר), reflecting the demise of Haman.

8. “Purimfest 1946” yelled Julius Streicher, the Nazi propaganda chief, as he approached the hanging gallows (Newsweek, October 28, 1946, page 46).  On October 16, 1946, ten convicted leading Nazi war criminals were hanged in Nuremberg.  An 11th Nazi criminal, Hermann Goering, committed suicide in his cell. According to a Jewish survivor, the late Eliezer Cotler (the grandfather of my son-in-law), Julius Streicher’s library, in his ranch (which served as a camp for young Jewish survivors on their way to Israel), documented Streicher’s interest in Purim’s relevance to the fate of the enemies of the Jewish people. Streicher underlined, in red ink, each reference to the Amalekites and Haman, assuming that the origin of the Aryan race was in Iran.

According to The Scroll of Esther, King Ahasuerus changed his position –heeding the advice of Mordechai - allowing Jews to defend themselves and hang the anti-Jewish Haman and his ten sons. An 11th child, a daughter, committed suicide following her father’s demise (Talmud, Megillah tractate, 16a).

More on Purim and other Jewish holidays in my eBook: SmashwordsAmazon