Purim: Sing and Drink Day

Arguably the most joyous of Jewish holidays; a time of carnivals, plays and parodies and, in keeping with the story of Ester, beauty contests. Purim celebrates yet another deliverance of God’s people from their enemies.

How Do You Say Purim?

Don’t let the “u” in Purim fool you, its common English pronunciation is the same way and Englishman might say “poor”, or “lure”.  The word Purim is a transliteration of the Hebrew word for “lots”, as in casting lots, the “im” signifies plurality in Hebrew.

A Little Bit of Background

Unlike the stories behind Pesach and Hanukkah, the hero of this saga is a heroine and a beautiful one at that. Our story, set at a time when the Jews were dominated by the Persian Empire, can be found in the book of Esther.

The Goodies

Esther was young Jewish lady, who was raised by her honest and sagacious cousin Mordecai. When Ester was taken into the harem of Ahasuerus, King of Persia, Mordecai instructed her not to reveal her nationality. Ahasuerus loved Ester and chose her to be queen.

The Baddies

Haman is the antagonist in our extraordinary tale, an advisor to the king; he has a personal vendetta against Mordecai because Mordecai refuses to bow to him. Mordecai had also unknowingly and unintentionally been instrumental in absolutely humiliating Hayman. (It’s in the book of Ester, and it’s hilarious.)

The Evil Plot

In an ultimately disastrous display of malice, arrogance and abuse of power, Hayman decides to not only destroy Mordecai but his whole race. He petitions the king with the familiar xenophobic trope about the “people scattered throughout our realm” and their seditious beliefs. Heeding the advice of his vizier, Ahasuerus decrees the destruction of all Jews in the kingdom on a particular day.

The Salvation

Responsibility of saving the people now fell to our reluctant Heroine, Ester. She would have to speak to the king, but to approach him without being summoned could mean death. Ester fasted for three days, all the Jews also fasted and prayed, and then she approached the king with a plea for her life. Naturally, the king listened to his beautiful wife, Hayman was hanged, and the people were delivered from annihilation yet again. It’s a good cause for a celebration.

Commands

A minor fast precedes the Purim holiday, the Fast of Esther, commemorating Esther’s three days of fasting. Hearing the reading of the book of Esther is also commanded on this day, which is a welcome duty because it’s a great story. Finally, we are commanded to eat, drink and be merry; in fact, according to the Talmud, to drink until you cannot tell the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordecai.” Exemptions from this injunction are granted to those who would find it detrimental.

Although this is primarily a holiday for the whole community, Purim, like Pesach, has a family side to it. It’s a time when gifts of food or drink are sent to friends and to the poor, and donations made to charity. A popular activity in the home is the preparation and distribution of Mishloah manot baskets. Another favorite is the baking of hamantaschen (Hayman’s pockets,) traditional triangular pastries. The main event of Purim’s home celebration is the seudah, a meal where the aforementioned command to “eat, drink and be merry” is faithfully and zealously carried out.

When Do We Hit It?

Purim occurs on the fourteenth day of Adar, which is around February to March. It is occasionally referred to as Jewish Mardi gras due to its festive, and sometimes outrageous, overtones (or maybe it’s because of the guys competing in the beauty contests.)

Whatever it is, watch out for this day, it’s a hoot!

 

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