A Purim Guide to the Perplexed

Purim 2009 Guide for the Perplexed

Yoram Ettinger, March 6, 2009

Assembled from various Jewish Sages

1. THE TIMING – THE JEWISH MONTH OF ADAR. Adar is the root of the Hebrew adjective “Adir” (glorious, awesome, exalted, magnificent) and the Hebrew verb “Le’Ha’adir” (to glorify), which are frequently employed in the Old Testament (e.g. the Hymn of the Sea following the Parting of the Sea). 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, prohibiting eulogies and fast on Purim. The zodiac of Adar is Pisces (fish), which is a symbol of demographic multiplication. Purim is celebrated on the 14th (in non-walled towns) and (in Jerusalem) on the 15th day of Adar (March 10/11, 2009), commemorating the national liberation of the Jewish People in Persia and the (161 BCE) victory of Judah the Maccabee over Nikanor, the Assyrian commander. Moses – whose burial site is unknown – was born, and died (1273 BCE), on the 7th day of Adar, which is Israel’s Memorial Day for soldiers, whose burial site is 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 (3rd of Adar, 515 BCE) by Ezra and Nehemiah. Nebuchadnezzar died in Adar 561 BCE (Jeremiah 52:31). Einstein published the theory of General Relativity in Adar 1916.

2. PURIM’S Hebrew root is fate/destiny (“Pur”), as well as “to frustrate”, “to annul” (“Le’Ha’fer), “to crumble” and “to shutter” (Le’Phorer), reflecting the demise of Haman.

3. PURIM – A (522 BCE) WAR OF CIVILIZATIONS between Mordechai the Jew and Haman the Iranian-Amalekite – constitutes an early edition of the war between Right VS Wrong, Liberty VS Tyranny, Just VS Evil, Truth VS Lies, as were/are the precedents of Adam/Eve VS Snake, Abel VS Cain, Abraham VS Sodom & Gomorrah, Jacob VS Esau (grandparent of Amalek), Maccabees VS Assyrians, Allies VS Nazis, Western democracies VS Islamic terrorism.

4. 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 face of a global power and in spite of Jewish establishment. According to Judaism, deliverance is ushered by the bravery of faith-driven individuals, such as Nachshon – who was the first to walk into the Red Sea before it was parted – and Mordechai. He was a politically-INcorrect statesman and a retired military leader, who practiced “disproportionate pre-emption” instead of defense, deterrence or retaliation. The first three Hebrew letters of “Mordechai” spell the Hebrew word “Rebellion” (“Mered”), which is consistent with the motto/legacy of the American Founding Fathers: “Rebellion against Tyranny is Obedience to G-D”). Mordechai would not bow to Haman, the second most powerful person in the Persian Empire. Mordechai 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 and spared the life of Agag, the Amalekite king, thus causing further calamities upon the Jewish People. Consequently, Saul lost his royal position and life. Mordechai learnt from Saul’s error, destroying Haman (a descendant of Agag the Amalekite) and his entire power base, thus sparing the Jewish People a major disaster.

5. QUEEN ESTHER, the heroine of Purim’s ESTHER SCROLL (the 24th and concluding book in the Old Testament) was Mordechai’s cousin. One cannot comprehend Purim without studying Esther Scroll. Esther demonstrates the centrality of women in Judaism, shaping the future of the Jewish People, as did Sarah, Rebecca, Miriam, Batyah, Deborah, Hannah, etc. Sarah was the first Jewish woman, and Esther was the last Jewish woman, mentioned by the Old Testament. Sarah lived 127 years and Esther ruled over 127 countries. The name Esther is a derivative of the Hebrew word “Hester” – “clandestine”, “hidden”, “subtle”, which was reflective of her (initially) unknown Jewish identity and subtle-style at the royal court. The name Esther is also a derivative of Ishtar – a Mesopotamian goddess, Astarte – 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 Marano in Spain, who performed Judaism in a clandestine manner. The Scroll of Esther is the only book in the Old Testament, where the name of G-D is hidden/absent. It has been suggested that the explicit name of G-D is absent because the Scroll of Esther is the only Old Testament book, which deals exclusively with the Diaspora and not with the Land of Israel. According to Michael Bernstein, the noun “King” appears 182 times in Esther Scroll, which is the total sum of 26 (numerical value of G-D) times 7 (days of creation). Esther’s second name was Hadassah, whose root is Hadass – myrtle tree in Hebrew – which constitutes a metaphor for eyesight 20:20 and is identified with Venus (hence, Esther’s other Hebrew name – Noga – glaring divine light, which is Venus in Hebrew). Myrtle flowers and leaves are a traditional decoration of brides.

6. 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, once he appointed Joseph to be his deputy.

7. CONVICTION-DRIVEN transparency/bluntness is one of the lessons of Esther Scroll, “Megilat Esther” in Hebrew. The Hebrew root of “Megilah” is “Galeh” – exposed, overt, in-the-open – the opposite of “Esther”-“Haster” (hidden). The contradiction between these terms constitutes a cardinal lesson: life is not a picnic; it is complex, full of contradictions and difficult dilemmas. One should be driven by principles, rather than by shifty convenience, in order to attain one’s goals. Just as (Esther) the covert became overt, so would pessimism be transformed into optimism, if one adheres to one’s long-term conviction, rather than to one’s immediate convenience.


*Reading/studying the “Esther Scroll” within the family highlights the centrality of family, education, memory and youth as the foundation for a solid future.

*Gifts to relatives and friends emphasize the importance of family and community.

*Charity (at least the value of a meal) indicates the value of compassion.

*Celebration and Happiness sustains the element of optimism and faith as the backbone of an individual and a nation.

9. TEN PARTIES are commemorated by the Scroll of Esther – the king’s 2 parties for the entire kingdom and for Shushan (the capital), Esther’s coronation party, the king’s and Haman’s party, Esther’s 2 parties for the king and Haman, Jewish deliverance party, post-deliverance parties in the entire kingdom and in Shushan and the 10th party is the traditional annual party. The number “Ten” has been very significant in Judaism: 10 commandments, 10 days of atonement, 10 plagues, 10 miracles during the Exodus from Egypt, 10 chapters and 10 parties in Esther Scroll, 10 key biblical hymns, 10 divine Genesis assertions, the 10th Hebrew letter is “Yod” (G-D), 10 measurements of wisdom, 10 spiritual dimensions, 10 sanctuary crowns, 10 tribes of Canaan, 10 participants as a quorum in Jewish services, etc.

10. THE FAST OF ESTHER (on the day preceding Purim) symbolizes the turning point from near-oblivion to deliverance. The fast constitutes a sobering morality-driven experience, which stands in contradiction to – and above – partying. Mordechai fasted upon learning of Haman’s conspiracy against the Jews. Esther declared a three-day Jewish fast, in advance of her crucial meeting with the king.

11. LETHAL ENEMY DESTROYED & COMMEMORATED. The pre-Purim Sabbath is called “Memorial Sabbath” (“Shabbat Zakhor”), commemorating the war of extermination launched by the Amalekites against the Jewish Nation, since the Exodus from Egypt. One of Purim’s lessons is that there are enemies, whose strategic goal is extermination, advanced by the tactical element of false-tenuous accommodation.

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