By the brilliant, erudite retired ambassador Yoram Ettinger
Purim guide for the perplexed, 2015 (excerpts)
1. Purim’s Scroll of Esther represents fundamental tenets of Judaism:
*Faith in God, in contrast to idolatry and cynicism;
*Faith in mankind’s capabilities, as God reduces direct involvement (from Genesis and Exodus to Esther Scroll – which does not mention God’s name – Ezra and Nehemiah);
*Value/principle-driven realism, in contrast to opportunism and wishful-thinking;
*Attachment to roots (religious, cultural, historical), in contrast to detachment and assimilation;
*Liberty – the core of personal/national existence (just like Sukkot/Tabernacles, Chanukah and Passover);
*Community/national-driven responsibility, in contrast to selfishness (Queen Esther assumed responsibility, while risking her life and convenience);
*The ingathering of Jews to the Land of Israel (opposed by Haman and advanced by Mordechai);
*Optimism, confidence and courage, in contrast to pessimism, despair and fear;
*Tenacious defiance of enormous adversity, in contrast to defeatism, submission and accommodation. Problems = opportunities in disguise.
2. Purim’s Clash of Civilizations exemplifies an early edition of the war between right and wrong, liberty and tyranny, justice and evil, truth and lies, as were/are Adam/Eve VS. the Snake, Abel VS. Cain, Abraham VS. Sodom & Gomorrah, Jacob VS. Esau (grandfather of Amalek), the Maccabees VS. the Assyrians, the Allies VS. the Nazis, the West VS. the Communist Bloc and Western democracies VS. Islamic rogue and terrorist regimes.
3. “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 (in the Jewish year 5707), ten convicted Nazi war criminals were hanged in Nuremberg. An 11th 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.
4. 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). In Jewish tradition (Babylonian Talmud) Adar is featured 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.
(PS My father, obm, passed away on the first day of Adar II, the leap year – the doubled month to which Ambassador Ettinger refers)
5. Purim’s (פורים) 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.
6. 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.
Mordechai was a politically-incorrect, out-of-the-box thinking leader and a retired military commander, who preferred a disproportionate pre-emptive offensive to retaliation, appeasement and defense. 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. The name Mordechai is also a derivative of Mordouch, the chief Babylonian god.
7. 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. Consequently, Saul lost his royal position and his life. Mordechai learned from Saul’s error, destroying Haman, a descendant of Agag the Amalekite, thus sparing the Jewish People a major disaster.
8. 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. The king prospered as a result of his change of heart and escaped assassination. That was also the case with Pharaoh, who escaped national collapse and starvation and rose in global prominence after he appointed Joseph to be his deputy.
9. Queen Esther, the heroine of Purim’s Scroll of Esther, was Mordechai’s niece. Esther demonstrated 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 – and Esther the last – Jewish women 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 revelation of identity.
Purim’s four commandments:
*Reading/studying the Scroll of Esther within the family, emphasizes 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 (charity, donation in Hebrew), which highlights giving and contributing to others as a means of enhancing solidarity and reducing egotism. According to the Torah, contributions benefit the contributor more than the recipient.
*Celebration and Happiness sustain optimism and faith – the backbone of individuals and nations.
Wishing you Happy Purim and a rewarding week,
Yoram Ettinger, Jerusalem, “Second Thought: a US-Israel initiative”
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