Purim (also known as the “Festival of Lots”) commemorates Jews being saved from Haman, a government official in the First Persian Empire, who wanted to kill all Jews. Purim is celebrated in many ways, including eating a special meal and donating to charity.
Purim is a time for giving to the poor. Some Jews:
- give money to at least two poor people
- send two different types of food to one person
Feast of Purim
At Purim, there is also a feast. Families get together to eat the Purim meal. The table is laid with a nice tablecloth and some candles. Challah, a braided loaf of bread made in honour to the Shabbat, is made for the meal. Meat is eaten and wine is drunk.
There are a few traditional foods that are eaten at Purim, all of which link back to the story in the Book of Esther about Purim.
One of these foods is Hamantaschen, or Hamantasch. It is a pastry with three corners with a filling inside (below.)
Another traditional Purim food is dumpling soup called Kreplach. Some people think the dough represents knowledge with the meat inside representing emotion.
Story of Purim
The book with the story behind Purim, called the Book of Esther, starts with a 6 month drinking feast hosted by King Ahasuerus for the Persian and Median armies, along with the governors and princes of his kingdom.
At the feast, the king gets very drunk. He and the other guests orders his wife, Vashti, to display her beauty but she refuses. The King removed her from her position as Queen. He then demands that all young women be presented to him so he can choose a new queen.
One of these women is called Esther, who was an orphan from a very young age. King Ahasuerus decides that she be made his new wife. She does not say where she came from or say she was Jewish.
Haman, one of the king’s ministers, was promoted to prime minister. He hated Jewish people. The king issued a decree saying that everyone should bow whenever Haman appeared. When the Jewish Mordechai didn’t bow down, Haman was furious. Haman wanted to take revenge against all Jews. He chose the day with lots – and it was on the 13th day of Adar the 12th month in the Hebrew calendar (which is also when Purim is celebrated.)
He then went to the king to gain permission to exterminate the Jews, in exchange for 10,000 silver talents. And so the king said:
The money is yours to keep, and the nation is yours to do with as you please.Purim 3:11
Haman ordered everyone to rise up against the Jews and kill them. As soon as Mordechai became aware of this, he asked Esther to go to the king and beg him to stop Haman from killing the Jews. She said that anyone who approached the king without his permission would be sentenced to death. Esther had not been summoned by the king for 30 days.
Mordechai replied by saying: “Do not think that you will escape the fate of all the Jews by being in the king’s palace. For if you will remain silent at this time, relief and salvation will come to the Jews from another source, and you and the house of your father will be lost. And who knows if it is not for just such a time that you reached this royal position.”
Esther agreed to ask the king. She asked Mordechai to gather all Jews together in Shushan, and allow them to fast for 3 days and 3 nights. She would then risk her life and go to the king. Mordechai complied.
The First Feast
Three days later, Esther went into the king’s chambers. He asked what she wanted, and she replied: “I would like to invite the king and Haman to a small feast I have prepared.” And so they did.
When they were at the feast, the king asked if she wanted to request anything. She answered by saying that she will invite him to another feast the next day, where she would tell the king what she wanted.
The Royal Chronicles
On that night, the King couldn’t sleep, so he asked his servants to read for him from the Royal Chronicles. In the chronicles, he found out that Mordechai saved the king’s life when two of his assistants were planning to kill him.
The king asked if this man was rewarded. The servants said he wasn’t.
Suddenly, Haman entered the King’s courtyard to ask him for permission to hang Mordechai. Before he could say anything, the King said: “My Haman, in your estimation, what shall be done to a person whom the king wishes to honour?”
Haman, who thought the King was talking about him, replied: “Bring royal garment and a royal horse. And let one of the king’s nobles dress the man and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ‘So is done for the man whom the king wishes to honour!'”
The king thought it was a great idea. He then said: “Now go and get the garments and the horse for Mordechai the Jew!” Haman didn’t have any choice but to do what he said. On the next day, Mordechai was honoured as the king ordered. Afterwards, he went to the Second Feast.
The Second Feast
At the feast, the King asked what her request was. She pleaded:
If I have found favour in your eyes, O King, and if it pleases the king, let my life be granted me by my plea, and the life of my people by my request. For my people and I have been sold to be annihilated, killed and destroyed!Esther 7:3
She then said that Haman was the one who was planning to carry this out. He had built a gallow to hang him on. When he heard this, the King ordered Haman to be hung on that very gallow.
On the same day, all of Haman’s property was given to Esther. But she still wasn’t satisfied: once a king made a decree it couldn’t be revoked. Thankfully, he gave Mordechai and Esther permission to write a decree that revoked Haman’s. The decree granted Jews permission to defend themselves against their enemies.
In the same month, Jews throughout the Persian Empire killed those who had wanted to kill them – including Haman’s ten sons. Esther asked the king to give the Jews one more day to get rid of their enemies, which he agreed to.
And to celebrate what happened during these few days, Mordechai and Esther created an event. It would be known as Purim.