What's Going On Here?!

Purim is a *FESTIVAL* in capital letters and flashing lights - like the splashiest neon sign of chagim [holidays] -  especially in Israel.  There is that build-up for weeks ahead - the costumes in the stores (and "decisions, decisions, who - or what - to dress up as this time?"), as well as ozney haman [hamentashen / yummy triangular baked good] appearing in every grocery and bakery. The noisemakers come out of storage in store, home and shuk [open market] - not just graggers but silly plastic hammers that squeak when you bop them on everything as well as each other, and of course the school- and home-made wonders (and have we some crafty ideas for you in both the costume and noise departments!). 

a kid dressed as a clown for Purim Send in the clowns!
a Purim noisemaker Don't forget your squeaking plastic hammer!

We are instructed to carry out four mitzvot [obligations].  

Let's do it with gusto:

  1. Celebrate and make merry, including a seudat Purim - a celebratory meal at home at the conclusion of the chag.
  2. Give gifts to each other- typically tasty things- called mishloach manot.
  3. Giving to the poor, called matanot le-evyonim. Nowadays we would expand this to the disadvantaged, oppressed, those lacking adequate inclusion opportunities, as well as giving back to those who have been there for us, like senior citizens. In effect, we are reminded to demonstrate that we consider ourselves a whole community, and must look after it.
  4. Publically read Megillat Esther, the Scroll of Esther, so that everyone knows and remembers what we are celebrating and getting so excited about.
a mishoach manot Mishloach manot typically means exchanging a variety of goodies :)
megilat Esther of Purim Megillat Esther, Scroll of Esther

So what are we celebrating?  

In a word - deliverance.  At the very last minute.

The events of the story in a nutshell:

  • The story starts off with an impressive bang:  King Achashverosh of Persia throws a half-year-long drinking fest for the army, civil service and nobility.  He even allows for a week-long bash for everyone else – of every class and means- living in the city of Shushan.  At one rather sloshed point, he calls on his wife, Queen Vashti, to come on over and show off her beauty to all and sundry.  She is not too taken with the idea and declines the invitation.  And bye-bye Vashti.
a silhouette of the city of Shushan King Achasuerus held a week-long bash for everyone in Shushan!
  • Achashverosh holds a beauty contest for her replacement (participation is not exactly voluntary).  The winner is our heroine, Esther (her Hebrew name is Hadassah).  Esther, having been orphaned, had been under the foster care of her cousin Mordechai.  She keeps her Jewish identity secret.
  • Mordechai hangs out by the palace gates to keep tabs on her.  In so doing he overhears of assassination plans against the king.  His bringing this plot to light saves the day.
  • Haman is appointed prime minister by the king.
  • Haman is miffed that Mordechai, hanging around the gates, does not treat him with proper deference by bowing to him.
  • Haman goes ballistic.  Not only should Mordechai pay with his life, but let's go after all the Jews in the kingdom. (One might presume the realm had some fiscal and social unrest issues, and here was a nice group scapegoat to divert attention and also refill the coffers with Jewish resources, especially after those big army and party bills started coming in).  He gets his plans for Mordechai's hanging and the destruction of the Jewish minority approved by the boss. He starts drawing lots (purim) for which day will be Mordechai's and the Jews' last.
a girl dressed as Queen Esther
  • Achashverosh happens to have trouble falling asleep that night so asks for a little helpful light reading.  The court's daily records are brought, and he comes across Mordechai's earlier assassination-plot foiling, with no recompense or recognition afterwards.  The king asks Haman what he would do to honor someone worthy, without naming names.  Haman suggests royal garb and some parading on his eminence's horse and the like, thinking this will be a reward for himself.  The king approves and -shock of shocks to his adviser- tells him to 'make it so' for Mordechai.
  • Meanwhile, there is communal penitence and fasting going on among the Jews.  Esther invites her husband twice to nice banquets fit-for-a-king.  At the second round, she tells Achashverosh that she herself is Jewish and he is about to do away with her people, and in effect, his wife as well.
  • Since the previous decree can't be undone, the king is open to another decree which permits his Jewish subjects to pre-emptively go after those who would kill them.  He also has Haman hung instead of Mordechai.
  • Mordechai moves up to a position second to that of the king.  And he decrees the annual celebration of Purim and the obligations mentioned above.

It’s a rich story worth hearing far more completely, so put that megillah reading on your calendar - the 14th of Adar. Besides, the customary encouraged behavior and traditions at this event should not be missed! See our section on "Worthwhile Information & Tidbits" . Then take a look through our suggested activities, a recipe, vocabulary, some songs and links.

We hope you enjoy the materials and suggestions Learn Hebrew Pod has prepared here to help you in your Purim experience to make you even happier its Adar .

a Purim mask and the phrase Happy Purim in Hebrew - פורים שמח Purim sameach, happy Purim!