Today…Jews don costumes and feast to celebrate Purim…the “they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat” Jewish holiday. Purim remembers the tale of the Jews’ escape from death in Persian Empire as told in the book of Esther. Esther is celebrated as the courageous heroine.
Here is a brief overview of the story: King Xerxes, whose realm stretches from India to Ethiopia, selects Esther as his new queen. She conceals her Jewishness, but her cousin and mentor Mordechai does not. He refuses to bow down before the king’s advisor, Haman. Enraged by Mordechai’s defiance, Haman persuades the king to exterminate all the Jews of Persia.
After some fasting and political maneuvering, Esther audaciously reveals her identity and everything turns upside down. Xerxes orders Haman hanged on the gallows meant for Mordechai, and the Jews defeat their enemies in a two-day war across the Persian provinces.
The celebration of Purim was then ordered in Esther 9:22; it commemorates “the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.”
On Purim, the story is retold with “jeers” for Haman and “cheers” for Mordecai. As part of celebrations, Jewish people gather at the synagogue where the story of Esther is recited and the atmosphere is rowdy. While it is read, listeners (especially children) are encouraged to use noisemakers, to boo, hiss and stamp their feet when Haman’s name is mentioned. Adults are encouraged to drink until they do not know the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai”. I am not sure about that part, but they also give gifts to one another and gifts to the poor…demonstrating generosity to others in their gratitude toward God. Again we find generosity is at the core of the Biblical worldview in both the Old and the New Testaments.
Although Persia’s modern heir, Iran, still seems intent to destroy the modern state of the Jews, the celebration of Purim continues today; a two-day holiday of feasting, rejoicing, food sharing, gift giving, memorial feasting as the Jews celebrate the fact that they were delivered from being exterminated. For the Christian today this model of generosity, toward friends, family and the poor, gives us a practical way to demonstrate our gratitude toward God.
The Iranian Threat and the Eternal Meaning of Purim, The Jews of Persia saw the universe’s great whimsy. Grief turned into joy, mourning into celebration. By Eliora Katz, Wall Street Journal Online edition, Feb. 27, 2108.