Purim is one of the most joyous and fun holidays
on the Jewish calendar.
Purim commemorates a time when the
Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination.
Why do we celebrate Purim?
The story of Purim is told in the Biblical book of
Esther. The heroes of the story are Esther, a beautiful young Jewish
woman living in Persia, and her cousin Mordechai, who raised her as
if she were his daughter. Esther was taken to the house of Ahasuerus,
King of Persia, to become part of his harem. King Ahasuerus loved
Esther more than his other women and made Esther queen, but the king
did not know that Esther was a Jew, because Mordechai told her not
to reveal her nationality.
The villain of the story is Haman, an arrogant, egotistical
advisor to the king. Haman hated Mordechai because Mordechai refused
to bow down to Haman, so Haman plotted to destroy the Jewish people.
In a speech that is all too familiar to Jews, Haman told the king,
"There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among
the peoples in all the provinces of your realm. Their laws are different
from those of every other people's, and they do not observe the king's
laws; therefore it is not befitting the king to tolerate them."
Esther 3:8. The king gave the fate of the Jewish people to Haman,
to do as he pleased to them. Haman planned to exterminate all of the
Mordechai persuaded Esther to speak to the king on
behalf of the Jewish people. This was a dangerous thing for Esther
to do, because anyone who came into the king's presence without being
summoned could be put to death, and she had not been summoned. Esther
fasted for three days to prepare herself, then went into the king.
He welcomed her. Later, she told him of Haman's plot against her people.
The Jewish people were saved, and Haman was hanged on the gallows
that had been prepared for Mordechai.
When is Purim?
Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar, which
is usually in March. The 13th of Adar is the day that Haman chose
for the extermination of the Jews, and the day that the Jews battled
their enemies for their lives. On the day afterwards, the 14th, they
celebrated their survival. In cities that were walled in the time
of Joshua, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of the month, because the
book of Esther says that in Shushan (a walled city), deliverance from
the massacre was not complete until the next day. The 15th is referred
to as Shushan Purim.
In leap years, when there are two months of Adar,
Purim is celebrated in the second month of Adar, so it is always one
month before Passover. The 14th day of the first Adar in a leap year
is celebrated as a minor holiday called Purim Katan, which means "little
Purim." There are no specific observances for Purim Katan; however,
a person should celebrate the holiday and should not mourn or fast.
What does Purim mean?
The word "Purim" means "lots"
and refers to the lottery that Haman used to choose the date for the
What are the Traditions of Purim?
The Purim holiday is preceded by a minor fast, the
Fast of Esther, which commemorates Esther's three days of fasting
in preparation for her meeting with the king.
primary commandment related to Purim is to hear the reading of the
book of Esther. The book of Esther is commonly known as the Megillah,
which means scroll. It is customary to boo, hiss, stamp feet and rattle
gragers (noisemakers, - also called groggers, raashanim) whenever
the name of Haman is mentioned in the service. The purpose of this
custom is to "blot out the name of Haman."
We are also commanded to eat, drink and be merry.
According to the Talmud, a person is required to drink until he cannot
tell the difference between Haman and Mordechai, though opinions differ
as to exactly how drunk that is. A person certainly should not become
so drunk that he might violate other commandments or get seriously
In addition, we are commanded to send out gifts of
food or drink, and to make gifts to charity. The sending of gifts
of food and drink is referred to as shalach manos (sending out portions).
Among Ashkenazic Jews, a common treat at this time of year is hamentaschen
(Haman's pockets). These triangular fruit-filled cookies are supposed
to represent Haman's three-cornered hat.
It is customary to hold carnival-like celebrations
on Purim, to perform plays and parodies, and to hold beauty contests.
Purim is not subject to the sabbath-like restrictions
on work that some other holidays are; however, some sources indicate
that we should not go about our ordinary business on Purim out of
respect for the holiday.
Getting Drunk on Purim
By Moe Fine from www.jewishmag.com
Perhaps one of the more fascinating aspects of our religion is the strange requirement that obligates men to get drunk on Purim. Mostly we think that religion preaches self restraint and "clean cut, healthy family" type living. Well, obviously, Judaism is for all that, but, it also includes this one "let's blow it" type of holiday that traces it's origins to the Talmud.
The Rabbis of the Talmud said, "A person is obligated to drink on Purim until he can no longer distinguish between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordachai." This statement of the early rabbis who lived during the Talmud (about 1700-1800 years ago) had caused much concern by the later rabbis who concerned themselves with the codification of Jewish law (about 1000 years ago until today). (Exactly what the position of the rabbis in the period in between was can only been assumed that it did not bother them.)
Now some rabbis understand the words literally, and others understand the word to mean not really to get drunk. Those who understand the words literally, we don't have to prod our imagination to understand them. Yet other rabbis did not see this as an opportunity to get smashed in the sanctity of the Torah's teachings. They explained that the idea here isn't the drinking but the joy that is expressed when we realize the good that G-d has done for us. With the aid of a bit of wine, we are able to bring out more clearly our expressions of joy and gratitude to G-d, This thanks can be on a much deeper level when we ingest more wine than is our accustomed habit.
Others saw it coupled with the comparison between the cursing of Haman and the blessing of Mordachai. This they felt had deeper implications, such as the gematria (the mathematical equivalent of the Hebrew letters that comprise the words) of "cursed be Haman" which " happens " to be equal to "blessed is Mordachai". They reasoned that as long as one can reckon the gematrias, one may continue to drink, but once the mind becomes blurry, and the proper gematria can not be computed, then the drinking must cease.
Other later rabbis, to whom drinking is abhorrent, suggest that one may drink only a bit more than one is used to drinking, and then take a nap. In this way, the person drank a bit more on Purim, and since he slept, he did not know the difference between cursed be Haman and blessed be Mordachai. Hardly keeping in the holiday spirit, yet these rabbis were more concerned that no sins should be caused by drinking, therefore, it is better to sleep.
What seems to end up here is a watered down version of Purim which seems to void the holiday of all festivities other than ramming some food down the tubes.
Yet there are other concepts in the purpose of drinking that should be explored before you sip your favorite non alcoholic grape juice and retire for a nice snooze. One is the idea that maybe there is something deeper in imbibing that the sages of the Talmud wanted to impart to us. The other is that the words of the sages must be understood fully.
The actual words of the Talmud, which is brought down in the code of Jewish law is that "a man is obligated to get drunk . . ' the word is not really to get drunk, the true translation of it is "to smell nice". In Aramaic, the language of the Talmud " le-basumi " really is related to the Hebrew word " bosem " fragrance. That means that a person is suppose to make himself fragrant , meaning becoming something that another person would enjoy.
When you think of something fragrant, perhaps you think of a flower or of perfume. Another person can enjoy the fragrance with out diminishing that essence of the original. When we smell a flower, we do not diminish the flower, the flower may continue to grow, yet we can get benefit from it. Secondly, the fragrance is to us the least physical of our senses, seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, and smelling.
In addition, the comparison of Haman and Mordachai is interesting. We realize that there are two parts to the Purim story. One part is the downfall of our archenemy, Haman. When he was in power, we Jews were doomed to extinction; with his removal, our lives could have returned to it original pace. We really did not have a need for Mordachai to be selected to become the vicar of Persia. With out Mordachai, we could have continued our daily existence as we have in so many other lands.
Why was Mordachai elevated? What divine purpose was there in that? What is there to compare with the downfall of Haman, in which our lives were spared, to the elevation of Mordachai, which we could have done with out.
But no, there is something special in the special selection of Mordachai. In Mordachai becoming the vicar of Persia, we Jews were able to go beyond our mundane daily activities of merely making a living. We could not strive and actively work to rebuild that part of our life that had been taken from us, the holy Temple in Jerusalem. And so it was that the exile in Persia began to approach the end.
Yet as we have another drink and begin to ponder this, we see that the hand of G-d is not stingy. When G-d gives his blessing we must take it and act upon it. The average Jew at that time would not have wanted anything other than a return to regular life, yet it was G-d's plan that we return to our supra existence in the Land of Israel with the rebuilding of the second Temple.
And having another drink, we could possibly realize that the word Haman really has more than one meaning. HaMan, spelt in Hebrew the same as Haman, means "the manna" that fell from heaven during the forty years that the Jews traveled in the dessert. This was the food of G-d for a nation of spiritual souls; it had whatever taste that you desired. After eating it, it was completely absorbed in the system and no waste excrement was purged from the body. Yet it was on this HaMan that the Jews complained, with no reason to G-d.
To complain to G-d about a gift that He has given you is a terrible thing. If G-d gives you something, there is nothing better. Perhaps we may want something else, but G-d in his infinite wisdom knows what you really need and deserve. Complained about HaMan (the manna from heaven) we ended up with Haman (from Persia).
We must always thank G-d for that which He has given us. As we ponder and contemplate the goodness that he has bestowed upon us both personally and nationally, we should be swept up with thanks. Our hearts should yearn to praise G-d and our hearts should beat with anxiety to meet He who is so kind.
Only as we continue to drink and we release ourselves from our worldly preconceptions and prejudges can we free ourselves on this special day only to sing true praise to He who is all good and giving. Through this realization we will merit not just living during the building of the third Temple, but also participating in the renewed service to G-d, each person according to his talents and abilities, and may it be swiftly and speedily in our days.
List of Purim Dates
Purim will occur on the following days of the Gregorian
calendar. Remember that all holidays begin at sundown on the date
before the date specified here.
March 25, 2005 (Jewish Year 5765)
March 14, 2006 (Jewish Year 5766)
March 4, 2007 (Jewish Year 5767)
March 21, 2008 (Jewish Year 5768)
March 10, 2009 (Jewish Year 5769)
Februar 28, 2010 (Jewish Year 5770)
March 20, 2011 (Jewish Year 5771)
March 8, 2012 (Jewish Year 5772)
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