A Purim Guide for the Perplexed, 2016
Purim’s historical background:
The 586 BCE destruction of the First Temple (on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount) by the Babylonian Emperor, Nebuchadnezzar, triggered a wave of Jewish emigration to Babylon and to Persia, which replaced Babylon as the leading regional power. Seventy years later, Xerxes the Great, Persian King Ahasuerus, succeeded Darius the Great and proclaimed his support for rebuilding the Temple and resurrecting Jewish life in the Land of Israel.
Following a series of victories over attempted rebellions, Ahasuerus established a coalition of countries under his rule, which created a military power that challenged Greece and attempted to expand the Persian Empire westward. However, Persia was resoundingly defeated, which led to an attempted coup — by Bigtan and Teresh — against Ahasuerus. The coup was thwarted by Mordechai, a retired military commander, who relayed critical intelligence to Queen Esther, his cousin (or niece). Just like Joseph, who adopted an Egyptian name (Zaphnat Paa’ne’ach), so did Mordechai adopt a Persian name (derived from Marduk, a Mesopotampian god). Both Joseph and Mordechai reasserted their roots in the face of a clear and present danger to the existence of the Jewish people.
Purim is the holiday that foiled an ancient 9/11. The numerical value (e.g., a would be 1, b=2, etc.) of the Hebrew spelling of King (מלך=90) Ahasuerus (אחשורוש=821) — who ordered the annihilation of Jews — is 911…., just like the dates of Kristallnacht (9.11.1938) and the destruction of the First and Second Temples (9.11 – the ninth day of the eleventh Jewish month).
Purim’s Scroll of Esther represents fundamental tenets of Judaism:
In God We Trust — in contrast to idolatry, hedonism, cynicism, and insecurity — can catapult human-beings to unexpected heights;
Faith in mankind’s capabilities, as long as faith in God is sustained;
Value/principle-driven realism, in contrast to opportunism and wishful-thinking;
Attachment to religious, cultural and historical Jewish roots, 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 as demonstrated by Mordechai and Queen Esther, who switched from assimilation to national-Jewish responsibility, while risking their lives;
The centrality of the Land of Israel, and the ingathering of Jews to their Homeland;
Optimism, confidence, and courage, in contrast to pessimism, despair and fear;
Tenacious defiance of enormous adversity, in contrast to defeatism and accommodation. Problems are considered opportunities in disguise.
“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.
Purim’s Clash of Civilizations — between Mordechai and Haman — exemplifies an early edition of the war between right and wrong, liberty and tyranny, justice and evil, truth and lies, as Adam/Eve VS. the Snake, Abel VS. Cain, Abraham VS. Sodom and Gomorrah, Jacob VS. Esau (grandfather of Amalek), the Maccabees VS. the Assyrians, the Allies VS. the Nazis, the West VS. the Communist Bloc, and the Free World VS. Islamic terrorist regimes and organizations.
The numerical value of the Hebrew spelling of “blessed Mordechai” (ברוך מרדכי) and “cursed Haman” (ארור המן) is identical, 502, cautioning people that blessing must be carefully safeguarded, since it may be transformed, abruptly, into a curse. 502 is also the numerical value of the Hebrew word for “rift” (which exists between blessing and curse).
Purim is celebrated on the 14th/15th days of the Jewish month of Adar. Adar (אדר) is the root of the Hebrew adjective Adir — 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 that 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.
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.
Mordechai, the hero of Purim and one of the deputies of Ezra the Scribe — who led a wave of Jewish ingathering from Babylon — 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.
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 and eliminated Haman, a descendant of Agag the Amalekite, thus sparing the Jewish People a major disaster.
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.
Queen Esther, the heroine of Purim’s Scroll of Esther, was Mordechai’s niece (or cousin). 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 woman 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.
The name Esther (pronounced Ester in Hebrew) is also a derivative of Ishtar — a Mesopotamian goddess and Astarte, “star” — a Phoenician goddess. In fact, the one day pre-Purim Fast of Esther (commemorating the three day fast declared by Esther in order to expedite deliverance) was cherished by the Maranos in Spain, who practiced Judaism in a concealed manner. While God’s name is hidden/absent in Esther’s Scroll, Michael Bernstein suggests that there are 182 references to “King,” corresponding to 26 (the numerical value of Jehovah) times 7 (days of creation).
Esther’s second name was Hadassah, whose root is Hadass (myrtle tree in Hebrew) — whose leaves are shaped like an eye. The name Esther is identified with the planet Venus. Hence, Esther’s other Hebrew name is Noga — just like my oldest granddaughter — which means a shining divine light in Hebrew. In Gimatriya, Esther (אסתר) and Noga (נגה) equal 661 and 58 respectively, and the sum of 6+6+1 and 5+8 is 13 (the number of God’s virtues). In “small Gimatriya,” both Esther (1+6+4+2) and Noga (5+3+5) equal 13, which is also the total sum of “one” in Hebrew (אחד), which represents the oneness of God, monotheism, as well as the total sum of love in Hebrew (אהבה).
Purim’s four statutes:
Reading/studying the Scroll of Esther (מגילה) within the family, emphasizes the centrality of the family, education, memory, and youth as the foundation of a solid future.
Gifts (מתנות) to relatives, friends, and strangers emphasize the importance of family, community, and collective responsibility.
Charity 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 and 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 (משתה) sustain optimism and faith — the backbone of individuals and nations.
The Hebrew spelling of each statute starts with the letter מ, which is the first letter in the Hebrew spelling of Mordechai (מרדכי), as well as Moses (משה), who was born and died a week before the Hebrew date of Purim. In addition, the numerical value of מ is 40, representing the 40 days of prayers before Purim aimed at the final elimination of the Amalekite enemies of the Jewish people.