Purim Guide for the Perplexed, 2017
Purim’s historical background
586 BCE: Babylonian Emperor Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of the First Temple on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, and his expulsion of Jews from Judea and Samaria, triggered a wave of Jewish emigration to both Babylon and Persia. The latter eventually replaced the former as the leading regional power.
538 BCE: Xerxes the Great, or Persian King Ahasuerus, proclaimed his support for the reconstruction of the Jewish Temple, the resurrection of national Jewish life in the land of Israel and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish homeland.
499-449 BCE: The Greco-Persian Wars were launched. Ahasuerus established a coalition of countries in an attempt to expand the Persian empire Westward. However, Persia was resoundingly defeated (see: the 490 BCE and 480 BCE battles of Marathon and Salamis), and Ahasuerus’ authority in Persia was gravely eroded.
Following this failure, there was an attempted coup by Persians Bigtan and Teresh, which was thwarted by Mordechai, a retired Jewish military commander who relayed critical intelligence to Queen Esther, his cousin (or niece).
The name “Mordechai” is derived from Marduk, a Mesopotamian god — in a move evocative of Joseph, who adopted the Egyptian name Zaphnat Paa’ne’ach. Both Mordechai and Joseph reasserted their roots in the face of a clear and present lethal threat to the Jewish people.
Purim, the foiling of an ancient 9/11
The numerical value (“a”=1, “b”=2, etc) of the Hebrew spelling of King, or “melech,” is 90, and Ahasuerus is equivalent to 821, meaning that the leader who ordered the annihilation of Jews equals 911 — just like the dates of Kristallnacht (11/9/1938) and the destructions of both the First and Second Jewish Temples in Jerusalem (the ninth day of the eleventh Jewish month).
Julius Streicher — a central operative of the Nazi propaganda machine as founder and publisher of Der Stürmer — yelled “Purimfest 1946” as he approached the gallows on Oct. 16, 1946 (Newsweek, October 28, 1946, page 46). That day, 10 convicted Nazi war criminals were hanged in Nuremberg, and an 11th, Hermann Goering, committed suicide in his cell.
According to a Jewish survivor, the late Eliezer Cotler, Streicher’s library on his ranch (which later served as a camp for young Jewish survivors on their way to Israel), documented the Nazi’s interest in Purim’s relevance for learning the fate of the enemies of the Jewish people. Streicher underlined in red ink each reference to the Amalekites and Haman (the Aryan race claimed Iran/Persia as its origins). According to the Scroll of Esther, King Ahasuerus allowed the Jews to defend themselves and hang Haman and his ten sons. According to the Talmud (Megillah, 16a), Haman had an 11th child, a daughter, who committed suicide following her father’s demise.
Purim’s physical and spiritual clash of civilizations
The competing values and worldviews of Mordechai and Haman exemplify an early edition of the clash among nations, communities and within each person: right vs wrong, liberty vs tyranny, justice vs evil, truth vs lies, Adam and Eve vs the snake, Abel vs Cain, Abraham vs Sodom and Gomorrah, Jacob vs Esau (grandfather of Amalek, the deadliest enemy of the Jewish people), the Maccabees vs the Assyrians, the Allies vs the Nazis, the West vs the Communist Bloc and the Free World vs Islamic rogue regimes and terrorist organizations.
The numerical value of the Hebrew spellings of “blessed Mordechai” and “cursed Haman” are identical — both equal 502 — cautioning us that evil can be easily wrongly perceived as benevolence.
Purim is celebrated on the 14th/15th days of the Jewish month of Adar
Adar is the root of the Hebrew adjective “adir,” meaning glorious, awesome, exalted, magnificent. It is also a derivative of the Akkadian word “adura,” or heroism. According to the Babylonian Talmud, Adar is characterized 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, which doubles itself during the seven leap years in each 19-year cycle.
Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of the month in non-walled towns, and on the 15th as well in Jerusalem, commemorating the deliverance of the Jewish people from the jaws of a holocaust in Persia. It also commemorates the 161 BCE 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 Seventh day of Adar, which is Israel’s Memorial Day for soldiers whose burial sites are unknown.
Purim’s Hebrew root of “pur”
The root means “fate” or “destiny,” as well as “casting lots,” commemorating Haman’s lottery which determined the designated day for the planned annihilation of the Jewish people. It also means “to frustrate,” “to annul,” “to crumble” and “to shutter,” reflecting the demise of Haman.
Purim highlights the self-destruct fate/destiny of peoples and regimes who intend to annihilate the Jewish people
This has been demonstrated since ancient times through the days of the Nazi regime.
Mordechai, the hero of Purim
Mordechai served as one of the deputies to Ezra the Scribe, who led a wave of Jewish ingathering from Babylon to the land of Israel. He 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 leader with out-of-the-box thinking, a retired military commander who preferred a disproportionate preemptive offensive to retaliation, appeasement and defense. The first three Hebrew letters of Mordechai’s name the Hebrew word “rebellion.” 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
King Saul defied a clear commandment to eradicate the Amalekites and spared 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 crucial 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 adviser
This overruled 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 upon appointing Joseph to be his deputy.
Queen Esther, the heroine of Purim’s Scroll of Esther
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 was the last Jewish woman mentioned in the Bible. Sarah lived 127 years and Esther ruled over 127 countries. The name Esther is a derivative of the Hebrew word “to conceal,” reflective of her initial concealment of her Jewish identity, while the Hebrew word for “scroll” is derived from the word “to reveal.” God is concealed in the Scroll of Esther (one of the five Biblical Scrolls: Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther), which is the only Biblical book that does not mention God’s Name.
The Purim custom of wearing costumes highlights the transition from concealment to revelation of identity.
The name Esther (pronounced Ester in Hebrew)
Derivative of Ishtar, a Mesopotamian goddess, and Astarte, “star,” a Phoenician goddess.
The one day pre-Purim Fast of Esther (commemorating the three-day fast Esther held in order to expedite the Jews’ deliverance) was cherished by the Maranos in Spain, who performed 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 a “King,” corresponding to 26 (the numerical value of Jehovah) times seven (days of creation).
Esther’s second name was Hadassah
The root of this name is Hadass, myrtle tree in Hebrew, whose leaves are shaped like an eye.
The name Esther/Ishtar is identified with the planet Venus –- noga in Hebrew — the second-brightest natural object in the night-sky after the moon. Hence, Esther’s other Hebrew name is noga (just like my oldest granddaughter) which means a shining divine light in Hebrew
The numerical values of Esther and Noga equal 661 and 58 respectively, and the sum of 6+6+1 and 5+8 is 13 (the number of God’s merciful virtues). In an alternative calculation, the names together equal 13, which is also the total sum of “one” in Hebrew, which represents the Oneness of God, monotheism, as well as the total sum of the word “love” in Hebrew.
Purim’s four statutes
1. Reading/studying the Scroll of Esther within the family, emphasizes the centrality of the family, education, memory and youth as the foundation of a solid future.
2. Gifts to relatives, friends and the community at-large emphasize the importance of family, community and collective responsibility.
3. Charity (which must equal at least the value of a meal) 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 around the time of year that Jews study the Terumah portion of the Torah, which means charity, donation in Hebrew, and is a portion that highlights giving and contributing to others as a means of enhancing solidarity and reducing egotism. According to the Torah, contributions reward the contributor more than the recipient.
4. Celebration and happiness sustain optimism and faith, the backbone and engine of individuals and nations.
The Hebrew spelling of each statute starts with the letter “mem,” which is the first letter in the Hebrew spelling of Mordechai, as well as Moses (who was born and died a week before the Hebrew date of Purim). In addition, the numerical value of “mem” is 40, representing the 40 days of prayer preceding Purim aimed at the final elimination of the Amalekite-like enemies of the Jewish people.