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March 3, 2023 10:34 am

What to Know About Purim 2023

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avatar by Yoram Ettinger


A Purim carnival in Tel Aviv. Photo: Ehud Kenan via Wikimedia Commons.

Purim is set to begin on Monday evening. Below are some facts and stories you might know about the holiday, outside of reading the Megillah and dressing up.

1. Purim is a Jewish national liberation holiday — just like Passover and Hanukkah — which highlights optimism and the transition of the Jewish people from subjugation to liberty. It is celebrated seven days following the birth and death date of Moses — a role model of liberty, leadership, and humility.

Purim is celebrated when the cold and stormy winter shifts into the upbeat, warm, and pleasant spring.

2. Purim is celebrated on the 14th/15th day of the Jewish month of Adar, which ushers in happiness. Adar is the root of the Hebrew adjective Adir (אדיר), which stands for the adjectives glorious, exalted, and magnificent. It is, also, a derivative of the Akkadian word Adura (heroism).

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3. Remembrance is at the core of the Purim holiday. The Scroll of Esther — which narrates the Purim saga — is also named “The Book of Remembrance.” The pre-Purim Sabbath is called The Sabbath of Remembrance (זכור), commemorating the deadly threat of the Amalekites  (the ancestors of Haman), who aimed to annihilate the Jewish people following the deliverance from Egyptian bondage.

4. Queen Esther is Purim’s heroine. The Scroll of Esther is one of the five Biblical scrolls that are highlighted on Jewish holidays. The others are Song of Songs (Passover), Scroll of Ruth (Pentecost), Lamentations (the 9th day of Av — destruction of the Jewish Temple), and Ecclesiastes (Feast of Tabernacles).  Esther (Mordechai’s niece or cousin) symbolized the centrality of women in Judaism, as did Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah (the Matriarchs), Miriam (Moses’ older sister), Batyah (who saved Moses’ life), Deborah (the Prophetess, Judge and military leader), Hannah (Samuel’s mother), and Yael (who killed Sisera, the Canaanite General).

Esther was one of the seven Biblical Jewish Prophetesses: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah and Esther. The name Esther was a derivative of Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of beauty and fertility, as well as Stara, the Persian morning star, which is a symbol of deliverance. The name evolved into Aphrodite and Venus, the Greek and Roman goddesses of love, beauty, and fertility. The Hebrew word for Venus is Noga, which is a Biblical divine light and the second-brightest star after the moon.

5.  Mordechai, the hero of Purim and one of the deputies of Ezra the Scribe — who led a wave of Jewish in-gathering from Babylon to the Land of Israel — was a role model of principle-driven optimism in defiance of colossal odds, a super power, and the assimilated Jewish establishment. The first three Hebrew letters of Mordechai (מרדכי) spell the Hebrew word “rebellion” (מרד).  Mordechai did not bow to Haman, when the latter was the second most powerful person in the Persian Empire. Mordechai 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. Mordechai learned from Saul’s crucial error and eliminated Haman, a descendant of Agag, thus sparing the Jewish people from a major disaster.

The aim of Mordechai who became the chief advisor to the King of Persia – was to alert the assimilated Jewish community of Persia, that forgetfulness and detachment from their Jewish roots would lead to oblivion, while the attachment to historic and religious roots is the foundation of growth, security and respect by fellow human beings.

6 Purim’s (פורים) Hebrew root is “fate” as well as “casting lots” (פור), commemorating Haman’s lottery that determined a designated day for the annihilation of the Jewish people.  It also means “to frustrate,” “to annul” (הפר), “to crumble” and “to shutter” (פורר), reflecting the demise of Haman.

The author is a commentator and former Israeli ambassador.

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