Strong Jewish Women

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Queen Esther and the Persians


On Purim, a holiday that takes place every year on the 14th of Adar (or Adar II in Jewish leap year -- )the Book of Esther (also called the Megilla) is read. It tells the story of the Jews in Persia during the time of Ahashverosh, also known as Xerxes.

I have always found the Megilla to be a fascinating book. There are several levels of intrigue, stories within stories, but, unlike just about all the other books of the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible), no mention of G-d.

One interesting thing I noticed in the Megilla a number of years ago is that the Megilla has more passive verbs than I've ever seen in any other place. I wondered about that for some time and then realized that in the time of the Megilla and of Esther and Mordechai, the Jews who were under the Persian rule (which was pretty much all of the Jews in the world at that time because the empire of Ahashverosh spanned from India to Ethiopia) pretty much just sat back and let things happen to them. They didn't do anything when Ahashverosh gave one of the most important jobs in his government to Haman, a sworn enemy of the Jews. They didn't do anything when Ahashverosh allowed Haman to pass an edict calling for the slaughter of all the Jews, including ..."children and women..." in one day, the 13th day of the Hebrew month of Adar. (Read more about the Hebrew month of Adar and the Jewish Calendar)

Though she needed a little verbal push from Mordechai, Esther did act. She asked Ahashverosh and Haman to a party (where she was able to lull Haman into a false sense of security), then invited them to another party where she finally revealed that Haman was threatening her and her people.

The story works out well in the end -- Haman and his 10 evil sons are hanged, the Jews fight against their enemies and defeat them, and everybody celebrates. We celebrate the holiday of Purim in commemoration of these events.

There are a number of mitzvot (commandments) associated with Purim. Twice during the day of Purim (from sundown to sundown on the 14th of Adar, or, in a leap year, Adar II) we hear the reading of the Megilla (from parchment) twice -- once at night and once in the morning. We also give matanot l'evyonim, "gifts" (of money) to the poor, shalah manot (ready-to-eat food gifts -- at least two items -- sent to at least one friend). ("Cafe Press" mugs with Esther from Strong Jewish Women -- Esther make great holders for your shalah manot -- put some food in, wrap with colored saran and add a card and you have easy shalah manot).

Toward the end of the day, families (and friends) get together for the seuda -- feast. Many families have feasts similar to American Thanksgiving feasts. After all that eating, you understand why there's a fast day (called Ta'anit Esther, the fast of Esther) the day before Purim!

Check out my other blogs:

Israel and it's Place in the World
Jewish Singles

Check out my squidoo lenses:
Strong Biblical Women
Strong Biblical Women 2
Why Be Vegetarian
Vegetarianism: Getting Started 1
Vegetarianism: Getting Started 2
Rosh Hashana
Quick Vegan Cooking
Creating new recipes from old
Strong Biblical Women Part 3

Witches and Morality
Presidential Trivia Quiz
Christmas and the Jewish Single

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