There is an old joke about Jewish holidays, that they are all the same:
They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat…
We would not be doing the upcoming holiday Purim justice if we left it at that, but honestly it’s not too far from the truth.
Purim comes from the dramatic story found in the book of Esther, of another attempt to wipe out the Jewish people.
The Book of Esther begins with a six month banquet given by King Ahasuerus which is followed by another seven day drinking fest while his Queen organized her own drinking party for the women.
At the end of this feast Ahasuerus gets thoroughly drunk and demands Queen Vashti display her beauty before his guests.
Vashti refuses, and Ahasuerus, after consulting with his advisors, decides to vanquish her as queen—lest all the women of Persia follow her example. Of course that presents a problem. He needs a new queen. So, he has all the young maidens of Persia paraded before him so he can choose one.
A Jewish man named Mordecai tells his neice Esther to go, but not to reveal that she is Jewish. Esther finds favor in the king’s eyes and he makes her his new queen.
If the story ended there, it would be enough for a Hollywood script: Jewish orphan becomes queen.
But it gets more intense.
Not long afterwards, Mordecai discovers that two men are plotting to kill the king. They are caught and hung. And while Mordecai’s deed was recorded, the king doesn’t know that it was Mordecai who saved him.
Ahasuerus appoints a man named Haman as his prime minister. Everyone in the kingdom had to bow down to Haman. Mordecai the Jew refused.
This infuriates Haman and when he discovers that Mordecai is Jewish, Haman makes plans to kill not just Mordecai but every Jewish person in the Persian empire.
He gets Ahasuerus to authorize his plan, but when Mordecai hears about Haman’s evil plot, he pleads with Esther to go to the king. Esther is hesitant, knowing that if she goes to the king uninvited she could be killed.
Mordecai challenges her that maybe it was for this very reason that she has become queen. She requests that all Jews of Shushan fast and pray for three days together with her, and on the third day she will approach the king.
She then invites the king and Haman to a feast. At the feast, she asks them to attend another feast the next evening. At the same time, Haman builds gallows to hang Mordecai. (The tension builds…)
That night, Ahasuerus can’t fall asleep and he asks for the court’s records to be read to him. In the course of this reading he discovers how Mordecai had saved him. The King is informed that Mordecai was never rewarded for his heroic act.
Haman walks in and the king asks him what he thinks should be done for the man the kings wishes to honor. Of course, Haman the narcissist that he is, is sure that the king is referring to him and recommends that the person be dressed in the king’s royal robes and chauffeured on the king’s own royal horse. To Haman’s great surprise, the king tells Haman to do so for his archenemy Mordecai—Hollywood could not have done a better job.
That evening, the King and Haman come to Esther’s second banquet. Esther suddenly reveals that she is Jewish and that Haman is planning to annihilate her people. She pleads with the king to protect them.
Haman is terrified as the king leaves in a rage. Haman begs Esther to spare his life, just as the king returns. He assumes that Haman is trying to molest Esther.
Ahasuerus is furious and instead orders Haman hanged on the gallows that he built for Mordecai. In a bizarre twist, Haman’s decree against the Jews could not be annulled, so the King permits Mordecai and Esther to write another decree that allows the Jews to defend themselves during attacks. As a result, the Jews of Perisa are saved.
Mordecai becomes the new Prime Minister and institutes an annual commemoration of the delivery of the Jewish people from annihilation—which we call Purim.