Chag Sameach! As stated in the scroll of Esther 9:28 as translated in the Stone edition Chumash, “Consequently, these days should be remembered and celebrated by every single generation, family, province, and city; and these days of Purim should never cease among the Jews, nor shall their remembrance perish from their descendants.” From this verse, how do we understand the mitzvah to celebrate Purim? According to the Rabbis to celebrate Purim means to actively be engaged in reading or hearing the megillah, making or partaking in a festive meal, exchanging gifts = mishloach manot (equivalent to two meals), and giving tzedakah. Purim is about the Jewish community coming together. All too often Purim programs are geared towards Jewish children. While it is important to involve and cater to children, Purim is a celebration for all Jews. Purim events must be inclusive of all ages.
As Jewish holidays go, Purim should be easier for us to access because God’s name is never mentioned in the scroll of Esther. Why would the omission of God’s name facilitate greater reception? It is more reminiscent to our world today. God seems to be hidden and it is the human spirit and collective community that take center stage. It is easier to relate to the recounting of a human story rather than a divine story, even though we may well know that human beings are created in the image of God.
The name of the text we read from is the scroll of Esther and it would be logical to presume that Esther is the heroine of this story. If Queen Esther is not the heroine, you might think that perhaps Mordechai, the Benjamanite, the “Jewish man” as he is referred to in the scroll of Esther is the hero of our story. Though Esther and Mordechai play prominent roles in the story of Purim, the heroes of Purim are, in my opinion, the Jewish people.
Esther gains private audience at a banquet with her king and his evil advisor Haman, the Agagite, sworn enemy of the Jewish people. It is during this banquet that Esther outs Haman as plotting to kill her and her people. In response to this revelation King Ahasuerus commands that Haman be hanged on the same gallows that were erected to hang Mordechai. Though there is still more to the story…
The King had previously, under the guidance and encouragement of Haman, sent out an edict to all of his 127 provinces ordering for the destruction of the Jews. Since an edict sealed with the royal signet cannot be revoked, the King allowed Mordechai and Esther to issue a second edict to be sent out to all of his provinces. This subsequent edict was to inform and prepare the Jews in his Kingdom for the 13th day of the 12th month (Adar), the very day that the King’s initial edict to destroy the Jews was to be enforced. On this day, the second edict read, the Jews were permitted to organize and defend themselves. Purim is the celebration of the unification of the Jews in fighting and defeating those who would have seen us annihilated.
This story has repeated itself throughout history. We are still learning the lessons of achdut, Jewish unity. May we be blessed with a renewed commitment to Jewish unity and not be distracted by the costumes and alcohol so overly emphasized this holiday. This year may we celebrate as an entire Jewish community, considerate of those often estranged and vulnerable to isolation, so that we can fulfill the mitzvah and all have A Freilecha Purim!