Saturday night starts a great holiday for me- Purim. (Purim means “Lots”- as in the lottery. But, it was only after a few twists and turns that we managed to eke out a win with this lottery.) My family tradition adds on a second day- Shushan Purim, the name for the second day; most Ashkenazi Jews rarely celebrate it- for them, it’s a one day holiday.
The Purim holiday celebrates the ploys of Esther (also known as Hadassa), the Jewish Queen of Babylonia, and her uncle (godfather?) Mordechai. Interestingly, this the only book in the Tanach (the Hebrew Bible) that has no mention of Hashem. Oh, the effect of the Supreme Being is clearly felt- but Hashem is never directly mentioned in the text.
Now, I feel sorry for those of you who can only read the Book of Esther in English. Because that translation deprives you of the lustrousness of this little book. Oh sure, you might recognize that the names of most of the Babylonian characters in this story are akin to those of the various Babylonian gods- from Vashti to Haman to Teresh.
But, the Book of Esther is clearly among the most bawdy – and most violent- of the books in the Tanach. From the very first chapter where Vashti refuses to perform nude for her husband, King Achashverosh (you know him as Xerxes in conventional history), and the officers of the court. Which leads to the end of Vashti.
Vashti’s downfall brings about the first ‘Miss Universe’ contest. Achashverosh holds a beauty contest to determine who would be Vashti’s replacement. And, Esther becomes the first Jewish woman to win the contest- centuries before Bess Meyerson became the first Jewish Miss America.
Achashverosh was the perfect 1%-er. He was more than willing to off a good portion of his kingdom’s residents for the right price. A price which Haman (his Prime Minister) was more than willing to provide. Those of you who know the story understand that Haman’s real goal was to off his nemesis, Mordechai. But, he didn’t bother sharing that desire with Achashverosh, when he offered his cash bribe to kill the Jews; that was just the bonus for Haman (and Achashverosh).
So, it initially appears that Haman gets his wish, and determines (via a lottery- the “lots” in the Purim story) that all the Jews shall be slaughtered on the full moon of the month of Adar. The edict is promulgated to every one of the 127 provinces of the realm- and this realm spread from Europe to India. Of course, Haman reserves a special surprise for Mordechai- the tallest gallows he could construct.
But, there’s a flaw in the ointment. Achashverosh is absolutely smitten with his queen, Esther. He is willing to provide anything (even “half his kingdom”) to Esther, if she will service his needs. (If you read the Hebrew, you find that he extends his “golden sceptre” to her often…) And, when it becomes clear to the King that Esther is a Jew, coupled with his finding Haman on Esther’s bed (out of context, but clearly not the proper place for Haman to be hanging around), there’s a change in plans. While Achashverosh can’t reverse the edict (is that the sin of pride?)-he does allow (via another edict) the Jews of the kingdom to retaliate and kill their opponents at that same appointed time.
Don’t be surprised to see a whole bunch of kids (and kids like me who never grew up) marching around in costumes on this holiday. Because we celebrate this holiday by giving candy, cakes (three-cornered tarts called Hamantaschen), and wearing costumes- kind of like how y’all celebrate Halloween. But, we have have a special wrinkle in our celebrations.
There is a most unusual commandment for today. We are instructed to drink enough (alcohol, of course) to be unable to discern the difference between the hero (Mordechai) and the villain (Haman) of the book. And, since most of us include our children in this tradition, the practice serves as a deterrent to excess drinking as the children grow and mature; they remember the drinking experience with far less than fondness…
Purim day, Purim day, What a joyous holiday... Masks to wear, Sweets to eat, Songs and dances to perform... Let's make a racket, "rash, rash, rash"...with our graggers swinging.
Getting ready to do your taxes yourself? This will inform you of what has changed for this year’s filing season. (Of course, you can contact us- we’ll ensure that you pay the lowest amount of taxes required by law. 🙂 )
Roy A. Ackerman, PhD, EA, is a polymath whose interests span chemical engineering, medicine, biotechnology, business, management, among other areas. Among his inventions/developments: hemodialyzer, dialysate, neurosurgical drill, respiratory inspirometer, colon electrolyte lavage, urinary catheters, cardiac catheters, water reuse systems, drinking water systems, ammonia degrading microbes, toxic chemical reduction via microbes, on-site waste water treatment systems, electronic health care information systems, bookkeeping and accounting programs, among many others.