What is the Meaning of Purim?

A. Essentially, Purim is about how G-d is hidden in everything. G-d performs miracles for us, all behind the scenes.

The “official” story of Purim, as written for both the Persian royal archives of that time, and the Holy Torah, can be found in the Biblical Book of Esther. It would pay for you to read that Book. There’s a lot of information that is not stated openly in that Book, but the Prophets Mordechai and Esther managed to write it in such a way that it alludes to all the relevant information, and they recorded the explanations of their coded phrasing in the Talmud, which we still have today. These days you can find even English translations written by Rabbis, with the Rabbinic explanations on the bottom, just as can be found in the printed Hebrew texts.

It was during the time that the Jews were in Exile in Babylon, after the destruction of the first Holy Temple. Cyrus, king of Persia, had permitted the Jews to rebuild the Holy Temple. His usurper/successor, King Ahasueraus (Xerxes), put a halt to the rebuilding. He felt it would diminish his own power. He began to consolidate his kingdom, and when he was done with that he made an enormous party for all his subjects. He also exhibited the utensils from the Holy Temple and boasted about his own prowess. The Prophets and Sages declared it was forbidden to attend the party, because of this denigration of the Holy Temple Vessels, but most Jews attended it anyway, out of fear of the king. As a result, G-d decreed a warning against them as a reminder of their duties to G-d.

But G-d always prepares the cure before the hurt. At this party, the king got angry at Queen Vashti, and he had her killed. He searched for a new queen, and finally chose Hadassah, a Jewess. The Persians of the palace, however, called her Esther, after Ishtar/Astarte/Easter, who personified, to the Persians, beauty. What they did not know was that G-d had manipulated them in giving this nickname as well, for in Hebrew “Esther” means hidden. We shall soon see the significance of this name.

Then G-d created the punishment: Haman came to power. The king appointed Haman as viceroy. Haman decided to have all the Jews killed. It seemed to him and to many other people that it was all the fault of Mordechai, the righteous prophet who defied Haman’s laws. Haman, after all, wanted people to bow down to him. He hung a symbol of an idol around his neck, so that people would be bowing down to both. Jewish Law forbids bowing down in such a situation. One must rather accept death, before bowing down to anything idolatrous. Mordechai therefore refused to bow or kneel before Haman. Haman got very angry, and decided to kill all the Jews. (This is often cited as the classic case of anti-Semitism. Perhaps it is, but I think that ignores the real point.)

Haman declared his decree, but kept its exact nature secret. The public decree merely stated that everyone be prepared to fight and kill one nation on the 13th of Adar. The private decree sent only to the satraps and governors throughout the kingdom explicitly marked the Jews. Mordechai, through Divine Prophecy, found out about the details and informed all the Jews, and they began fasting and repenting. They acknowledged that they should have obeyed the Rabbis, and not attended the party, nor bowed down to Haman.

Because they repented, G-d’s decree against the Jews was annulled and reversed. Ahasueraus changed his mind about Haman, and killed Haman instead. The king’s change of heart seemed to come about because of Esther, who suddenly revealed she was also Jewish, and would therefore also be killed by Haman. The king got very angry at his favorite minister, and ordered him killed. The tree that Haman had prepared for Mordechai’s hanging was used instead to hang Haman.

Thus the turnabout nature of Purim. The reversal of the attitude of the Jews. The reversal of Ahasueraus’s mind and heart, at least to some degree. The reversal of the decree itself.

The decree: The 13th of Adar was to be the day that all the Gentiles were permitted to kill and despoil the Jews, and the Jews were forbidden to defend themselves. The king changed the nature of the decree only to the extent that the Jews were to be allowed to defend themselves. That change, along with the news that Haman had been hanged by the king, threw consternation into the hearts of the enemies of the Jews. Well, not all of them. Many still arose to kill the Jews on the 13th of Adar, but the Jews defended themselves and won the battle with great victory, though of course it would have been better never to have had to fight at all. Thus the day itself was reversed in intent and purpose.

Through it all, we see the hidden Hand of G-d, manipulating events from beginning to end. Many things were hidden and then revealed, such as Queen Esther’s nationality. The name Esther itself shows this, since in Hebrew “Esther” means “hidden.”

Esther’s original name was Hadassah, but she was called Esther by the Persians, because of her beauty. The name Esther was derived from the name Ishtar (a supposedly beautiful pagan goddess), which in itself originally derived from “Istahar,” a very bright star, and in some cultures, the moon.

Nothing happens by coincidence. For Esther was the bright star that the Jews needed in that time of darkness. For in Hebrew “Esther” means “hidden,” and the very lesson of Purim is that G-d is hidden in everything that happens. And from darkness, arose this morning star.

The whole lesson of Purim is that G-d also does things in a hidden way, but it is still G-d behind everything.

And that is the meaning of Purim.

One thought on “What is the Meaning of Purim?

  1. mike

    I am encouraged by the book of Esther again after a long absence, and realize how God is hidden and working alongside us in ways we could not imagine. He never sleeps or slumbers. Shalom in Yeshua


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