It will soon be Purim; a Jewish Festival of enjoyment and celebration. I wrote about this very same festival last year around the time I celebrated with friends in North Manchester, great fun. But what is Purim? What is the story?
Purim is the story of Esther and how she saved the Israelite people of Persia:
There once lived a King by the name of Achashverosh, who ruled over Persia in the third century, BCE.
The story begins with a grand feast that the King was throwing at his palace. Irreconcilable differences propelled the King to divorce and seek a new queen. In search of a new queen, the King commanded his men to travel throughout the kingdom in search of the loveliest of maidens so that he could view them and choose the most beautiful to be his wife and the new Queen.
Around this time there lived a gorgeous woman named Esther. She lived in a small province with her uncle Mordechai. She knew that being the Queen of Persia would be good for her people, so she prepared herself to be brought before the King.
Once the King saw Esther he stopped looking and she became the new Queen of Persia.
One day while passing by the palace gates, Mordechai overheard two guards plotting a revolution with the intent to kill King Achashverosh. Mordechai informed Esther, and the militants were captured and executed. Mordechai saved the King’s life.
The King had an advisor named Haman. This advisor was power hungry and conniving. Haman disliked the Israelites, especially Mordechai. When Haman would travel throughout the towns, he expected the people to bow down to him, as he was second in command to the King. Mordechai refused to bow.
In order to gain favor with the King and rid himself of Mordechai and his people, Haman devised a plan to kill them all. Haman used his sharp tongue and twisted the thoughts of Achashverosh, alleging that Mordechai’s people would cause a problem for the King and that the King should lend his seal to a petition to have them destroyed. The King authorized the genocide and letters were written and sent to all the provinces of Persia bearing the King’s seal.
When Mordechai caught word of this, he tore his clothes in mourning, dressed in a sackcloth and cried before the King’s gate.
When Esther was told about her uncle’s behavior she sent him new clothes, but he refused them. He sent her a message telling her to go to the King and plead for the lives of her people.
The law in Persia at that time was strict; no one was to approach the King unless they were summoned. To disobey was punishable by death. Esther sent word back to her uncle that the townspeople should fast for three days, she would do the same, and after the three days she would approach the King.
After three days, Esther went to the King who was so pleased to see her that he held out his scepter and asked her if he could grant her a request. Esther asked the King and Haman to join her in her quarters for a banquet that she would prepare on the following day.
As Haman left the Palace that evening he saw Mordechai. So full with hatred was he for Mordechai, that he resolved the next morning he would ask the King’s permission to hang Mordechai in a public spectacle on gallows fifty feet high.
That same night the King could not sleep and he asked to hear the daily chronicles, which recorded the events of the palace. There the King learned that Mordechai informed the King about a scheme to overthrow the kingdom and kill the King. Mordechai had saved the King’s life, but had not been rewarded for his loyalty.
When Haman arrived in the morning, the King asked Haman’s advice as to the appropriate manner to honor a person that has found great favor with the King. Haman, assuming that it was he who was to be honored, said that the man should be allowed to wear the King’s crown, the King’s clothes and should be led through town on the King’s horse, proclaiming that this man is favored by the King.
King Achashverosh accepted the idea and told Haman to give this honor to Mordechai. Enraged, Haman followed the King’s orders. That night was the banquet that Queen Esther had prepared for the King and Haman. The King was so pleased with her, that again he asked Esther if he could grant her a request. This time Queen Esther asked her husband to save her life, the life of her people, and her uncle, Mordechai, who the king had honored that day. The King was horrified that the life of his queen and his devoted Mordechai were threatened and demanded to know who was responsible for this. Esther replied that it was Haman.
Haman fell to his knees before the King and pleaded for his life, but the King ordered that Haman be hung on the very gallows that he had intended for Mordechai. Mordechai was then made the new advisor to the King.
However, the order of genocide could not simply be revoked, so the King ordered that the Israelites be informed and armed to fight in their own defense. Due to their awareness of the kabbalistic tools of unity, the 72 Names of God, and their understanding of the cosmic cycles of the kabbalistic calendar, the Israelites of Persia triumphed over the Persian Army. They awakened the power of miracles available in the month of Adar/Pisces. And moreover, they were able to alter their destiny.
(Story c/o livingwisdom/kabbalah.com)
So what does this story tell us? what does it teach?
The story of Purim is a story that teaches that we must overcome one of our greatest enemies; doubt.
Esther could not affect the destiny of her people until she affected the cause of their impending calamity. By saying her people should fast for 72 hours and give succor to one-another she helped her people come together, to overcome the desire for self alone and awaken the energy of unity through the experience of sharing. The king armed them, they fought and overcame their impending doom.
For Jews the time of Purim is a time of celebration. If you go to a Jewish area wherever you find yourself, in whatever country you are you will almost certainly find a community in festive mood. Parties, cake, drink, face-painting for children and general merriment – a time of joy.
Doubt is an enemy of achievement an enemy of aspiration. Doubt of others is bad, but Doubt of yourself is worse. Be sure of yourself, know who and where you are in your life. Know who and where you would like to be in your life. Do not doubt yourself and go and achieve.
These are the lessons from Esther.
This weekend my Nephew got married.
His mother (who brought him up single handed for most of his 25 years) passed away on the last day of 2012 and his natural father has been mostly absent as a parent of any consequence for the same period. My wife and I have to some extent been involved in his up-bringing since he was in nappies and he has worked for my company for the last 5 years; so we are to some extent responsible for him.
It was an enormous honor when he asked if I would stand-in for the father role and of course I accepted.
In fact I don’t have a son, but if I did my Nephew would be the perfect fit, his now wife would be the most perfect of daughters in law and their children would be an absolute delight to have as grand-children.
At the service it fell to me to give a reading from the Holy Bible; I chose the story of how Rebekah was chosen as the wife of Isaac. Although its essentially an arranged marriage it is also about how two people are a perfect fit with one-another. The analogy seemed obvious and I read the passage (which proved more lengthy than most people would have read) with great love in my heart.
The day was a great day and went much better than we could have hopped for and I am grateful to the family of my Nephews new wife who planned and paid for the days celebration.
This is a new chapter in their lives, a page has been turned and it is now their time to set the tone and pace for the next period of their lives. they should leave an baggage they may be carrying and enter into this new marriage as equals and enjoy being as one. There will be challenges, naturally, but these are the events and things that bring us together. By being at peace with your respective past’s you will make the very most of your present and future.
If you find yourself driving around Jewish districts tomorrow you’ll probably see people out and about, particularly children visiting friends and relatives with gifts of sweets and cakes. Tomorrow is the festival of Purim, the date to remember the Jewish people’s deliverance from a royal death decree around the fourth century BCE, as told in the Book of Esther.
Synagogues will be crowded during Purim. Many people will wear their best clothes while others dress up in colorful costumes and masks. If you find yourself lucky enough to be in Jerusalem during Purim this a great spectacle indeed. Children in particular enjoy dressing up as the characters found in the Book of Esther. Purim gift baskets are exchanged on this occasion. Many Jewish people also donate to charity around this time of the year.
Jewish people comprise a rich cultural mix in the United Kingdom today, where festivals such as Purim are celebrated. Purim commemorates the time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination by the courage of a Jewish woman called Esther. The strange thing is that the celebration is about deliverance! The Jewish people were to be slaughtered, one of the first recorded instances of ethnic-cleansing so to speak. Jewish people through-out history have endured genocides and pogroms and still they celebrate deliverance. How can this be? you may ask. Well go to Purim celebration and the people will tell you. Not through words but through their actions and smiling faces. We could all learn well from the Jewish people.
There are many places around the world today where people just cannot get around to just living their lives. They are concerned with how others live theirs, of destroying or dominating how they live their lives. This is not living.
Take for instance the case of George Galloway a British MP, his party is called RESPECT. He was engaged by the Christchurch College SU to be part of a debate about Israel & Palestine. His response; He was speaking for the motion that ‘Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank’. When the Respect MP for Bradford West learned that Eylon Aslan-Levy, a student opposing it, was an Israeli citizen, he leaves, saying ‘I don’t debate with Israelis’. Attendees were heard accusing Galloway of racism as he exited the room.
This was not respectful I venture.
Neither was it in any way helpful to what is a very complex and demanding situation. Israel is a nation recognized as such by the UN. Palestine by contrast is not, yet they too are recognized by the UN. Whilst the West Bank is a tense place of that there is no doubt, it is never-the-less relatively peaceful when compared to its sister territory Gaza. Gaza is dominated by Hamas, an organisation founded on hate. Not just any hate but hate of Jews.
Hamas could lean much from the history of the Jews and how Purim is celebrated in particular. Hamas should know (if only they had the intellect) that the Jewish people will never go away, they will persist.
Now look at the instance of Cambridge University who invited Marine Le Pen to speak. Sabby Dhalu, a member of Unite Against Facism (UAF), said: “It is a shame Britain’s intelligentsia have not learnt the lessons of history. Cambridge Union’s decision to invite Marine Le Pen is giving her and the Front National a platform and publicity.” I’m not sure I could say it any better, the point is made with irony and intelligence.
Front National policies are racist, discriminate against disabled and homosexual people and are antisemitic. In the UK we have Nick Griffin from the BNP to contend with, a more odious man I’m not so certain you could meet. The BNP hold similar views about the world.
These views are at best unintelligent and limited, but are without question hateful. Thankfully Front National in France and the BNP in the UK are minority, although dangerous, political parties. They have not learnt the lesson of history.
It is our duty in my mind that we seek out those who are subjected to hate, who are vulnerable and find it in our hearts to be their Esther.
Celebrate Purim even if you are not Jewish, it is good for your spirit I suggest.