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Purim 2010 Guide for the Perplexed

Yoram Ettinger, February 25, 2010

Assembled from various Jewish Sages

1. Purim is the holiday of contradictions and tenacity-driven-optimism: Grief replaced by joy, Esther’s concealment replaced by the disclosure of her national/religious identity, Haman’s intended genocide of Jews replaced by redemption, Haman replaced by Mordechai, national and personal pessimism replaced by optimism. One of Purim’s lessons: Life is complex, full of contradictions, ups & downs and difficult dilemmas and worthy of principled-determination.

2. The timing – The Jewish month of Adar. Adar is the root of the Hebrew adjective “Adir” (glorious, awesome, exalted, magnificent). It is, also, a derivative of the Akkadian word Adura (heroism). Jewish tradition (Babylonian Talmud) highlights Adar as a month of happiness, singing and dancing, prohibiting eulogies and fast on Purim. The zodiac of Adar is Pisces (fish), which is a symbol of demographic multiplication. Hence, Adar is the only Jewish month, which doubles itself during the 7 leap years during each 19 years cycle. Purim is celebrated on the 14th (in non-walled towns) and (in Jerusalem) on the 15th day of Adar (February 28 and March 1, 2010), commemorating the national liberation of the Jewish People in Persia and the (161 BCE) victory of Judah the Maccabee over Nikanor, the Assyrian commander. Moses – whose burial site is unknown – was born, and died (1273 BCE), on the 7th day of Adar, which is Israel’s Memorial Day for soldiers, whose burial site is unknown. The events of Purim occurred following the destruction of the 1st Temple by Nebuchadnezzar (586 BCE) and the exile from Zion, during the leadership of Ezra who returned to Jerusalem, and the inauguration of the Second Temple (3rd of Adar, 515 BCE) by Ezra and Nehemiah. Nebuchadnezzar died in Adar 561 BCE (Jeremiah 52:31). Einstein published the theory of General Relativity in Adar 1916.

3. Purim’s Hebrew root is fate/destiny (“Pur”), as well as lottery (to commemorate Haman’s lottery which determined the designated day for the planned Jewish genocide) “to frustrate”, “to annul” (“Le’Ha’fer), “to crumble” and “to shutter” (Le’Phorer), reflecting the demise of Haman.

4. Purim – A (522 BCE) War of Civilizations between Mordechai the Jew and Haman the Iranian-Amalekite – constitutes an early edition of the war between Right VS Wrong, Liberty VS Tyranny, Just VS Evil, Truth VS Lies, as were/are the precedents of Adam/Eve VS Snake, Abel VS Cain, Abraham VS Sodom & Gomorrah, Jacob VS Esau (grandparent of Amalek), Maccabees VS Assyrians, Allies VS Nazis, Western democracies VS Communist Bloc and Western democracies VS Islamic terrorism.

5. Mordechai, the hero of Purim and one of Ezra’s deputies, was a role model of principle-driven optimism in defiance of colossal odds, in face of a global power and in spite of Jewish establishment. According to Judaism, deliverance is ushered by the bravery of faith-driven individuals, such as Nachshon – who was the first to walk into the Red Sea before it was parted – and Mordechai. He was a politically-INcorrect statesman and a retired military leader, who practiced “disproportionate pre-emption” instead of defense, deterrence or retaliation. The first three Hebrew letters of “Mordechai” spell the Hebrew word “Rebellion” (“Mered”), which is consistent with the motto/legacy of the American Founding Fathers: “Rebellion against Tyrants is Obedience to G-D”). Mordechai did not bow to Haman, the second most powerful person in the Persian Empire. Mordechai was a member of the tribe of Benjamin, the only son of Jacob who did not bow to Esau. The name Mordechai is also a derivative of Mordouch – the chief Babylonian god.

Mordechai was a descendant of King Saul, who defied a clear commandment (to eradicate the Amalekites) and spared the life of Agag, the Amalekite king, thus causing further calamities upon the Jewish People. Consequently, Saul lost his royal position and life. Mordechai learnt from Saul’s error. He destroyed Haman, a descendant of Agag the Amalekite, and Haman’s entire power base, thus sparing the Jewish People a major disaster.

In Gimatriya, “Cursed Haman” (ארור המן) equals “Blessed Mordechai” (ברוך מרדכי) – 502.

6. Queen Esther, the heroine of Purim’s Esther Scroll (the 24th and concluding book in the Old Testament) was Mordechai’s cousin. One cannot comprehend Purim without studying the Esther Scroll. Esther demonstrates the centrality of women in Judaism, shaping the future of the Jewish People, as did Sarah, Rebecca, Miriam, Batyah, Deborah, Hannah, etc. Sarah was the first Jewish woman, and Esther was the last Jewish woman, mentioned in the Bible. Sarah lived 127 years and Esther ruled over 127 countries. The name Esther is a derivative of the Hebrew word “Hester” – “clandestine”, “hidden”, “subtle”, which was reflective of her (initially) unknown Jewish identity and subtle-style at the royal court. The name Esther is also a derivative of Ishtar – a Mesopotamian goddess, Astarte – a Phoenician goddess. In fact, the one day pre-Purim Fast of Esther (commemorating the three day fast declared by Esther in order to expedite deliverance), was cherished by the Marano in Spain, who performed Judaism in a clandestine manner. The Scroll of Esther is the only book in the Old Testament, where the name of G-D is hidden/absent. It has been suggested that the explicit name of G-D is absent because the Scroll of Esther is the only Old Testament book, which deals exclusively with the Diaspora and not with the Land of Israel. According to Michael Bernstein, the noun “King” appears 182 times in Esther Scroll, which is the total sum of 26 (numerical value of G-D) times 7 (days of creation). Esther’s second name was Hadassah, whose root is Hadass – myrtle tree in Hebrew – which constitutes a metaphor for eyesight 20:20. The name Esther is identified with the planet Venus (hence, Esther’s other Hebrew name – Noga – a glaring divine light, which is Venus in Hebrew). In Gimatriya, Esther (אסתר) and Noga (× ×’×”) equal 661 and 58 respectively, and the sum of 6+6+1 and 5+8 is 13 (the number of G-D’s virtues). In “small Gimatriya” both Esther (1+6+4+2) and Noga (5+3+5) equal 13, which is also the total sum of one in Hebrew (אחד) – which represents monotheism, as well as the total sum of love in Hebrew (אהבה).

7. The Persian King appointed Mordechai to be his top advisor, overruling Haman’s intent to prevent the resettling of Jews in Zion, the reconstruction of the Temple and the restoration of the wall around Jerusalem. He foiled Haman’s plan to exterminate the Jews. The king prospered as a result of his change of heart and escaped assassination. That was the case with Pharaoh, who escaped national collapse and starvation and rose in global prominence, once he appointed Joseph to be his deputy.

8. Purim’s four commandments:

*Reading/studying the “Esther Scroll” within the family, highlighting the centrality of family, education, memory and youth as the foundation for a solid future.

*Gifts to relatives and friends emphasize the importance of family and community.

*Charity (at least the value of a meal) indicates the value of compassion and responsibility.

*Celebration and Happiness sustains the element of optimism and faith as the backbone of an individual and a nation.

9. Lethal enemy destroyed and commemorated. The pre-Purim Sabbath is called “Memorial Sabbath” (“Shabbat Zakhor”), commemorating the war of extermination launched by the Amalekites against the Jewish Nation, since the Exodus from Egypt. One of Purim’s lessons: Be wary of enemies, employing false-tenuous accommodation, in order to conceal a strategic goal of extermination.

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