THOUGHTS on PURIM – Adar 5776 / March 2016

Every Festival of the Hebrew calendar year reminds us to take note, to be aware and to  be surprised by the newness that God continually offers us. We can look back to where we were the previous year and consider how far we have come spiritually. The  Festivals of the Bible do not measure chronological time, such as birthdays and anniversaries do, but serve to measure spiritual progress and growth.

Each festival we can ask ourselves, ‘Have I spiralled upward and drawn closer to God?  Or have I allowed myself to drift and, as a result, spiralled downward and further away from His Presence?’ Hopefully, the answer will be positive. If not, we have the opportunity to wake up, to repent, to reverse the downward spiral and to draw close to Him once again.

The happy festival of PURIM is celebrated this year on Thursday, 24th March. SO…

10401556_10153098422600396_1546700984751018294_nPURIM SAMEACH – HAPPY PURIM! 

Purim is renowned for its fun and games, dressing up, giving gifts of miscellaneous edible goodies such as cookies, candy, wine, etc.; in accord with Esther 10:21-22. The scroll of Esther, megillat Esther, is read aloud and it’s a great party! If we only celebrate it as a reason to party, however, we are in danger of missing the heart of the matter. 

THOUGHTS TO CONSIDER:

* The Unity of God’s People  

The key verse in the scroll of Esther is, “To the Jews there was light and gladness, joy and honor.” (8:16) Le’Yehudim haitah ohrah ve’simcha ve’sasson ve’ikar. Although we are told Mordechai was from the tribe of Benjamin, throughout the story he is referred to very specifically as Mordechai the Jew – ha’Yehudi. This is the first time in history that God’s people are referred to collectively as Yehudim – Jews.

When facing danger from an outside enemy,  people tend to stand together in a stronger bond of unity. Thus, the enemy’s evil intent actually serves to strengthen the unity of the targeted victims. In Persia, at the time of Esther and Mordechai, no matter from which tribe they may have originated, the people of the God of Israel all faced the same fate at the hands of a murderous foe. This caused them to rise up as one, to unite in fasting and prayer to God, and to defend themselves victoriously against the enemy’s threat of annihilation. Ever since, as it was written by Mordechai and Esther to do, the Jewish people, including all those who who would join them in praise of the One true God (9:27),  have celebrated these days together in joy and gladness.

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Pic: Young Orthodox Jewish boy dressed as an IDF paratrooper
delivering a mishloach manot – ‘goody basket’ to friends.

* “But Mordechai would not bow…” (Esther 3:12)

The young, orphaned Jewish girl, Hadassah, who became Esther the Queen of Persia, is the heroine of the story. Although it meant risking her life, she responded to the call of her uncle Mordechai to act on behalf of her people as she had been placed in that position by God, “for a time such as this.”  If we look closer, we realize what caused the evil Haman to formulate his murderous plot – his resentment and jealousy of Mordechai, the Jew who would not bow to him.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin points out that historically there are only two ideologies regarding the nature of a human being.* He asks: ” Is the human created in the image of a loving God of compassionate righteousness and moral justice? Or, is the human merely a complex animal in a universe in which only the most powerful [the “fittest” – or smartest, or most technologicaly savvy!] survive and deserve to survive?” The latter being an existence in which “might makes right, the weak must submit to the strong, and the victor gets the spoils.”

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The Bible tells us clearly that God created us in His image; that our bodies are endowed with a spirit that connects us to Him. The great and central maxim of His Word, as highlighted by the Sages Hillel and Akiva, and taught by Yeshua himself, is to “…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “…to love your neighbor as yourself.”

He then underscores: “On these two commandments depend all the Torah and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

The image of God is expressed in the ability to communicate lovingly and by the uniquely formed faces, talents and characteristics of each of His children. Rabbi Riskin suggests that the hatred and opposition of the God of Israel and His people is evidenced in today’s Hamans and Hitlers when they publicly relish execution by beheading, for “…it bespeaks a denial of the image of God in man!”  Therefore Mordechai the Jew, in accord with God’s justice and morality, refuses to bow to totalitarian tyranny. On many levels, we cannot  bow to those who use their position and power and, lacking compassionate righteousness, choose to “lord it over” those who are weaker for their own selfish ends.

* There was Light and Gladness – Ohrah ve’Simcha 

What light is referred to here? There is only one major source of light in Jewish understanding – God Himself. So, although He is not specifically referred to in the scroll, we find clues as to His hidden Presence. God can perform wondrous miracles in an overt manner; such as the splitting of the Red Sea in the deliverance of His people from Egypt. Then, they were helpless and “newborn,” as it were, and needed His strong manifest intervention. However, just as we grow stronger physically and mature individually and, consequently, need our parents’ help less, so it is with His people. God, our Father, always assures us of His Presence and love, and His ‘hidden’ support is there, but He is gratified when we stand on our own feet and act as His mature sons and daughters. He has given us the Light of His Word – the Ohrah of His Torah! What Simcha, gladness it affords Him, as well as it does us, when we follow the Shepherd and walk in His light.

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* Jerusalem Post, Magazine article, March 6, 2015

Have A Purim Puppet Show — Make Your Own Hand Puppets

Purim Puppets

  1. Print out the hand puppet pattern provided below.
  2. Cut out the pattern and pin to a piece of felt (or fabric of your choice) and cut out two pieces.
  3. Glue (or sew) the two pieces together leaving the bottom open.
  4. Cut a round or oval piece for each face and clue to the puppet.
  5. Attach eyes, brows, hair, a crown, a beard…
  6. Draw a nose and mouth.
  7. Embellish with sequins, rhinestones, jewels, trim…

Be creative and have fun!

Use your puppets to enact the story of Esther.

(See Purim Part 2 under ‘Appointments with God.’)

We would love to see your finished puppets!

Note — Gluing can be a messy process. To avoid the front and back from sticking together from excess glue insert a piece of cardboard into your puppet while working with it.

Hand Puppet Pattern

PURIM II – ENJOY THE PARTY!

The account of Purim, found in the book of Esther, takes place during the last biblical exile of the Jewish people from their Land. The redemption from destruction is seen as the great forerunner of the ‘End of Days’ when the archetypal enemy Amalek finally will be destroyed. Even though God’s plans, and even His Presence, may at times seem ‘hidden’ we can, nevertheless, constantly rejoice in the knowledge that He always sees and watches over us. As His children, we can rest in His present protection and joyfully anticipate the ultimate victory when His Kingdom will be established and Mashiach ben David, Messiah Son of David, will reign as the King of kings over all the earth.

Purim 2 Mask

This year, the holiday of Purim begins at sundown on 13 Adar (5 March) and continues through the day of 14 Adar (6 March). The celebration of Purim centers on the reading of the book, or scroll (megillah) of Esther. It is read during congregational services and is incorporated during the festivities in the afternoon of 14 Adar in the form of a Purimshpiel, or Purim play. The latter can be as elaborate or as simple as one desires. For example, a condensed script can be read, with the audience booing and cheering in the appropriate places; or the story can be read from a children’s Bible and the parts can be mimed by the children dressed in costumes fitting the characters, which can be a simple mask. Or, a more elaborate performance can be scripted and rehearsed beforehand. [Please note: If you would like to make use of it, a condensed version of the story is included below for your convenience.]

Usually, in accord with the jovial nature of the day, Purimshpiels are presented in the form of a skit and are far from serious. The participation of all in attendance adds to the fun. The audience is equipped with noisemakers. A traditional one is a gragger, a type of spinning rattle. Others are whistles, drums, tambourines, and a good, loud “Boooo” and stamping of the feet. Children can make their own by adding a few pebbles or dry beans to a small empty tin, which they can paint or decorate. These noisemakers are employed whenever the name of the villain Haman (Boooo!) is mentioned, in order to drown it out. On the other hand, when the name of Mordechai (Yaaaay!) is mentioned all give a loud cheer and applaud the hero. I have heard a few wolf-whistles when the name of Esther is read, quite fitting in the spirit of the day; however, she is quite content to remain demurely in the background!

Megillat Esther and noisemakers!

Megillat Esther and noisemakers!

Other Purim practices are mishlo’ach manot, giving baskets or plates of ‘goodies’ to friends and giving money to the poor and needy, matanot le’evyonim. These also are drawn from Esther 9:22,

“They were to observe them as days of feasting and gladness, and as a time for sending gifts to one another (mishlo’ach manot) and presents to the poor (matanot le’ev’yonim).”

The Purim party is a time of “feasting and gladness” to enjoy before the serious preparations begin that lead up to Passover, the first of the three main “Appointed Times” of the year. Some traditional denominations in Christianity mark this time of preparation before Passover/Easter as the season of Lent. The word ‘Lent’ is derived from the Middle English word lente, springtime. It is a time of penitence and abstinence, seen by some as a means of identifying with the fasting of Christ in the wilderness for forty days after his baptism. But, before the soul-searching and the cleaning out of chametz/leaven begin, it’s time to rejoice with gladness.

Cheers! Le’Chaiyim!

Purim is a time of masquerade and laughter, a time to let loose one’s regular decorum and inhibitions (within reason of course). Another practice, one that can cause some contention, is that of imbibing far more liquor than usual at the Purim party. Jews do not customarily drink in excess. A Talmudic dictum regarding Purim states however: It is the obligation of each person to be so drunk as not to be able to tell the difference between “Blessed be Mordechai” and “Cursed be Haman”.* Rabbinic scholars have argued this point. Some say it means that one only drinks a little more than one is accustomed to; others that it means until you feel sleepy, or are unable to recite a tongue twister.

 Irresponsible drinking is viewed as a sin of which one needs to repent. Thus, the day of fasting beforehand is seen as an act of repentance in advance of the laxity of drinking on Purim.

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Sending gifts, mishloach manot, involves preparing gift baskets or plates of ‘goodies’ to give to friends. One can include, for example, cake, cookies, hamantaschen [a delicious, traditional Purim pastry; see recipe below], fruit, nuts, a small bottle of wine, candy. Two varieties of foods is usually the minimum. The family can have fun decorating the plates or baskets and delivering them to friends.

The gifts to the poor, matanot le’ev’yonim, are donations beyond one’s general giving of tzedakah, or charity. One can give, preferably anonymously, to local families who are struggling or through a church or community fund. Also, a coin collection can be taken at the party in order that the children can participate in giving. In biblical times, each Israelite donated a half-shekel towards the Temple maintenance. The term half-shekel appears three times in Exodus 30:13 & 15; so some people give three coins. This collection also is given to the poor.

Time to Party!

The party consists of a special meal, or seudah, which is not necessarily a sit-down, banquet style dinner but rather a finger food, colorful paper plate style meal, with loads of cookies and candy too! Music, fun, laughter – we celebrate the fact that we are alive and God has preserved us to reach this season!

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People arrive in fancy-dress and masks and everyone has fun guessing who is who. Prizes can be given for the Best Costume, Worst Costume, the Funniest or the Non Costume… whatever!

After partaking of refreshment, the highlight of the evening is the Purimshpiel, or the fun reading of the megillah. The noisemakers are passed around and all prepare to participate. “Boooo Haman!” “Yay Mordechai!”

 

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The Story of Esther

The biblical book, or scroll (megillah) of Esther is set in ancient Persia, a great kingdom that stretched from India to Ethiopia. It relates the story of the victory of the Jews, through our heroes Mordechai [YAY!] and his niece and adopted daughter, Esther (or Hadassah, her original Hebrew name), over the villain Haman [BOO!]. Haman [BOO AGAIN! – Just a reminder, from now on you’re on your own!], a descendent of Amalek, is grand vizier in the court of King Achashverosh, also spelled Ahasuerus. (In Hebrew his name can be read as chash be’rosh, which means straw in the head, which says it all!).

The story of Queen Esther begins and ends with a party. The first party lasts one hundred and eighty days. It is celebrated throughout the kingdom to commemorate the king’s third year of reign, and Achasverosh shows off “…the riches of his royal glory and the splendor and pomp of his majesty” (1:4). Immediately this is over, he hosts another party in his capital of Susa. It is a lavish affair “…for both great and small, a banquet lasting for seven days, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace” (1:5). There is great fun and merriment until the queen, Vashti, refuses her husband’s order to dance before the drunken revelers and she is banished for her disobedience.

Then, a program is launched to find the most beautiful maiden in the land who will be crowned the new queen. In what resembles an extravagant and extended beauty contest, our heroine Hadassah-Esther is chosen. Her only relative and protector, the wise Mordechai [Yay!], advises her to continue to conceal her Jewish identity. There is an Amalek in the court! Haman [Boo! That’s the last reminder!], second only to the King, who proudly commands that all bow down in his presence. Mordechai refuses to do so, for Jews prostrate themselves only before God. In his fury, Haman convinces the King to sign a decree calling for a massacre of all the Jews in his kingdom. Mordechai and Esther must do something to counteract the decree and save their people! He points out to her that God has placed her in the palace “for a time such as this” (4:14). What can our brave queen do? Knowing her husband’s predilection, she plans a party! To present him with the invitation, however, she must enter his presence uninvited, which can mean death.

Esther sends word and calls for all the Jews to fast with her and her maidens for three days, interceding before God for success in the venture. On the day, she prepares herself and she approaches him with the thought, “I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish” (4:16). Achashverosh however, is delighted to see his beautiful queen, and happily accepts her invitation to a banquet to be held that evening for himself and…Haman.

A wonderful banquet is prepared and she wines and dines them. When the king asks her to state any request she might have, up to half his kingdom, Esther simply replies, “ Let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the dinner which I will prepare for them, and tomorrow I will do as the king has said” (5:8).

Reconstructed Ishtar Gate - Babylon

Haman rushes home to boast to his family and friends about his high position and favor with the royal couple, but complains that his irritation at Mordechai, whom he saw sitting outside the palace gate in sackcloth and ashes, overshadows it all. His wife and friends suggest he build a huge gallows that very night and arrange to have Mordechai hanged; then he would be free to enjoy the second royal banquet.

The plot now thickens! The king also is unable to sleep and calls for the chronicles, the book of memorable deeds, to be read before him. An account is read of how, in the past, Mordechai had successfully uncovered an assassination plot against the king by two of his guards. When asked what had been done to reward and honor Mordechai, the reader responds that nothing had been done. It seems a certain Haman had taken all the credit for himself! It just so happens that at that point Haman arrives to try and persuade the king to have Mordechai hanged the next day.

The king asks him, “What shall be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?” And Haman said to himself, “Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?” and Haman said to the king, “For the man whom the king delights to honor, let royal robes be brought, which the king has worn, and the horse which the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown is set; and let the robes and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble princes; let him array the man whom the king delights to honor, and let him conduct the man on horseback through the open square of the city, proclaiming before him: “Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.”
Then the king said to Haman, “Make haste, take the robes and the horse, as you have said, and do so to Mordecai the Jew who sits at the king’s gate. Leave out nothing that you have mentioned” (6:6-10).

And thus, the next morning we see the abject Haman leading a resplendently robed and crowned Mordechai on a king’s horse through the city, calling out, “Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.”

Purim_II_6-1 But, wait, that is not the end of the story for the decree to massacre the Jews still stands! Fast forward to the evening banquet… Queen Esther, the king and a heavy-hearted Haman are drinking wine when the king again asks for her request. This time she replies: “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request. For we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to be annihilated.” The king is shocked and asks who would do such a thing. The now terrified perpetrator is right there, and Esther indicates, “A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!” The tables are turned and, by the king’s order, Haman is hanged on his own gallows! The king promotes Mordechai to Haman’s position of grand vizier and gives him his signet ring. The decree cannot be annulled, but Mordechai now has the authority, with the approval of the king, to issue a second decree enabling the Jews of every city and village to prepare and arm themselves. On the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, of Adar, they were permitted to fight back against any armed force that had been instructed to attack them. Which they did with great success, for many had heard the account of Haman and were in awe of the Jews. Indeed, the Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor (8:16).

In Susa, the capital, two days of battle were needed and many antagonists were overcome, including the ten sons of Haman who were hanged on the same gallows as their father.

The sons’ names are: (See if you can read them in one breath!)

Purim 5 Par-shan-da’tha and Dalphon

and Aspa’tha and Pora’tha

and Ada’lia and Arida’tha

and Parmash’ta and Ar’isai

and Ar’idai and Vaiza’tha (9:7-9).

And Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Achashverosh, both near and far, enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same, year by year, as the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending choice portions (mishloach manot) to one another and gifts to the poor (matanot la’ev’yonim) (9:20-22).
The Jews ordained and took it upon themselves and their descendants and all who joined them, that without fail they would keep these two days according to what was written and at the time appointed every year, that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every family, province, and city, and that these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants (9:27-28).
The command of Queen Esther fixed these practices of Purim, and it was recorded in writing (9:32).

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We can trust that the Persian kingdom enjoyed great unity and blessing under the governance of Mordechai, who now was next in rank to the king, for we are told that “he sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people” (10:3).

When things are in order and beautiful we rejoice as we see the Kingdom of God being established in the earth. And when things seem confused and hopeless, God finds a way to tell us: “I am with you, as I have been all along. I will always be here for you. Choose in faith to see Me in all circumstances, and let your heart be filled with joy and peace.”

Interestingly, the name of God is not directly mentioned in the book of Esther. We are, however, strongly aware of His Presence “behind the scenes” as it were. This is the miracle and the message of Purim. It is found hidden in the midst of the confusion and noise in the world. It is the “hidden” face of God, the radiant light of His constant Presence that is with us in Messiah Yeshua no matter how dark the circumstances. We can celebrate, at Purim and every day, the reality that He is our hope, our protection and shield, our Redeemer through it all. Now and forever. Amen.

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Recipe for Hamantaschen

Ingredients for about 2 dozen Hamantaschen:

1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups flour (part whole wheat flour may be used)
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt

Cream together butter, sugar, and vanilla. Stir in eggs.

Blend in flour, baking powder, and salt.

Divide dough in half and place in a plastic bag. Refrigerate for a few hours.

When ready to bake, roll each half of dough to ¼ inch thickness. With a 3-inch cookie cutter, or the rim of a water glass, cut out circles of dough. Alternatively, cut into 2½ inch squares.

Place a teaspoonful of filling in center of each circle. Pinch the edges tightly together, forming a triangle. Leave a little of the filling showing in the center. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350° oven for 15–20 minutes until golden brown.

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Poppy Seed Filling

1 cup ground poppy seeds
½ cup honey
1/3 cup raisins
juice of ½ a lemon
1 tablespoon oil

Combine all ingredients and spoon onto dough circles.

Date Filling

¼ cup butter or oil
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 ½ cups chopped dates
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ginger
grated rind of 1 lemon

Melt butter over a low flame (or heat oil) and stir in sugar and dates. Simmer on low heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add cinnamon, ginger, and grated lemon rind and mix well. Spoon onto dough circles.

Purim_II_9 Chag Purim Sameach! Happy Purim!

~ Keren Hannah Pryor

1. Michael Strassfeld, The Jewish Holidays, Harper and Row Publishers, NY, 1985; 189
2. Sara Finkel, Simply Delicious, via Aish.com

PURIM I – A PARTY INVITATION!

The purpose of Purim is to party! The celebration of Purim is replete with food, drink, noise, laughter, costumes, decorations, and general merriment. Everything is, as it were, turned upside-down. Even the decorum of the synagogue service is disturbed with boos, cheers and stomping of feet during the reading of the scroll of Esther. Jokes are played and even the Rabbi and other dignitaries are made fun of. What is going on here? To find the answer we need to turn to the basis for the holiday itself, the biblical book of Esther. Wait… maybe we first should examine the nature of a party, and why there might be some resistance to all this fun and exuberance in connection with godly matters!

Is a party spiritual?

Essentially, a party presents the opportunity to relax and to play. The importance of play is recognized in the development of the health and well-being of the offspring of people and animals alike. Play is the most natural thing for a child, as well as, for example, a puppy and a bear cub. Adults seem to lose this natural playfulness and can become somber and cheerless or, without God, turn to their own superficial and often destructive forms of “play”. In describing play, author Samuel Wells writes, “The beauty of play is that it is not ‘purposeful, productive, efficient, economical, measured, effective or strategic’ – all the useful, grown-up things we have to be in the workplace every day. Instead it’s ‘exuberant, passionate, joyful, reckless, wholehearted and unselfconscious’ – all the childlike things we really need to be from time to time.”* He adds, “Play is a corrective to any solemn Gospel that seeks to make disciples more earnest than God.

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Michele Guinness playfully paraphrases Rabbi Yeshua’s exhortation to become childlike as follows: “Unless you become like a little child… you’ll never appreciate the most wonderful, magical things in life. You’ll never allow your imagination to run riot, giving you a glimpse into the glories of the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 18:3).** I would similarly interpret the next verse: “Whoever keeps himself unselfconscious, free of pride and prejudice, transparent and curious like this child, is highly favored, lifted up and smiled upon by our Father in Heaven” (18:4).

An account in the book of Nehemiah sets a wonderful precedent for joyful celebration and the dispelling of sadness on any festive day. At the rededication of the Second Temple the assembled Israelites are powerfully moved to tears of repentance at the reading of the Torah recovered by Ezra the scribe. Nehemiah, as governor, tells them to dry their tears and to go home and celebrate: “Go your way, eat choice food and drink sweet wine, and send portions (mishloa’ach manot) to him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). We read in verse 12, “Then all the people went to eat and drink and to send portions. They had a big, joyful celebration (simcha) because they understood the words that had been explained to them.”

Simcha is the Hebrew word for joy that is communally shared; a shared outpouring of thanksgiving and gladness. Today, for example, a Jewish bar/bat-mitzvah party or a wedding is described as a simcha. It is no coincidence that the first miracle performed by Yeshua was at a simcha, a wedding celebration. He changed the water into wine, the latter being a symbol of simcha, communal joy. E.g., “Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life” (Ecclesiastes 10:19). The Bridegroom was present and it was time to rejoice!

Another special simcha, which falls in the month of Tishrei, is Simchat Torah (The Joy of Torahthat marks the conclusion of “The Feast” – the Feast of Tabernacles. It also is the day upon which the annual cycle of reading through the Torah is completed. On Simchat Torah, during the synagogue service and at special gatherings in parks and halls, the Torah scrolls are paraded with great ceremony among the gathered people who kiss and embrace them. Rabbis dance with the scrolls and there is a joyous expression of love for the precious Word of God. During the darkest days of Auschwitz some of the Jewish captives chose to dance on Simchat Torah, just as they would have in the synagogue. Elie Wiesel, author and Holocaust survivor, wrote: “For them the commandment to ‘rejoice on your festivals’ was an impossible commandment to observe – but observe it they did.”***

No matter our circumstances or how we feel, the festivals remind us that God is on the Throne. He is in control and the future and all eternity are in His hands. To celebrate now is a prophetic foretaste of the eternal joy we will know in His Presence. We are reminded of the future reality in which we are now able to participate. In the Lord, who is the Author and Finisher of all things, we have forgiveness of our bad choices in the past, new life in the present, and the freedom to press on in faith and hope for the future. That is reason to celebrate!

The ‘Wet Blanket’ Amalek!

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Every party has its “party pooper”, one whose attitude throws a ‘wet blanket’ over the life and enjoyment of the proceedings. This antagonist to the ‘party’ of God is Amalek – the eternal enemy of the God of Israel. Amalek was a grandson of Esau (Genesis 36:12). His first attack against the people of Israel occurred as they traveled through the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt.

 

 

Joshua led the battle in the valley below while Moses held aloft the rod of God, aided by Aaron and Hur. After the Israelites gained the victory, the Lord said to Moses: “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” (Exodus 17:14). Moses knew this would not happen immediately but that it was a prophetic promise for the end of days, and he proclaimed, “The Lord, YHVH, will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (17:16). This is a blessed assurance that the battle is the Lord’s. He will achieve the ultimate vindication and victory. In the end, Amalek will face destruction.

The prophet Zechariah records that on that final day, “…the Lord, YHVH, will become King over all the earth; on that day YHVH will be one and His Name one” (14:9). Through King Messiah, all peoples will come into the light of God’s Kingdom; except the descendents of Amalek. The Sages of Israel describe that the essence of Amalek is scoffing and derision, a cold cynicism. While others can repent and turn to the One true God, he is incapable of repentance and correction and will be totally destroyed. Rabbi Pinchas Stolper explains: “Nothing, not even his own destruction, can correct Amalek because he is impervious to change. …The reason for this is that to a cynic nothing has significance. There are no values or goals of importance. Admonition has no effect on the cynical scoffer who has a false concept of the world.”****

The cynic consistently denigrates the true and important biblical values, including the value of life itself. Proverbs 9:8 warns, “Do not attempt to admonish a cynical scoffer.” It will have no effect and will only draw forth more ridicule.

As the focus of Amalek’s mockery and violent anger is directed toward the God of Israel, whom he cannot touch, the targets of his attacks are those closest to Him, His people. History has clearly revealed the distinguishing feature of Amalek – Anti-Semitism. Every generation has its Amalek, with its unquenchable hatred of the God of Israel and its deluded determination to deride and destroy His people. The Inquisitors, the Crusaders, the Hamans, Hitlers and Arafats, Hamas and ISIS are all outright and obvious in their murderous intentions. In his cool cynicism, however, underlying the raging physical attacks, Amalek has a more subtle, spiritual strategy. His primary objective is to weaken the devotion of God’s people to His Word; to undermine the foundation of Torah and to belittle its beauty, relevance and importance. This leads to a “letting go” of God’s Word, a resultant weakening and distortion of the meaning of covenant relationship, and eventually to spiritual cynicism and indifference and a turning away from God Himself. Amalek gains the victory! When, however, the hearts of His people remain strong in faith and secure in loving relationship with our Father God, then His words and teaching always appear new and fresh and vital. When we have the Living Word written in our hearts by the ‘finger’ of God, His Spirit, we draw hope and life from the Word and when we walk in righteousness, peace and joy day by day, Amalek is defeated!

Parties and Plots!

Back to the story of Esther. The biblical book, or scroll (megillah) of Esther is set in ancient Persia, a great kingdom that stretched from India to Ethiopia. It relates the story of the victory of the Jews, through our heroes Mordechai and his niece and adopted daughter, Esther (or Hadassah, her original Hebrew name), over the villain Haman. Haman, a descendent of Amalek, is grand vizier in the court of King Achashverosh, also spelled Ahasuerus. (In Hebrew his name can be read as chash be’rosh, which means straw in the head!).

Purim 3

 

 

The story of Queen Esther begins and ends with a party; in fact it is punctuated with parties throughout. These are interwoven with plots and counterplots, mystery and mayhem, which makes for intriguing reading.

 

 

The first party described lasts one hundred and eighty days. It is celebrated throughout the kingdom to commemorate his third year of reign, and Achasverosh shows off “…the riches of his royal glory and the splendor and pomp of his majesty” (1:4). Immediately this is over, he hosts another party in his capital of Susa. It is a lavish affair “…for both great and small, a banquet lasting for seven days, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace” (1:5). There is great fun and merriment until the queen, Vashti, refuses her husband’s order to dance before the drunken revelers and she is banished for her disobedience. A program is launched to find the most beautiful maiden in the land who will be crowned the new queen. In what resembles an extravagant and extended beauty contest, our heroine Hadassah-Esther is chosen. Her only relative and protector, the wise Mordechai, advises her to continue to conceal her Jewish identity. There is an Amalek in the court. Haman, second only to the King, who proudly commands that all bow down in his presence. Mordechai refuses to do so, for Jews prostrate themselves only before God. In his fury, Haman convinces the King to sign a decree calling for a massacre of all the Jews in his kingdom. Mordechai and Esther must do something to counteract the decree and save their people! He points out to her that God has placed her in the palace “for a time such as this” (4:14). What can our brave queen do? Knowing her husband’s predilection, she plans a party! To present him with the invitation, however, she must enter his presence uninvited, which can mean death.

Esther sends word and calls for all the Jews to fast with her and her maidens for three days, interceding before God for success in the venture. On the day, she prepares herself and she approaches him with the thought, “I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish,Iperish”(4:16). Achashverosh, however, is delighted to see his beautiful queen and happily accepts her invitation to a banquet to be held that evening for himself and…Haman.

A wonderful banquet is prepared and she wines and dines them. When the king asks her to state any request she might have, up to half his kingdom, Esther simply replies, “ Let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the dinner which I will prepare for them, and tomorrow I will do as the king has said” (5:8). Haman rushes home to boast to his family and friends about his high position and favor with the royal couple, but complains that his irritation at Mordechai, whom he saw sitting outside the palace gate in sackcloth and ashes, overshadows it all. His wife and friends suggest he build a huge gallows that very night and arrange to have Mordechai hanged; then he would be free to enjoy the second royal banquet.

Detail of the gate of Babylon, where Mordechai sat.

Detail of the gate of Babylon, where Mordechai sat.

The plot now thickens! The king  also is unable to sleep and calls for the chronicles, the book of memorable deeds, to be read before him. An account is read of how, in the past, Mordechai had successfully uncovered an assassination plot against the king by two of his guards. When asked what had been done to reward and honor Mordechai, the reader responds that nothing had been done. It seems a certain Haman had taken all the credit for himself! It just so happens that at that point Haman arrives to try and persuade the king to have Mordechai hanged the next day.

The king asks him, “What shall be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?” And Haman said to himself, “Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?” and Haman said to the king, “For the man whom the king delights to honor, let royal robes be brought, which the king has worn, and the horse which the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown is set; and let the robes and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble princes; let him array the man whom the king delights to honor, and let him conduct the man on horseback through the open square of the city, proclaiming before him: “Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.” Then the king said to Haman, “Make haste, take the robes and the horse, as you have said, and do so to Mordecai the Jew who sits at the king’s gate. Leave out nothing that you have mentioned” (6:6-10).

And thus, the next morning we see the abject Haman leading a resplendently robed and crowned Mordechai on a king’s horse through the city, calling out, “Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.”

But, that is not the end of the story for the decree to massacre the Jews still stands. Fast forward to the evening banquet… Queen Esther, the king and a heavy-hearted Haman are drinking wine when the king again asks for her request. This time she replies: “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request. For we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to be annihilated.” The king is shocked and asks who would do such a thing. The now terrified perpetrator is right there, and Esther indicates, “A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!” The tables are turned and, by the king’s order, Haman is hanged on his own gallows! The king promotes Mordechai to Haman’s position of grand vizier and gives him his signet ring. The decree cannot be annulled, but Mordechai now has the authority, with the approval of the king, to issue a second decree enabling the Jews of every city and village to prepare and arm themselves. On the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, of Adar, they were permitted to fight back against any armed force that had been instructed to attack them. They did so with great success, for many had heard the account of Haman and were in awe of the Jews. Indeed, the Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor (8:16).

Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Achashverosh, both near and far, enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same, year by year, as the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending choice portions (mishloach manot) to one another and gifts to the poor (matanot la’ev’yonim) (9:20-22).

“The Jews ordained and took it upon themselves and their descendants and all who joined them, that without fail they would keep these two days according to what was written and at the time appointed every year, that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every family, province, and city, and that these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants” (9:27-28). The command of Queen Esther fixed these practices of Purim, and it was recorded in writing (9:32).

We can trust that the kingdom enjoyed great unity and blessing under the governance of Mordechai, who now was next in rank to the king, for we are told that “he sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people” (10:3). When things are in order and beautiful, we rejoice as we see the Kingdom of God being established in the earth. And when things seem confused and hopeless, God finds a way to tell us: “I am with you, as I have been all along. I will always be here for you. Choose in faith to see Me in all circumstances, and let your heart be filled with joy and peace.”

Interestingly, the name of God is not directly mentioned in the book of Esther. We are, however, strongly aware of His Presence “behind the scenes” as it were. This is the miracle and the message of Purim. It is found hidden in the midst of the confusion and noise in the world. It is the “hidden” face of God, the radiant light of His constant Presence that is with us no matter how dark the circumstances; the reality that He is our hope, our protection and shield, our Redeemer through it all. Now and forever. Amen.

~Keren Hannah Pryor

khp

khp

 

Endnotes:   All pictures, besides the end one, from Shutterstock.com

* Samuel Wells, God’s Companions: Re-imagining Christian Ethics, Blackwell Publishing, 2006; 93

** Michele Guinness, The Heavenly Party, Monarch Books, Oxford, UK, 2007; 67

*** Ibid. 70

**** Rabbi Pinchas Stolper, Living Beyond Time, Shaar Press, Mesorah Publications Ltd., NY, 2003; 269