By Rabbi David Lipper
Purim, which occurs on the fourteenth of the Hebrew month of Adar (or in Jerusalem, on the fifteenth), is a celebration of the events described in the Scroll of Esther (M’gilat Esther). The holiday, with its joyous carnival-like atmosphere, focuses on one of the main themes in Jewish history—the survival of the Jewish people despite the attempts of their enemies to destroy them. According to the Scroll of Esther, the name Purim is derived from the lot (pur) cast by Haman to determine the day on which the Jews would be exterminated (Esther 3:7).
The story of Purim is about hunger for power and about hatred born of the Jews’ refusal to assimilate and their unwillingness to compromise religious principles by bowing before the secular authority. It is an old story. However, it has been repeated many times, making it both an ancient and modern tale.
In the story, it is related that Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, refuses to prostrate himself before Haman, the vizier of King Ahasuerus. So infuriated is Haman that he seeks the annihilation of the Jewish people. Haman’s accusation against the Jewish people has become the paradigm for all anti-Semites: “There is a certain people, scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples . . . their laws are different from those of other people, they do not obey the king’s law, and the king should not tolerate them” (Esther 3:8). The prudent actions of Mordecai and the courage of Esther avert tragedy.
Purim recalls the dangers of minority status. Hatred of the foreigner and the stranger is still prevalent throughout the world. Antisemitism has not disappeared, but despite everything, the Jewish people have survived. Purim, however, is most of all a happy story—a story of survival and triumph over evil.