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The Story of Purim

Look up the book of Esther in a Bible or read the summary below.  In a Jewish Bible, the book of Esther is found in the section called “The Writings,” between Ecclesiastes and Daniel.  In a Christian Bible, Esther is contained in “The Old Testament,” between Nehemiah and Job.  Unlike other books of the Bible, the name of God is never mentioned in Esther.  It is believed, however, that the events in Esther were so carefully carried out, that only God could have masterminded them.  Use the summary below to become familiar with the story of Purim, or to write your own interpretation of it.

The story of Purim takes place in Shushan, capital of the Persian empire.
The main characters are:

King Ahasuerus—reigning king of the empire
Vashti—first wife of King Ahasuerus
Mordecai—a Jewish citizen, Esther’s uncle
Esther—second wife of King Ahasuerus, a hidden Jew
Haman—senior minister to King Ahasuerus
Bigthan and Teresh—ministers to the king
Maidens—contestants in a beauty pageant
Jewish citizens, and Persian citizens

     One fine day, King Ahasuerus held a huge banquet for everyone in his kingdom.  When Ahasuerus was drunk, he ordered his wife, Queen Vashti, to appear at the banquet wearing her beautiful crown.  (Some commentators suggest that this meant that she should wear only her crown!)  But Vashti refused.  As punishment for Vashti’s disobedience, King Ahasuerus banished her from the palace.  To choose a new queen, the king called for a beauty pageant and chose Esther.  He married her.  She kept her Jewish identity a secret on the advice of Mordecai, her uncle.

     The king’s ministers, Bigthan and Teresh, plotted to kill the king. Mordecai learned of their plot, told Queen Esther, and Esther reported it to the king.  The king ordered the two plotters to be hanged.  King Ahasuerus then chose Haman as his senior minister.  Haman demanded complete loyalty of everyone in the king’s service, and ordered all to bow down to him.  But Mordecai refused, giving as an excuse that bowing down to another person was forbidden by his Jewish faith.  This angered Haman, and he decreed the destruction not only of Mordecai, but of all the Jews of the kingdom.

     To determine the day for carrying out the decree, Haman cast lots, or “purim.”  The lot fell on the 13th of Adar.  News of the decree spread throughout the kingdom, and the Jews were greatly distressed.  Mordecai urged Esther to plead with the king to save the lives of her people.  Queen Esther summoned all of her courage and went before the king.  By using her feminine wiles, Esther persuaded the king to offer her the fulfillment of any wish.  She told him about the plot against her people and asked that it be stopped.  The king granted her wish and ordered Haman to be hanged.  So, on the day intended for their destruction, the Jewish people were saved.  To celebrate their survival, Mordecai declared the 14th and 15th days of Adar to be days of rejoicing, from that time forth and for all the generations to come.