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Purim: Celebrating victory over evil

Jewish festival Purim, which falls today, is celebrated on the fourteenth of the Hebrew month Adar.

india Updated: Mar 13, 2006 11:59 IST

Purim is celebrated on the fourteenth of the Hebrew month Adar, which falls this year today, March 13. The festival commemorates the miraculous escape of Persian Jewry from destruction through the timely intervention of the Jewish queen Hadassah. This incident, which occurred about 2,300 years ago, adds meaning to the psalmist’s assurance that “He that keepeth Israel doth neither slumber nor sleep”.

The Purim story is related in Megillath Esther, the biblical Scroll of Esther. “Ahasuerus who reigned from India even unto Ethiopia” married the Jewish maiden Hadassah, whose Persian name was Esther. She was the cousin of Mordecai, an eminent and devout Jewish leader of Shushan, the capital of the Persian Empire. But Haman, the vizier, despised him

and the Jewish people so much that he obtained a royal edict to annihilate them on the ground that “their laws are diverse from those of every people”.

When Esther heard the terrible news she revealed her Jewish identity to the emperor and convinced him of the evil intentions of Haman. Consequently the edict was withdrawn and Haman and his minions were put to death. The preceding day of Purim is observed as Thaanith Esther, a fast day, because the queen fasted that day in preparation for her intended appearance before the emperor. Her royal husband had not summoned her and she risked her life to enter his court.

On Purim, the Scroll of Esther, which gives the origin of the feast, is read in synagogues and prayer halls. The Herbew word “pur” which appears in Esther 3:7, 9:24 and 26 is usually taken to mean ‘lots’. It is derived from the Assyrian puru meaning a pebble used for casting lots.

The wicked Haman, enemy of all the Jews, was a superstitious man and he cast lots to choose a day for the aborted massacre of the Jews.

On Purim Jews exchange gifts, wish each other Purim Sameah (Happy Purim) and share a meal, not forgetting the poor, for “Righteousness, that is tzedaka (charity) delivereth from death” (Mishlei 10-2).

First Published: Mar 13, 2006 11:59 IST