In the year 91 BCE, Alexander Yannai of the Hasmonean family succeeded his brother Yehuda Aristoblus to the throne of Judea. Alexander Yannai was a Sadducee who virulently persecuted the Pharisees. At one point during his bloody reign, following a victory he scored on a battlefield, he invited all the Torah scholars for a celebratory feast. During this feast he was slighted by one of the guests, which led him to execute all the Torah scholars in attendance.
A few of the sages managed to escape to the town of Sulukus in Syria. There, too, they encountered anti-Semitic enemies who murdered many of the exiled sages. The handful of surviving Torah scholars went in to hiding, finding refuge in the home of an individual named Zevadai. On the night of the 17th of Adar they escaped the hostile city of Sulukus.
Eventually these surviving scholars revived Torah Judaism. The date they escaped the clutches of death was established as a day of celebration.
Two rivers take you home: One flows with bitter tears of remorse,
the other with sweet tears of joy.
For most of time, the principal path of travel was the bitter one. Only once soaked in those bitter waters could you rise to embrace your G‑d with joy.
But now we have experienced more than our fill of pain. That which our people suffered in lands across the ocean has purged every stain, bleached every garment of our souls, refined us and lifted us high.
We have cried enough bitter tears. Now is time to return with joy.