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The Basic Purim Story

The Basic Purim Story

A Brief Retelling of the Book of Esther (Megillah)

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A Fateful Party

It all began in Ancient Persia in the 4th century BCE. The Holy Temple that had stood in Jerusalem was destroyed more than 50 years earlier, and the Jews were subjects of the mighty Persian empire which extended over 127 lands.

Three years after King Ahasuerus ascended the Persian throne, when he felt secure in his new position, he celebrated by throwing a grand 180-day-long party for all his subjects. Following this extravagant gala, Ahasuerus hosted a smaller week-long party for the residents of the capital city of Shushan. In the palace's women's quarters, Ahasuerus' wife, Queen Vashti, hosted her own party for the Shushanite womenfolk.

On the seventh day of this party, Ahasuerus' heart "was merry with wine," and he commanded his wife Vashti to appear before all the partying men—he wanted to show them all her exquisite beauty. Vashti balked at this request, and at the advice of his advisor Memuchan, Ahasuerus ordered Vashti's execution.

The Beauty Contest

The king immediately liked her, and Esther became the new Queen of PersiaWhen Ahasuerus' wrath dissipated, he was lonely for a wife. His servants suggested that he orchestrate a beauty pageant. Officers would be appointed in all the king's lands, and all beautiful girls would be brought to Ahasuerus. And the girl who would find favor in the king's eyes would be the new queen.

The leader of the Jews at that time was a Shushanite resident named Mordechai. He had a cousin, Esther, who was orphaned as a young girl. Mordechai raised her and treated her as a daughter. Though she had no desire to be the queen, Esther was forcibly taken to the king's harem, to participate in the contest. While all the other contestant beautified themselves with perfumes and lotions, Esther did nothing. But G‑d had His own plans. When Esther appeared before the king, he immediately liked her, and Esther became the new Queen of Persia. But as per Mordechai's directive, Esther refused to divulge her nationality—even to the king.

Mordechai to the Rescue

Mordechai at the gates of Shushan. © Ahuva Klein
Mordechai at the gates of Shushan. © Ahuva Klein

Shortly after Esther became queen, Mordechai overheard two of the king's chamberlains discussing a plot to assassinate the king. Mordechai had them reported, and the traitors were hanged.

The Anti-Semitic Prime Minister

Meanwhile, Haman, one of Ahasuerus' ministers, was promoted to the position of Prime Minister. Haman was a virulent Jew hater; in fact he was a descendant of the notoriously anti-Semitic nation of Amalek.

Immediately after his promotion, the king issued a decree ordering everyone to bow down whenever Haman appeared. Now Haman would walk around with a large idol hanging from a chain around his neck. When Mordechai, a proud Jew, refused to bow down, Haman was infuriated. He resolved to take revenge against all the Jews and threw lots to determine the "lucky" day when he would implement his plan. The lot fell on the 13th day of the Hebrew month of Adar.

Haman approached Ahasuerus and offered him 10,000 silver talents in exchange for permission to exterminate the Jews. Ahasuerus, who was no friend of the Jews either, told Haman, "The money is yours to keep, and the nation is yours to do with as you please."

Haman immediately sent proclamations to all the king's land. These declarations, sealed with the royal signet ring, ordered the people to rise up against the Jews and kill them all – men, women, and children – on the following 13th of Adar.

Mordechai's Request

"The king's sleep was interrupted…" © Ahuva Klein
"The king's sleep was interrupted…" © Ahuva Klein

"If you will remain silent at this time, relief and salvation will come to the Jews from another source!"Mordechai became aware of the decree. He rent his garments and donned sackcloth. He sent a message to Esther, asking her to approach the king and beg him to spare her people. Esther responded that according to the rules anyone who entered the king's presence un-summoned would be put to death—unless the king extended to that person his golden scepter. "And I," Esther said, "have not been summoned by the king for thirty days already!"

Mordechai sent another message: "Do not think that you will escape the fate of all the Jews by being in the king's palace. For if you will remain silent at this time, relief and salvation will come to the Jews from another source, and you and the house of your father will be lost. And who knows if it is not for just such a time that you reached this royal position."

Esther agreed to approach the king. But she asked Mordechai to gather all the Jews in Shushan and let them all fast for three days and nights. And after this fast Esther would put her life in her hands and approach the king.

Mordechai complied with Esther's request. He gathered the Jews of Shushan – especially the children, 22,000 of them – and they fasted, repented and prayed to G‑d.

The First Feast

After three days of fasting, Esther donned royal garb and entered Ahasuerus' chambers. Immediately, the king extended his scepter. "What is it?" Ahasuerus asked. "What is your request?"

"I would like to invite the king and Haman to a small feast I have prepared," Esther responded.

So the king and Haman joined Esther for a wine-feast. During the feast, the king again asked Esther whether she had anything to request. "Yes," Esther responded. "I would appreciate if tomorrow, again, the king and Haman would join me for a feast. And then I will tell the king my request.

Haman left the party a happy and proud man. Oh the honor he was being accorded! But standing at the king's gate was Mordechai – who still refused to bow to Haman – and Haman was enraged. When he arrived home, his wife and wise advisors counseled him to erect a gallows, and then to go to the king and request permission to hang Mordechai. Haman excitedly went ahead and put up the gallows.

The Beginning of the End

© Ahuva Klein
© Ahuva Klein

Sleep eluded the king that night, so he asked his servants to read for him from the Royal ChroniclesSleep eluded the king that night, so he asked his servants to read for him from the Royal Chronicles. They complied with the king's orders. They read from the Chronicles how Mordechai saved the king's life when two of his chamberlains hatched a plot to kill him.

"Was he rewarded for this fine act?" Ahasuerus asked. "No he was not," the servants responded.

At that moment Haman entered the king's courtyard. His purpose? To ask the king's permission to hang Mordechai! Before Haman could utter a word, Ahasuerus addressed him: "My Haman, in your estimation, what shall be done to a person whom the king wishes to honor?"

Haman, who was certain that the king wished to honor him, responded: "Bring royal garment and a royal horse. And let one of the king's nobles dress the man and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, 'So is done for the man whom the king wishes to honor!'"

"Great idea," Ahasuerus responded. "Now go get the garments and the horse and do so for Mordechai the Jew!"

Haman had no choice but to comply. On the next day he went and honored Mordechai as the king had ordered, and then immediately rushed to join the king and Esther for...

The Second Feast

© Ahuva Klein
© Ahuva Klein

"What is your request?" a curious King Ahasuerus asked Esther at the feast.

"If I have found favor in your eyes, O King," Esther pleaded, "and if it pleases the king, let my life be granted me by my plea, and the life of my people by my request. For my people and I have been sold to be annihilated, killed and destroyed!" Esther then identified Haman as the evil person who wished to perpetrate this atrocity.

The king was greatly angered. When he was then informed that Haman had built a gallows for Mordechai, he ordered that Haman be hanged on that very gallows.

The Tables Are Turned

Haman was dead, but his evil decree was still in effectOn that day, Haman's estate was given to Esther, and Mordechai was appointed Prime Minister in Haman's stead.

But Esther was far from satisfied. Haman was dead, but his evil decree was still in effect. According to Persian law, once a king issues a decree it can not be rescinded. But the king gave Mordechai and Esther permission, and they promptly wrote up a decree that countermanded Haman's edict. The decree granted the Jews permission to defend themselves against their enemies. And by this time, considering that all knew that the queen and Prime Minister were both Jewish, no one would prevent the Jews from doing just that!

And the Jews in Shushan were oh so happy. Celebrations abounded!

The Battle

On the 13th of Adar that year, the Jews throughout the Persian Empire mobilized and killed the enemies who had wanted to kill them. In Shushan, among the dead were Haman's ten sons.

Esther asked the king's permission for the Jews in Shushan to have one more day to destroy their enemy—and the king acceded to her wish. On that day, the 14th of Adar, the Jews worldwide celebrated, and the Jews of Shushan killed more of their enemies, and also hung Haman's sons. The Jews of Shushan then rested and celebrated on the 15th of Adar.

In Commemoration

Mordechai and Esther established a holiday to commemorate these amazing events. Jews worldwide celebrate on the 14th of Adar, while residents of walled cities – like Shushan – celebrate on the 15th of Adar. This holiday, called "Purim," is the most joyous holiday on the Jewish calendar.

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Some guy March 17, 2017

Great story I love this story and I wonder if it would make a hit movie if it were made right. Reply

Daniel Rosenthal Santa Monica CA March 13, 2017

Haman had gotten together a goon squad; even if the King had ordered them to disband, they probably wouldn't have, and would have carried out the massacre anyway. Reply

Marilyn S. Ruben Yuma, AZ March 12, 2017

The date of the l5th of Adar was celebrated because ---- Lots were drawn to determine the date.
The first lot drawn was the l5th of Adar!!!
Purim is called "The Feast of Lots." Reply

Bill White (Eitan ben Abraham) England March 9, 2017

Courage The Story of Purim, the Book of Esther, is a tale of courage. By trusting in G-D, by realizing that everything is HaShem and giving thanks to the Creator for everything... good and bad and by understanding that HaShem guides us toward Him when we stray (through what we might perceive as bad). In reality, it's all good. Reply

bill john-johnson johsnonvill March 6, 2017

hi friends would anyone be as kind as to give a summary of the full purim story in under 200 characters Reply

sophia January 19, 2017

amazing! i'm going to do my homeschool international dinner project on it! Reply

Vivienne Rachmansky U.S. March 26, 2016

Esther is a Jewish hero to all.👸🏼 Reply

Sam UK March 23, 2016

I love Esther's story. It shows you that nothing is coincidence when the Lord is taking care of your life. May we all honor the positions God gives us in life. Reply

Anonymous Usa January 11, 2016

This is like a Disney story to me but yet its history I just see Esther as a Disney Princess I don't know why but I feel like it's the Jewish Disney Princess that turned into a queen I love this story this story is one of my favorite stories from the Torah Reply

Kate Iowa March 3, 2015

A most excellent story... But - if the king could decree anything, why couldn't he just decree NO killing? Then no one would have perished. just saying. I'm grateful that innocent people did not perish - especially and namely the Jews - but how does Mordechai and Esther engender peace when all their efforts just really turn the tables on hatred? Defending themselves of course is important, but one more day to vanquish? Guess you had to be there. Reply

Marietta Alexander Everett February 12, 2015

Esther is more than meets the eye Esther is not just the story of the Hebrew girl that saved her people because she came on the scene, at just the right time. It is the story, of the way the Lord works in the lives of His People with a redemptive purpose in mind. Reply

Daniel Tennessee March 4, 2014

I did not know! A strange thing happened. While I was at my church ( I am not Jewish) waiting for a meeting to be over I sat on a bench and a Bible was sitting beside me, so I opened it up, not looking for anything special. The book of Esther was the first to pop up. I have had a calling in my heart to learn more about Jewish holidays. I have not really read a lot of the Old Testament but isn't it strange that my reading the story of Esther and now my search for Jewish holidays, namely Purim. Isn't it strange that these two events should happen so close together. I love it when God puts things in your path. Have a blessed day. Reply

Guruvaraja Ganesan Hoora February 5, 2014

G-d's Intentions As per Creator G-d's plan to give His people a chance to come closer to Him, He advised every kings including Saul to kill all Amelekites, His Children's enemies at Cannan.
Escaped from the extermination culminated the evil Haman's plan to kill Jews, but G-d knows the way to use the king is Persia to help Jews escape from the extermination Reply

Anonymous December 31, 2013

Jews God's chosen people The Jews have the most rich and enduring history in the world. God has kept them from so many traps and destructions and they are still surviving and strong. Evidently there is no doubt that the God of Abraham, Isaac & Israel is the One and ONLY true God.. My entire life I pray to have Jewish friends, and hope to have one someday. God bless Israel... Reply

Libby Austria February 21, 2013

@Charles You have a very different experience with Jewish friends than I do. I am so totally lucky to have them - not just because I get loads of questions asked, but because they are genuinely lovely people. I have never had the "you" and "us" experience at all and have never ever been told that I wouldn't understand because I'm not Jewish - and I ask LOTS of questions! Reply

Daniel Rosenthal Santa Monica, CA March 7, 2012

Vashti According to some versions of the story I have heard, he did not kill Vashti; he sent her into exile--told her to pack her bags and leave Reply

Anonymous Amman March 6, 2012

Easy Hebrew Why is the Hebrew from the Megillat Esther so easy to understand, so similar to modern-day Hebrew spoken in Israel, and so different from the Hebrew of the Torah? Reply

Anonymous Beltsville, Md February 25, 2012

My Response to negative comments and views! Let us all not forget who the Jews are. They are G-d's chosen people! They are the apple of His eye ! The book of Ester,is simply describing G-d's love and protection of His own. If anyone has a problem with why G-d's own (Jews) celebrate this holiday and " how comes" of this book, I suggest you ask the author of the book. This website has been put together by loving and caring people, bringing us good and relevant information to help us further understand their roots, culture and most of all their Torah. We should applaud their efforts,their time and their courage to do so. We must not question / disrespect them in our own ignorance of the word, the very truth they write about.
Shalom Shalom to all. Reply

Lindee. Edmonton, Canada December 1, 2011

Purim Explicit and Concise. Thank you for this information. It made complete, my knowledge of Purim. Shalom. Reply

Anonymous Helen, GA March 18, 2011

I love purim. It is an amazing holiday. I love to dress up and be a character. It is such an honor to be a Jew. Reply

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