by: Ilse Strauss
Tuesday, 10 March 2020 | The promise of springtime in Israel—as in any other nation—comes with the promise of new life, growth, warmer weather and sunshine. In the Jewish state, the end of winter brings an added delight. When the days grow balmier and filled with sunshine, a carnival atmosphere wraps around the Land of Promise. City streets, classrooms and offices teem with Supermen and Catwomen, cowboys and mermaids. When they appear—along with other costumed children and adults—it means the Jewish nation is gearing up to celebrate Purim (Feast of Esther).
Sundown last night signaled the start of this happy holiday. Purim is one of the most widely celebrated festivals in Israel. Young and old join the joyous celebration with street musicians, dancing, singing and dress-up parties stretching into the small hours.
The reason for the merriment is a good one. Purim celebrates the salvation of the Jewish people living in the ancient Persian Empire from the evil Haman, who hatched what seemed like the perfect plot “…to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day…” (Esther 3:13).
We find the story in the book of Esther. The events behind Purim played out in the fourth century BC, when the Jewish people lived in exile as subjects of the Persian Empire. Through a series of twists and turns, the mighty ruler, King Ahasuerus, stripped his wife of her crown for insubordination. An empire-wide search was then launched to find a new queen. A young Jewish beauty named Hadassah beat the staggering odds to win the king’s heart—and the crown. Yet on her Uncle Mordechai’s instruction, Hadassah remained mum about her Jewish identity and rather went by her Persian name, Esther.
Meanwhile, the evil Haman with an anti-Semitic heart yearning for power and destruction was appointed prime minister. In line with his might and position, Haman insisted that all the subjects of the Persian Empire prostrate themselves in his presence. Mordechai’s refusal to bow down to Haman thwarted his delusions of grandeur and set in motion a plan of evil and malice. Haman persuaded the king to issue a decree, ordering the extermination of all Jews. The day of mass murder was planned for the twelfth biblical month, the month of Adar.
Haman’s plan spelled sure annihilation for the Jews, yet the God of Israel had placed Mordechai and Esther in the perfect position to help. At first, Esther had her trepidations about appealing to her husband on behalf of her people—and for good reason. The mere action of going before the king without his summons equaled a death sentence—and Esther had not received such a summons in 30 days. She tried explaining her precarious position to her uncle, but Mordechai remained relentless: “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews,” he warned Esther. “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish” (Esther 4:13–14). Then came the words that stirred his niece—and helped save a nation: “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (v. 14).
At Esther’s request, Mordechai rallied the Jews to join her in fasting and prayer for three days, after which she appealed to the king on behalf of her people. Esther received his favor—and his ear. The evil Haman was executed, and a new decree was issued, which allowed the Jews to defend themselves and fight back against those who came to slaughter them.
The story had a happy ending. “On the day that the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, the opposite occurred, in that the Jews themselves overpowered those who hated them” (Esther 9:1).
To ensure that future generations would remember the miraculous deliverance, Mordechai declared a festival. The holiday of Purim, he told his people, should be an occasion of merriment and feasting. Friends should exchange presents. The poor should receive gifts.
Today, thousands of years later, the descendants of Mordechai and Esther celebrate Purim as per Mordechai’s directions—in the streets of Israel and all over the world. Neighbors and friends send each other baskets of candy. Gifts of money go to the poor. The young—and young at heart—dress up to join public parades winding through city streets. People gather in synagogues and family rooms to read the book of Esther. The sound of noise makers echoes from countless windows in playful attempts to drown out the sound of Haman’s name every time it is mentioned during the reading.
This year, the looming cloud of the coronavirus has, however, dampened the exuberant merriment. Some 50 Israelis have tested positive for the virus and following a government directive to curb the spread of the disease that all citizens returning from abroad enter a 14-day period of home quarantine, more than 80,000 Israelis spent the holiday behind closed doors in seclusion. Moreover, the Ministry of Health has forbidden gatherings larger than 5,000 people, which nixed public parades and parties.
However, as the uncertainty of a spreading disease with no cure continues to hold large parts of the world in its grip, Purim reminds us of the delight of a destiny turned from destruction and annihilation to great victory. It highlights the God of Israel’s care and foresight and demonstrates His absolute might and power over insecurity, writes retired ambassador Yoram Ettinger in Purim Guide for the Perplexed 2016. Moreover, it reassures “faith in mankind’s capabilities, as long as faith in God is sustained.”
With that, Bridges for Peace wishes our readers a chag Purim sameach (happy Purim) from Jerusalem.
Posted on March 10, 2020
Source: (Bridges for Peace, March 10, 2020)
Photo Credit: Michio Nagata/bridgesforpeace.com
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