The Megillat Esther – The Scroll of Esther (megillah means “scroll” in Hebrew) is one of the five megillahs that are included in the biblical canon. These books are all relatively short and are part of Ketuvim (the Writings portion of the Torah that comes after the Pentateuch and the Prophets). They are The Song of Songs (Shir HaShirim), Ruth, Lamentations (Eicha), Ecclesiastes (Kohelet) and Esther.
The story of Esther outlines the Celebration of Purim. We encourage you to read the book of Esther during the festival of Purim and remind you to say “Chag Purim Sameach!” to your Israeli guests, other Israeli’s and Jewish people celebrating Purim.
Did you know?
Mordecai resided in Susa (Shushan or Shoushan), the metropolis of Persia (now Iran).
Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jeconiah king of Judah”) could this mean that Mordecai himself was exiled by Nebuchadnezzar 597 BC? Meaning Mordecai would have had to live over a century! It is also said Mordecai was the first person to be referred to as a Jew.
Haman (Hebrew: המן Hâmân; also known as Haman the Agagite or Haman the evil) Haman was appointed the principal minister of the king Ahasuerus, all of the king’s servants were required to bow down to Haman, but Mordechai refused to. Angered by this, and knowing of Mordechai’s Jewish nationality, Haman convinced Ahasuerus to allow him to have all of the Jews in the Persian empire killed.
According to Esther Chapter 2, queen Esther was born with the name הֲדַסָּה Hadassah (“Myrtle”). In the narrative, Esther was an orphan and the cousin of Mordecai. Her name was changed to Esther to hide her identity upon becoming queen of Persia. The three-letter root of Esther in Hebrew is s-t-r (סתר), “hide, conceal”. The passive infinitive is (לְהִסָּ֫תֶר), “to be hidden”.
Ahasuerus Hebrew: אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ. Most scholars generally identify Ahasuerus with Xerxes I of Persia in the Book of Ezra and The father of Darius the Mede in the Book of Daniel. Placing his reign from 486 BC until 465 BC.
Ahasuerus seeks a new wife after his queen, Vashti refuses to obey him, and Esther is chosen for her beauty.
Megillat Esther – The Scroll of Esther – The story
The Book of Esther begins with a six-month (180-day) drinking feast given by King Ahasuerus for the army of Persia and Media and the satraps and princes of the 127 provinces of his kingdom, concluding with a seven-day drinking feast for the inhabitants of Shushan (Susa), rich and poor, and a separate drinking feast for the women organized by Queen Vashti in the pavilion of the royal courtyard.
At this feast, Ahasuerus gets thoroughly drunk, and at the prompting of his courtiers, orders his wife Vashti to display her beauty before the nobles and populace, wearing her royal crown. Her refusal prompts Ahasuerus to have her removed from her post. Ahasuerus then orders all young women to be presented to him, so he can choose a new queen to replace Vashti. One of these is Esther, who was orphaned at a young age and was being fostered by her first cousin Mordecai. She finds favor in the king’s eyes and is made his new wife. Esther does not reveal her origins and that she is Jewish.
Shortly afterward, Mordecai discovers a plot by two palace guards Bigthan and Teresh to kill Ahasuerus. They are apprehended and hanged, and Mordecai’s service to the king is recorded in the daily record of the court.
Ahasuerus appoints Haman as his viceroy. Mordecai, who sits at the palace gates, falls into Haman’s disfavor as he refuses to bow down to him. Having found out that Mordecai is Jewish, Haman plans to kill not just Mordecai but the entire Jewish minority in the empire. Obtaining Ahasuerus’ permission and funds to execute this plan, he casts lots (“Purim”) to choose the date on which to do this—the thirteenth of the month of Adar. When Mordecai finds out about the plans, he puts on sackcloth and ashes, a sign of mourning, publicly weeping and lamenting, and many other Jews in Shushan and other parts of Ahasuerus’ empire do likewise, with widespread penitence and fasting.
Esther discovers what has transpired; there follows an exchange of messages between her and Mordecai, with Hatach, one of the palace servants, as the intermediary. Mordecai requests that she intercede with the king on behalf of the embattled Jews; she replies that nobody is allowed to approach the king, under penalty of death. Mordecai warns her that she will not be any safer in the palace than any other Jew, says that if she keeps silent, salvation for the Jews will arrive from some other quarter but “you and your father’s house will perish,” and suggests that she was elevated to the position of queen to be of help in just such an emergency.
Esther has a change of heart, says she will fast and pray for three days and will then approach the king to seek his help, despite the law against doing so, and “if I perish, I perish.” She also requests that Mordecai tell all Jews of Shushan to fast and pray for three days together with her. On the third day, she seeks an audience with Ahasuerus, during which she invites him to a feast in the company of Haman. During the feast, she asks them to attend a further feast the next evening. Meanwhile, Haman is again offended by Mordecai’s refusal to bow to him; egged on by his wife Zeresh and unidentified friends, he builds a gallows for Mordecai, with the intention to hang him there the very next day.
That night, Ahasuerus suffers from insomnia, and when the court’s daily records are read to him to help him fall asleep, he learns of the services rendered by Mordecai in the earlier plot against his life. Ahasuerus asks whether anything was done for Mordecai and is told that he received no recognition for saving the king’s life. Just then, Haman appears, and King Ahasuerus asks him what should be done for the man that the king wishes to honor. Thinking that the king is referring to Haman himself, Haman says that the honoree should be dressed in the king’s royal robes and led around on the king’s royal horse. To Haman’s horror, the king instructs Haman to render such honors to Mordecai.
Revelation of Esther
Later that evening, Ahasuerus and Haman attend Esther’s second banquet. She approaches the king despite the danger but the king offers her half of his authority (which is very rare to women at the time). Later on, she reveals that she is Jewish and that Haman is planning to exterminate her people, which includes her. Ahasuerus becomes enraged and instead orders Haman hanged on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. The previous decree against the Jewish people could not be annulled, so the King allows Mordecai and Esther to write another decree as they wish. The decree that Jewish people may preemptively kill those thought to pose a lethal risk. As a result, on 13 Adar, five hundred attackers and Haman’s ten sons are killed in Shushan. Throughout the empire 75,000 of the Jewish peoples’ enemies are killed. On the 14th, another 300 are killed in Shushan. No spoils are taken.
Mordecai assumes the position of second in rank to Ahasuerus and institutes an annual commemoration of the delivery of the Jewish people from annihilation.
Current Days Celebrations of Purim
Many Israeli towns and cities do parades and celebrate the saving of the Jews. Everybody dresses up like Esther and party all over the country. During this holiday, they have a big party where people drink AdLoYada (technically till they can’t tell the difference between evil Haman and Mordechai the righteous). Visiting Israel on Purim could be a great cultural and fun experience. Megillat Esther is read in every synagogue, and every time the name Haman comes up, the entire crowd calls him “Evil” and uses the rattles to make some extra noise.
The Book of Esther prescribes “the sending of portions one man to another and gifts to the poor”. This has become a custom among the Jewish people. The food parcels are called mishloach manot (“sending of portions”), and in some circles, the custom has evolved into a major gift-giving event.
Would you like the opportunity? YESH provides an app where Israelis search for accommodation whilst traveling the world.
Becoming a host is opening your hearts and homes to Israeli travelers by offering anything from tent space on the back lawn, to a bed in your home. In this simple act of kindness, we are able to share with Israelis that we stand with Esther, Mordecai and thousands of others before us who intentionally stand with the Jewish people.
ברוך אתה יהוה אלהינו מלך העולם שהחינו וקימנו והגיענו לזמן הזה
Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us and brought us to this season.