Jewish men, women, and children all over the world today celebrate Purim. It actually began last night, since the the Jewish calendar marks sundown as the end and beginning of a day (isn’t it more powerful anyway to mark our days by the orbs rather than by some made up midnight hour?).
Purim is that day on which Jews remember Queen Esther and how her bravery saved the Jewish nation. The story goes like this: Esther is made queen after she wins the “Miss Persia” contest, becomes part of the King of Persia’s bundle of wives, and then out-matches all the fairest wives in the King’s land. But, she doesn’t tell him she’s Jewish. When the Jews won’t worship the King, an evil advisor to the King flexes his political muscles and devises a decree to kill all the Jews in the land (God’s people seem to keep playing this part in the story of human civilization). Esther decides to intervene very much risking her position and life. With the support of a thousand fasting Jews, Esther confronts the king, reveals the plan of the evil advisor and freed the Jews to protect themselves from the his oncoming armies. When peace came again, the Jews were revered throughout Persia, and a festival of remembrance was established. The festival was named Purim as an ironic way to reveal how their goods did not become the plunder of the nation. God had turned a day which could have been mourned into a time of boasting in God’s protection and the power of Jewish courage even when it looked like the state would turn against them. The festival has been celebrated now for 25oo years with two readings of the book of Esther aloud and, “as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor ” (Esther 9.22).