By Hannah Reich Berman
It’s that time again: We are about to celebrate Purim. Everyone looks forward to it, one of the merriest days on our calendar. It all started back in ancient Persia. At the time, things were not going well for us Jews. The reason for that was simple: Achashverosh, the ruler of the kingdom, didn’t pay attention to business. He was an incredibly happy man. He was also an incredibly rich one, which may have been the reason that he was so incredibly happy. He loved to throw lavish parties. Unfortunately, he was so busy partying that he left the running of the kingdom to his chief advisor, a guy by the name of Haman.
Haman was as wicked as they come and, for that reason, the people in the kingdom obeyed all his orders. They were afraid not to! Only one man, a Jew by the name of Mordechai, was unafraid. Simply put, he wouldn’t play ball! He refused to obey Haman’s orders. This ticked Haman off, so he decided to kill all the Jews.
He got the idea of holding a lottery. This lottery wasn’t like the lotteries of today. Nobody was going to get mega-millions when the numbers were called. The lottery he had in mind was far more serious. The purpose of it was to cast lots to see on which date he should have the Jews killed.
A little history is important here! Achashverosh, the party boy, was originally married to Vashti, but because she refused to come to him when summoned to attend one of his great feasts, he dumped her. The feasts he held often went on for many days, and maybe Vashti was bored with them. Who knows? We do know that she was banished from the kingdom.
At first, it was all right with the king, but after a while he got lonely and decided he needed a new queen. Wives, even wives who happen to be queens, are very important. They remind their husbands what to do and what to say—or possibly what not to do or say. And many husbands need these reminders. Apparently, Achashverosh was one of them. So he began a hunt for a new queen. There was to be a great beauty pageant, and the most beautiful girl was to be the one that he would take for his queen.
All the girls were interested in becoming the next queen—all but one. That girl was Esther. And wouldn’t you know it, she was the most beautiful! So Esther got to be queen, and she never let on to the king that she was Jewish. In those days not too many girls wore gold stars around their necks as some girls do today. So Achashverosh had no way of knowing that she was Jewish. But he was about to find out.
Esther was a cousin of Mordechai, and after he got wind of Haman’s plan to kill the Jews, he raced to the palace to tell her what she had to do. He begged her to go to the king and to intercede on behalf of her people. At first she was afraid. She worried that if she went to the king without having been summoned by him, he would kill her as well. But she did it anyhow. The lots had fallen on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and Haman had asked for the king’s seal on the decree. He got it—probably because the king was distracted by all his party planning. Now Haman’s plan was all set. Luckily, the king did receive Esther, and not only was she spared any punishment but he offered her anything she wanted. He was even willing to fork over half his kingdom.
But Esther wasn’t interested in that. She requested only one thing: that the king and Haman join her for a banquet that evening. The king gave her an OK on that, and the three of them had some drinks at Esther’s banquet. When, once again, her husband offered anything she wanted, she asked only that he and Haman join her again for yet another banquet.
Meanwhile, Achashverosh was reminded that Mordechai had saved the king’s life by letting him know that he had overheard servants plotting to kill him! As a special thank-you to Mordechai, Achashverosh instructed Haman to give a special honor to one of his subjects. Haman may not have been the sharpest knife in the drawer, because he assumed, incorrectly, that it was himself that the king meant to honor. So he suggested to Achashverosh that the honoree be dressed in the king’s very own robes and crown and also that he be seated on the king’s royal horse and be led through the streets by the king’s own guard. The king thought this was a terrific idea, but then he lowered the boom—he told Haman that it was Mordechai who was to be so honored. This sent Haman into a tailspin, and he didn’t get to use the gallows that he had ordered built for Mordechai. But hanging or no hanging, Haman was still stuck with the job of leading his nemesis through the streets and letting everyone know that this was the man the king has chosen to honor.
It was at that next dinner that Esther let the king know that she was Jewish and that Haman was about to kill all the Jews. Since the king was partial to Esther, his beautiful queen, he was none too pleased to hear about this, and instead he ordered that Haman be hanged from the gallows and that the Jews defend themselves against their enemies.
So the Jews were saved, and they celebrated by holding a great feast. We Jews do that till this very day—we celebrate with food! We read the story of Esther on fourteenth of Adar and we also have a great feast. And we don’t limit ourselves to just the feast; we also give out gifts, known as mishloach manot, which usually consist of plates of sweets.
Few people leave it at just two or three sweet treats. The amount of food that comes into our homes on that day is incredible. We usually receive (and give out) cakes, cookies, candy, and the much-loved hamantaschen, which are so named because they are shaped to resemble Haman’s three-cornered hat.
Purim is such a joyous holiday that not only the children but many adults as well dress in costume. But all good things must come to an end, and Purim is no exception. The day after Purim, housewives everywhere are busier than they were when they were baking hamantaschen and preparing the seudah (the feast). Now these same women have their work cut out for them. Just when we have to get ready for Pesach, we’re inundated with chametz in the form of cookie crumbs, cake crumbs, and hamantaschen crumbs. The holidays are great, but the timing is questionable. v
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-902-3733.