A Bit of Background and Review

This is the third in our series of articles on the month(s) of Adar and the joyous festival of Purim which is recorded in the Book of Ester. The story takes place in Persia in approximately the year 357 BCE during the time of the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people from their homeland. It centers around a very brave and courageous young Jewish woman named Hadassah in Hebrew. After having lost her parents she was raised by her cousin Mordechai. By a series of seemingly random events young Hadassah was taken to the palace of King Achashverosh where she was chosen to be his wife in place of Vashti whom he had ordered to be killed after she refused to obey his summons. Young Hadassah became Queen and was known as Ester in the Persian Court, but she had a secret known only by her cousin Mordechai…Hadassah was a Jewess.

Purim –The History Behind the Name

When Mordechai, also a Jew, refused to bow down to Haman who had recently been promoted to be the king’s right hand man, the evil Haman persuaded the king to issue an edict to destroy all of the Jewish people in the kingdom. In order to determine the most opportune date to carry out his wicked scheme, he held a lottery. The lot called a pur in Hebrew fell on the 12th month of Adar (hence the name of the festival, Purim, Ester 9:26). The Talmud tells us that he was delighted, for what a better month to annihilate the Jews than Adar, the month which according to Jewish tradition, Moshe passed away! Surely, he thought, no month could be lower for the Jewish people (Talmud. Megillah 13b).

But wait, there’s more! What Haman did not know was that according to this same Jewish tradition, Moshe not only died on the 7th day of Adar, but was also born on that selfsame day! The Jews were triumphant over the Persians. The majority of the battles took place on 13 Adar. The Jews rested and celebrated on the following day, 14 Adar. In the capital city of Shushan, however, where there were a greater number of Jew-haters, the fighting continued for two days, 13 and 14 Adar. The victory celebrations in Shushan were thus held on the 15th.

The Jews took it upon themselves, and their descendants and all who joined themselves to them that they should unfailingly keep these two days according to their writing and according to their appointed times every year and that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province and every city…”
Ester 10:27).

The Hidden Message of Purim

Purim, Yom ha Purim is related to Yom Kippur In fact Purim has been designated Yom Kippur Katan or a “little” Yom Kippur, as both have to do with covering on one hand and revealing on the other which calls for introspection leading one to shuv… to return to who they are and to connect to the Creator. Rabbi Isaac Luria of the 16th century asserts that the true name of Yom Kippur is Yom Ki Purim. At first glance these two festivals appear like polarized opposites…one day we spend fasting and praying and communicating with our Creator on a spiritual level and the other day we dress up in costumes and celebrate by eating, drinking with our friends on a more physical level; yet both levels serve to deepen our connection to HaShem. 

The Book of Ester and the festival of Purim are all about masks and hiddenness, but also about revelation. As we take a closer look into the events of the story we find that in order to reveal the characters for who they really are that it becomes necessary to peel off the masks.
The meaning of very name Ester, the heroine in our story, alludes to the mask she wears and the theme of hiddenness within the Biblical book named after her. The Hebrew root of Ester is “satar” which means to hide or conceal. That way the name Ester would have sounded like “I Am Hidden.”

Surprisingly there is no reference to the name of HaShem within the text; for even He is masked…hidden…yet we see from the events recorded in the story that He is definitely working behind the scenes, just as He is working behind the scenes in our lives today.

Megillat Ester –Hidden and Revealed

The scroll containing the Book of Esther is referred to as the Megillah. The root of Megillah is gillah which means rolled. The Megillah, a rolled scroll, has the connotation of its contents and message being hidden; yet as it is unrolled, read and HEARD, it is revealed! Therefore, Megillat Ester sends a special message in its name alone, for it is a message of Revealing the Hidden!!!

The unholy feast of King Achashverosh orchestrated by the evil Haman to celebrate the execution of Mordechai and annihilate the Jewish people then becomes nahafochu, turned around and inside out, transforming it into a holy feast of joy and celebration. Haman’s mask had been ripped off, his evil plan exposed and revealed and turned on its head, because this “hidden” one Ester in obedience to the promptings within her heart, took courage, and came forth to be revealed and fulfill her purpose at just the right time.

This was a dark time in Jewish history and a personal dark time in the lives of Mordechai and Queen Ester. But as the scroll is unrolled and revealed, we see how each of these dark moments when viewed in isolation appear as though it is all over for the Jewish people, yet it is not; for what you see on the surface is not what you get. Each moment and each event, even the ones that may appear trivial and unrelated, when seen together, become part of a bigger story…a story behind a story…this is the Whole Megillah and reflects one of the most powerful themes of Purim, a theme that has played over and over since the beginning of time!

A King’s Sleep is Disturbed

One such example which on the surface seemed random and trivial occurred the night before Mordechai was to be hanged on the gallows. It is recorded in Ester 6:1 and reads, “On that night the king’s sleep was disturbed, so he commanded the record of the book of chronicles to be brought; and they were read before the king.” It ‘just so happened’ (or did it just so happen?) that the king had a sleepless night and the portion read to him that night related an event several years prior of Mordechai saving the king’s life by exposing a plot to kill him. As a result Mordechai was saved from death and was honored by becoming second in command to the king in place of Haman who was soon to be exposed for who he was. How incredible is it that one man’s sleepless night changed the course of history and led to the events that followed resulting in an entire nation being saved from destruction.
Rabbi Yaakov-Halevi (1360-1437) referred to as the Maharil notes the major significance of this

Two-fold event when he points out that on Purim the reader of the Megillah raises his voice when he begins to read the words, “On that night the king’s sleep was disturbed.” What if the king had slept peacefully?

Our Challenge

Rabbi Jacobson in his writing for the Meaningful Life Center points out that the Purim story –and the story behind the story teaches us how to look at our lives in a completely new and revolutionary way. To illustrate he quotes the Talmud: “One who reads the Megillah backwards has not fulfilled the mitzvah.” He then asks a question as to why anyone would want to read the story backwards. He continues by giving the explanation of the Baal-Shem-Tov. “Anyone who reads the Purim narrative as if it happened back when in the past (in effect, reading the story with the end being closer to us than the beginning), has not fulfilled the mitzvah, which demands of us to read and see the story as if it is unfolding and playing itself out today, from the beginning of the story till its conclusion.”

Rabbi Jacobson continues, “The story of Purim is the story of our lives. Our lives, just like the Purim narrative, are driven by a hidden script, which is hard to recognize at the time, but in retrospect patterns emerge as we discover the underlying narrative that leads to salvation. A bigger picture takes shape from the connecting dots of seemingly disconnected events, including the smallest details that we may completely ignore and disregard due to their triviality. Imagine: A man can’t fall asleep and the destiny of a people is changed forever! How many other quirky details in existence are affecting our very lives as we speak?”

This is definitely something to think about. The story of Purim where the name of HaShem is never mentioned illustrates the idea that we only see the Providence of G-d in our lives by looking backwards, but we must continue to live our lives forward. This takes courage for we must transcend the moment in order to get a bird’s eye view, one that will enable us to see the connecting thread…the thread that binds all of the fragments of our individual journeys together…what is hidden is then gradually revealed, but all in HaShem’s perfect timing!

The story of Purim is a lesson in emunah, in faith. In the Kabbalistic commentary on the Book of Eichah or Lamentations, Bochim and The Crying Voice, we find these incredibly encouraging words that we need to let sink deeply into our hearts, “Everything, no matter how seemingly bad, has the ability to turn around.”

Like Queen Ester, we each have our “megillah” complete with our own set of fears and challenges, yet within those fears and challenges, we have a G-d given purpose, one that may at times appear hidden, but one that in time will be revealed and one that belongs solely to us. Our individual purposes may not appear on the surface to be as grandiose as that of Queen Ester, but nevertheless, we can learn from her and the story presented here in the Megillah because we are often not aware of the significance that our seemingly small part will play into His grand scheme of things.
Purim, says Rabbi Jacobson is “the celebration of our inner child” It is a day of what he calls “joyous abandon,” a day we are to celebrate “ad de lo yado” which means to be joyous until you reach a place beyond the doors of perception.” Joy/simcha is contagious! On Purim we wear masks, dress up in costumes listen to the Megillah, dance and sing and participate in a Purim festivity meal, send food gifts to friends, and give charity to the needy. (Ester 9:26)

All these things are for the purpose of bringing forth joy from our own hearts and spreading it to others…and inherent in the joy we find strength (Nehemiah 8:10 )
May HaShem give you the strength to see your inner child, the strength to access that inner joy, and to celebrate knowing that His Presence is always with you! It is as if He is saying, “I am here now in your present circumstance as I have been all along, and I will always be here for you…not just when the sea splits, or when My presence overwhelms you, but when you choose to see me.”
So open your eyes and choose to see Him every day! Go into the secret place, into the chambers of your heart, enter into the Torah, enter into the serenity and the joy of feasting and loving friends and family…enter into the JOY of PURIM and release those hidden sparks that lie just beneath the surface!
In the Jewish faith, it is traditional at the end of every Shabbat to participate in the Havdalah service. During this service, we recite these verses from the Megillah, “The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor” (Ester 8:16). So may it be for us! 

The story of Purim is universal! In each generation as the Amalek/Haman prototype rears his ugly head, “the hand against the throne,” (Exodus 17:16). We must take courage and go forth in strength and courage and joy like Queen Ester and take hold of that more powerful Hand…the Yad Tova, the Good Hand of HaShem, for it is His Hand that will be victorious!

We will see that same Yad Tova emerge as we enter the next month, the month of Aviv or Nisan!


by Elisheva Tavor aka Betty Tabor Givin

Betty Tabor Givin (who is known by her Hebrew pen name as Elisheva Tavor) is a lifelong teacher. After having retired from her teaching career of several decades in the public and private school sector, she turned her full attention to religious education. She is an ordained teacher and long-time board member for United Israel World Union. Her popular teachings demonstrate the depth and beauty of her Jewish faith. Her articles have been featured in various publications and on the web. She is a regular contributor to Netiv Center for Torah Study and the United Israel Bulletin and is presently writing a book entitled, Hidden Sparks Beneath the Surface.