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Yoram Ettinger: Purim Guide for the Perplexed 2012


The Triumph of Mordechai by Pieter Lastman

The Triumph of Mordechai by Pieter Lastman

1. Purim’s historical background according to the late historian, Prof. Israel Eldad:

*Xerxes the Great – Achashverosh in Hebrew – succeeded Darius the Great and ruled the Persian Empire during 465-486 BCE, 150 years before the rise of Greek’s Alexander the Great.

*Greece was Persia’s key opponent in its expansion towards the Mediterranean and Europe, hence the alliance between Persia and Carthage, a rival of Greece.

*Greece supported Egypt’s revolt against Persian rule, which was subdued by Persia with the help of the Jewish warriors of Yeb (in Egypt) and Carthage, which had a significant Jewish-Hebrew connection (Hanibal and Barca were a derivative of the Hebrew names, Hananyah and Barak).

*Xerxes was defeated by Greece at the 480 BCE Salamis Battle, but challenged Greece again in 470 BCE.

*According to a Greek translation of the Scroll of Esther, Haman (the Agagi) was a Macedonian by orientation or by birth. Agagi could refer to Agag, the Amalekite King (who intended to annihilate the Jews) or to the Aegean Islands. Haman aspired to annihilate the Jews of Persia and opposed improved relations between Xerxes and the Jews Yeb. He led the pro-Greece and anti-Carthage orientation in Persia. Mordechai was a chief advocate of the pro-Carthage orientation.

2. Purim is celebrated on the 14th/15th days of the Jewish month of Adar.

*Adar (אדר) is the root of the Hebrew adjective Adir (אדיר glorious, awesome, exalted, magnificent). It is, also, a derivative of the Akkadian word Adura (heroism).

*Jewish tradition (Babylonian Talmud) highlights Adar as a month of happiness, singing and dancing.

*The zodiac of Adar is Pisces (fish), which is a symbol of demographic multiplication. Hence, Adar is the only Jewish month, which doubles itself during the 7 leap years, during each 19 year cycle.

*Purim is celebrated on the 14th (in non-walled towns) and on the 15th day of Adar (in Jerusalem), commemorating the deliverance of the Jewish People from the jaws of a holocaust in Persia and the 161 BCE victory of Judah the Maccabee over Nikanor, the Assyrian commander.

*Moses – who delivered the Jewish People from a holocaust in Egypt and whose burial site is unknown – was born, and died (1273 BCE) on the 7th day of Adar, which is Israel’s Memorial Day for soldiers, whose burial site is unknown.

*The events of Purim occurred following the destruction of the 1st Temple by Nebuchadnezzar (586 BCE) and the exile from Zion, during the leadership of Ezra who returned to Jerusalem, and the inauguration of the Second Temple (3rd of Adar, 515 BCE) by Ezra and Nehemiah.

*Nebuchadnezzar died in Adar 561 BCE (Jeremiah 52:31).

*Einstein published the theory of General Relativity in Adar 1916.

3. Purim’s Hebrew root is fate/destiny (פור), as well as “lottery” (to commemorate Haman’s lottery which determined the designated day for the planned annihilation of the Jewish People) “to frustrate”, “to annul”(להפר), “to crumble” and “to shutter” (לפורר), reflecting the demise of Haman.

4. Purim commemorates a Clash of Civilizations between Mordechai the Jew and Haman the Iranian-Amalekite. It constitutes an early edition of the war between Right vs. Wrong, Liberty vs. Tyranny, Justice vs. Evil, Truth vs. Lies, as were/are Adam/Eve vs. the Snake, Abel vs. Cain, Abraham vs. Sodom and Gomorrah, Jacob vs. Esau (grandfather of Amalek), Maccabees vs. Assyrians, Allies vs. Nazis, Western democracies vs. Communist Bloc, and Western democracies vs. Islamic terrorism.

5. Purim is the holiday of contradictions and tenacity-driven-optimism: Grief replaced by joy; Esther’s concealment replaced by the disclosure of her national/religious identity; Haman’s intended genocide of the Jews replaced by redemption; Haman replaced by Mordechai; national and personal pessimism replaced by optimism. A Purim lesson: Life is complex, full of contradictions, ups and downs and difficult dilemmas and worthy of principled-determination.

6. Mordechai, the hero of Purim and one of Ezra’s deputies, was a role model of principle-driven optimism in defiance of colossal odds, in the face of a global power and in spite of the Jewish establishment. He fought Jewish assimilation and urged Jews to return to their Homeland. He was endowed with the bravery of faith-driven individuals, such as Nachshon – who was the first to walk into the Red Sea before it was parted. Mordechai was a politically-incorrect statesman and a retired military leader, who practiced “disproportionate pre-emption” instead of defense, deterrence or retaliation.

*The first three Hebrew letters of Mordechai (מרדכי) spell the Hebrew word Rebellion (מרד), which is consistent with the motto/legacy of the American Founding Fathers: “Rebellion against Tyrants is Obedience to G-D.”

*Mordechai did not bow to Haman, the second most powerful person in the Persian Empire. He was a member of the tribe of Benjamin, the only son of Jacob who did not bow to Esau.

*The name Mordechai is also a derivative of Mordouch, the chief Babylonian god.

*Mordechai was a descendant of King Saul, who defied a clear commandment (to eradicate the Amalekites) and spared the life of Agag, the Amalekite king, thus precipitating further calamities upon the Jewish People. Consequently, Saul lost his royal position and life. Mordechai learned from Saul’s error. He destroyed Haman, a descendant of Agag the Amalekite, and Haman’s entire power base, thus sparing the Jewish People a major disaster.

About the Author: Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger is consultant to Israel’s Cabinet members and Israeli legislators, and lecturer in the U.S., Canada and Israel on Israel’s unique contributions to American interests, the foundations of U.S.-Israel relations, the Iranian threat, and Jewish-Arab issues.


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