Photo Credit: courtesy
Jewish Holidays' Guide for the Perplexed by Yoram Ettinger

a. Purim’s historical background:

*The 586 BCE destruction of the First Jewish Temple (on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount), and the expulsion of Jews from Judea & Samaria, by the Babylonian Emperor, Nebuchadnezzar, triggered a wave of Jewish emigration to Babylon and Persia, which eventually replaced Babylon as the leading regional power.


*In 538 BCE, Xerxes the Great, Persia’s King Ahasuerus, who succeeded Darius the Great, proclaimed his support for the reconstruction of the Jewish Temple and the resurrection of national Jewish life in the Land of Israel, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish Homeland. 

*Ahasuerus established a coalition of countries, which launched the Greco-Persian Wars of 499-449 BCE, attempting to expand the Persian Empire westward. However, Persia was resoundingly defeated (e.g., the 490 BCE and 480 BCE battles of Marathon and Salamis), and Ahasuerus’ authority in Persia was gravely eroded.

*An attempted coup – by Bigtan and Teresh – against Ahasuerus was thwarted by Mordechai, a retired Jewish military commander, who relayed critical intelligence to Queen Esther, his cousin (or niece).  Just like Joseph, who adopted an Egyptian name (Zaphnat Paa’ne’ach), so did Mordechai adopt a Persian name (derived from Marduk, a Mesopotamian god). Both Joseph and Mordechai reasserted their roots in the face of a clear and present lethal threat to the Jewish people.

b. Purim is the holiday that foiled an ancient 9/11.  The numerical value (e.g., the letter “a” would be 1, “b”=2, etc.) of the Hebrew spelling of King (מלך=90) Ahasuerus (אחשורוש=821) – who ordered the annihilation of Jews – is 911…., just like the dates of Kristallnacht (9.11.1938) and the destruction of the First and Second Jewish Temples in Jerusalem (9.11 – the ninth day of the eleventh Jewish month).

c. “Purimfest 1946” yelled Julius Streicher, the Nazi propaganda chief, as he approached the hanging gallows (Newsweek, October 28, 1946, page 46).  On
October 16, 1946, ten convicted Nazi war criminals were hanged in Nuremberg.  An 11th Nazi criminal, Hermann Goering, committed suicide in his cell. According to a Jewish survivor, the late Eliezer Cotler, Julius Streicher’s library, in his ranch (which served as a camp for young Jewish survivors on their way to Israel), documented Streicher’s interest in Purim’s relevance to the fate of the enemies of the Jewish people. Streicher underlined, in red ink, each reference to the Amalekites and Haman…. (The origin of the Aryan race is claimed to be in Iran/Persia….).

According to the Scroll of Esther, King Ahasuerus allowed the Jews to defend  themselves and hang Haman and his ten sons.  According to the Talmud (Megillah tractate, 16a), Haman had an 11th child, a daughter, who committed suicide following her father’s demise.

d. Purim’s physical and spiritual clash of Civilizations between the values and worldviews of Mordechai and Haman, exemplifies an early edition of the clash among nations, communities and within each person: between right and wrong, liberty and tyranny, justice and evil, truth and lies, just like Adam/Eve vs. the Snake, Abel VS. Cain, Abraham vs. Sodom & Gomorrah, Jacob vs. Esau (grandfather of Amalek, the deadliest enemy of the Jewish people), the Maccabees vs. the Assyrians, the Allies vs. the Nazis, the West vs. the Communist Bloc and the Free World vs. Islamic rogue regimes and terrorist organizations.

The numerical value of the Hebrew spelling of “blessed Mordechai” () and “cursed Haman” () is identical, 502, cautioning us that evil can be easily misperceived as benevolence.

e. Purim is celebrated on the 14th/15th days of the Jewish month of Adar.  Adar
(אדר) is the root of the Hebrew adjective Adir ( glorious, awesome, exalted,
magnificent.  It is, also, a derivative of the Akkadian word Adura (heroism).
According to the Babylonian Talmud, Adar is featured 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, in each 19 year cycle. Purim is celebrated on the 14th day in non-
walled towns, and in Jerusalem on the 15th day of Adar, commemorating the
deliverance of the Jewish People from the jaws of a holocaust in Persia.  It also
commemorates 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 BC) on the 7th day
of Adar, which is Israel’s Memorial Day for soldiers, whose burial sites are unknown.

f. Purim‘s (פורים) Hebrew meaning/root is fate/destiny as well as “casting lots” (פור), commemorating Haman’s lottery which determined the designated day for the planned annihilation of the Jewish People.  It also means “to frustrate,” “to annul” (להפר), “to crumble” and “to shutter” (לפורר), reflecting the demise of Haman.

g. Purim highlights the self-destruct fate/destiny of peoples and regimes, who intend to annihilate the Jewish people, as has been demonstrated since ancient times through the days of the Nazi regime.

h. Mordechai, the hero of Purim and one of the deputies of Ezra the Scribe – who led a wave of Jewish ingathering from Babylon to the Land of Israel – was a role model of principle-driven optimism in defiance of colossal odds, in the face of a super power and in defiance of the Jewish establishment.  He fought Jewish assimilation and urged Jews to sustain their roots and return to their Homeland.  Mordechai was a politically-incorrect, out-of-the-box thinking leader and a retired military commander, who preferred a disproportionate pre-emptive offensive to retaliation, appeasement and defense. The first three Hebrew letters of Mordechai (מרדכי) spell the Hebrew word “rebellion” (מרד).  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.

i. Mordechai was a descendant of King Saul, who defied a clear commandment to eradicate the Amalekites, sparing the life of Agag, the Amalekite king, thus precipitating further calamities upon the Jewish People. Consequently, Saul lost his royal position and his life.  Mordechai learned from Saul’s crucial error and eliminated Haman, a descendant of Agag the Amalekite, thus sparing the Jewish People a major disaster.

j. The Persian King appointed Mordechai to be his top advisor, overruling Haman’s intent to prevent the resettling of Jews in Zion, the reconstruction of the Temple and the restoration of the wall around Jerusalem. The king prospered as a result of his change of heart and escaped assassination. That was also the case with Pharaoh, who escaped national collapse and starvation and rose in global prominence upon appointing Joseph to be his deputy.

k. Queen Esther, the heroine of Purim’s Scroll of Esther (one of the five Biblical Scrolls: Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther), was Mordechai’s niece (or cousin). Esther demonstrated the centrality of women in Judaism, shaping the future of the Jewish People, as did Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Miriam, Batyah, Deborah, Hannah and Yael. Sarah was the first – and Esther the last – Jewish woman mentioned in the Bible. Sarah lived 127 years and Esther ruled over 127 countries. The name Esther (אסתר) is a derivative of the Hebrew word הסתר , “to conceal” – reflective of her initial concealment of her Jewish identity, while the Hebrew word for “scroll,” מגילה, derives from מגלה – “to reveal.”  God is concealed in the scroll of Esther, which is the only Biblical book that does not mention God. The Purim custom of wearing costumes highlights the transition from concealment to revelation of identity.

l. The name Esther (pronounced Ester in Hebrew) is a derivative of Ishtar – a Mesopotamian goddess and Astarte, “star” – a Phoenician goddess.  In fact, the one day pre-Purim Fast of Esther (commemorating the three day fast declared by Esther in order to expedite deliverance), was cherished by the Maranos in Spain, who performed Judaism in a concealed manner. While God’s name is hidden/absent in Esther’s Scroll, Michael Bernstein suggests that there are 182 references to “King,” corresponding to 26 (the numerical value of Jehovah) times 7 (days of creation).

m. Esther’s second name was Hadassah, whose root is Hadass (myrtle tree in   Hebrew) – whose leaves are shaped like an eye. The name Esther/Ishtar is identified with the planet Venus – Noga in Hebrew – the second-brightest natural object in the night-sky after the moon. Hence, Esther’s other Hebrew name is Nogajust like my oldest granddaughter – which means a shining divine light in Hebrew. In Gimatriya, Esther (אסתר) and Noga (נגה) equal 661 and 58 respectively, and the sum of 6+6+1 and 5+8 is 13 (the number of God’s merciful virtues).  In “small Gimatriya,” both Esther (1+6+4+2) and Noga (5+3+5) equal 13, which is also the total sum of “one” in Hebrew (אחד), which represents the oneness of God, monotheism, as well as the total sum of the word “love” in Hebrew (אהבה).

n. Purim’s four statutes:

*Reading/studying the Scroll of Esther (מגילה) within the family, emphasizes the centrality of the family, education, memory and youth as the foundation of a solid future.

*Gifts (מתנות) to relatives, friends and the community at-large emphasize the importance of family, community and collective responsibility.

*Charity (at least the value of a mealמשלוח מנות) reflects compassion and communal responsibility.  According to Maimonides, “there is no greater or more glorious joy than bringing joy to the poor.” Purim is celebrated when Jews study the portion of the Torah, תרומה (charity, donation in Hebrew), which highlights giving and contributing to others as a means of enhancing solidarity and reducing egotism. According to the Torah, contributions reward the contributor more than the recipient.

*Celebration and Happiness (משתה) sustain optimism and faith – the backbone and engine of individuals and nations.

The Hebrew spelling of each statute starts with the letter מ, which is the first letter in the Hebrew spelling of Mordechai (מ), as well as Moses (מ), who was born and died a week before the Hebrew date of Purim. In addition, the numerical value of is 40, representing the 40 days of prayers, before Purim, aimed at the final elimination of the Amalekite-like enemies of the Jewish people.


Previous articleDemocrats and anti-Democrats
Next articleAuschwitz-to-Birkenau March Postponed Over Fear of Coronavirus
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.