Purim is the celebration of Jewish victory over a mass terrorist extermination attempt. This drama took place in Persia, during the reign of Achashverosh (Ahasuerus, that is, King Xerxes) and his Jewish wife Hasdassa who called herself Esther to hide her Jewish identity. The events we encounter in the Scroll of Esther took place between the years 483 and 473 BCE. After the Babylonian exile in 539 B.C.E. permission was given to Ezra by the then king of Persia, Cyrus or Cyrus, to travel to Jerusalem and restore the Temple and the city.
But a significant number of Jews continued to live in Persia for more than a hundred years, including Mordecai and Esther. Why we still celebrate this is partly because of the biblical command to do so. In the Scroll of Esther it says: “Mordecai wrote these events. He has sent letters to all the Jews, near and far, in all the regions of the empire of the Persian king Achashverosh. In it he obliges them to observe annually both the fourteenth and the fifteenth of the month of Adar, because these were the days when the Jews were given rest from their enemies; and because this was the month which turned for them from sorrow into joy, and from mourning into a festival day” (Esther 9:20-22).
It was decreed that this should be remembered and celebrated literally every year: “The Jews have decreed and made a statute for themselves and for their descendants and for all who should join them, that they, without ever omitting these two days, should celebrate annually, as it was written to them” (verse 27). That attack is not an isolated incident, given the fact that this type of terrorism is still taking place. Young children are taught early on in being combative, for example read this article: https://is.gd/vRo8OJ.
The topic is current. At that time in Persia, a high-ranking minister named Haman gave this order. Haman was a descendant of King Agag, then king of the Amalekites, see 1 Samuel 15:20, 33. Haman had a religious vocation to destroy Israel; his name could in fact be a priestly title. Haman’s opponent was Mordecai, family of Esther. He was of the tribe of Benjamin. Hadassah, later Esther, was the daughter of Mordecai’s uncle.
Mordecai gathered secret intelligence, which enabled him to learn what Haman, who deceived the king, really intended. Among other things, what Mordecai discovered was the date on which the mass attack on the Jews would take place. It was determined by lot, in Hebrew: pur, plural: purim. That was the way Haman worked. Thus the battle became a spiritual war between the god or gods of Haman and the G-d of Israel of Mordecai and Esther.
Hence Mordecai’s remark to Esther: “For if you remain silent at this time, salvation and deliverance will come to the Jews from another side. But you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows if you have not obtained the royal dignity precisely in view of this time” (Esther 4:14). Compare the ruthless casting of lots by cruel Haman with the fragile and noble method of Mordecai, who has an eye for the hand of the Eternal who uses times and opportunities.
King Achashverosh gained insight into the wickedness of Haman and his assassination plans just in time. He could not stop those plans, because Haman had issued a law of the Medes and Persians. They couldn’t be canceled. But the king gave the Jews the opportunity to defend themselves. A total of at least seventy-five thousand men charged at the Jewish population. And just like the Ukrainian population that in our time knows how to defend itself valiantly against the power-hungry Vladimir Putin and his rival Yevgeni Prigozhin, the Jewish population has defended itself.
Result: seventy-five thousand anti-Semites lost their lives in old Persia, with help from the “other side” also being called for. Just like the unexpected help from the Western countries for the Russians, which Putin had calculated would keep them divided and aloof. The royal family of Achashverosh (Xerxes I) and Esther had a son. They gave him the name of his grandfather, Darius; thus became Darius II, a king with a Jewish mother.
And we, what do we learn from this history, after we’ve been partying again? That we also learn to get an eye for the other side. That we keep our eyes open for religions that have achieved their goals with weapons and crusades. And that we will understand Hadassa who, fearing dictatorships that would ignore vulnerable minorities, had effectively adapted her name to her environment by calling herself Esther. Even the Eternal had hidden himself in this dramatic story. Concealed and invisible, but actively involved.