The Story of Purim

The plot and themes of "the whole Megillah."

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The Book of Esther is unusual in one respect. It is the only one of 24 books of the Hebrew Bible that does not contain the name of God in it. This has been traditionally explained as connected to the idea of “hester panim,” the hidden face of God. That is to say, God plays a crucial role in the Purim story, but it is behind the scene. Reprinted with permission from Teaching Jewish Holidays: History Values and Activities (A.R.E. Publishing). 

The Purim story is the Book of Esther; which is a part of the Ketuvim or Writings (also called the Hagiographa), the third section of Tanakh [the Hebrew Bible]. An outline of the Purim story follows:

  • King Ahasuerus dethrones Queen Vashti.

  • Esther is crowned queen after winning a beauty contest.

  • Mordecai uncovers a plot to kill the king and reports it.

  • [King Ahasuerus promotes Haman, making him more powerful than all the other officials.]

  • Mordecai refuses to bow before Haman [a close confidant of the king].

  • Haman seeks to destroy the Jews after his run-in with Mordecai.

  • Mordecai appeals to Esther to save her people. Esther approaches King Ahasuerus and invites him and Haman to a banquet.

  • Mordecai is honored for having saved the king's life. Esther entertains the king and Haman, and invites them to a second banquet.

  • Esther pleads for her people at the second banquet. She accuses Haman.

  • The king grants Esther's request and condemns Haman to die on the gallows that he built for the Jews.

  • The Jews defend themselves throughout Persia [against those following out the decree to destroy the Jews].

  • The holiday of Purim is established.

  • Mordecai advances to a position of importance.

 

A 1651 painting by the Dutch artist Jan Victors depicts the scene from the Book of Esther in which the queen confronts Haman at a banquet with her husband, King Ahasuerus.

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Rabbi Robert Goodman is a former consultant to the Boards of Jewish Education in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee. He is the former rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom in Brandon, Florida.