So what is this Purim all about?

[Update: I got a message from someone claiming that:

I am Jewish, I'm American and I take deep offense at what, in my opinion is a blasphemous misinterpretation of the holiday of Purim. It is not only a misinterpretation but such irresponsible explanations engender anti-Semitism.

If you want to give explanations of holidays, I'd suggest giving straight ones.

So, just to make it absoloutly obvious for the extra obtuse, this is supposed to be homour. Yes, it's closely based on the actual Scroll of Esther and the holiday customs, but the tone, and the interpretations, are pure satire/comedy. OK? CLEAR?]

This being the Jewish holiday of Purim now, you might have asked
yourself what is this Purim all about, where does it come from, and
what does it mean. Right?

Well, wonder no longer, here is the full explanation. First, we’ll go
over the story from the scroll of Esther, which details the whole
thing, and when we’re done, we’ll cover the ways it’s currently
celebrated.

Now, the scroll of Esther leaves a lot of important details out, but
have no fear, in here, for the first time, you’ll get a
behind-the-scene and honest look.

Who is this Esther you ask, and why is the scroll named after her?
Well, Esther is the dumb Jewish blonde which through sheer stupidity
and incompetence managed to nearly fail in every opportunity presented
to her to prevent a great war. But she’s a beautiful blonde, so as often
happen when men write the history, she’s considered one of the heroes
of the tale, and gets a lot of the credit.

Now, onward to the story.

It all supposedly took place a long long time ago, in ancient Persia.
The king of Persia at the time was called Achashverosh (Yes, it’s a
funny name, but nobody told him after he executed the first few). And
he had a very beautiful wife (Funny how this is the main criteria for
all these ancient kings in choosing wives, isn’t it?) called Vashti.

If this was an episode of the original Star-Trek series, Vashti would be
the ensign expendable… Achashverosh was having a large feast,
inviting all his important friends from all over. And after a few days
of celebrating he thought it may be a good idea to bring in the little
misses, to show off to his guests. So he sent for her. Alas, Vashti
wasn’t really a party person, and was having a bit of a headache, so
she said no. After much discussion with all the advisers, they reached
the inevitable conclusion, and he had her executed. No, seriously. He
also passed a law that women should do what their husbands tell them,
so some would say it wasn’t all bad.

And so started the search for a new queen. Obviously, this time he
wanted someone smart, intelligent, and a good conversationalist, to
make for a good marriage. No, no, kidding! Got you there for a moment,
didn’t I? He wanted someone beautiful. So agents were sent to scour the
country, looking for beautiful women. Then these women were pampered
for a whole year to make them look pretty, and presented to the king.

Now, you’d expect this to be a huge hit, with everyone sending their
cross-eyed daughter as well, in case they’ll get lucky and score the
king as a husband. And mostly, that what happened. Kings are always
considered a good catch. Now, remember Esther? Well, Esther was
different. Maybe her mum dropped her on the head when she was little,
or maybe it’s just the blonde thing. In any case, she spent something
like four years trying to run away and not get found by the agents.
Yes, this also mean the king was so picky that he didn’t find anyone
pretty enough for all those years, I guess those Persian women weren’t
something to behold…

Well, eventually Esther was caught. In comes the next actor is our
story Mordecai. Mordecai was a relative of Esther, and the guy who
raised her. Mordecai was also one of those paranoid Jews, who were sure
everyone were out to get the Jews, even though at this time nobody
really was. So the main advice he had to give Esther was to not tell
anyone she’s a Jew. Seriously.

Fast forward a year later. Esther is finally to be presented before the
king. Being a petulant girl, she refused to wear the standard perfume
and make-up. Luckily, this otherwise pretty stupid act was actually a
good move, since after seeing hundreds of heavily perfumed and more
heavily made up women, Achashverosh was probably just very happy to see
someone with a normal skin tone, and who didn’t stank of myrrh. So he
married Esther and made her queen.

She didn’t tell him she was a Jew, of course, so I suppose the marriage wasn’t Jewish. Terrible.

One thing you need to know, is about Mordecai. According to the scroll,
the guy was constantly at the palace gate, and wandering around the
palace. Most critics take it to mean he was important and respected. A
more sensible outlook would be that he was a beggar hobo, but one of
those odd characters which goes everywhere, and which everybody knows.
This would fit the facts perfectly. Now, at some point during the
following years these two servants decided to try and kill
Achashverosh. Maybe they were blonde too, but in any case they talked
about it at great length, without paying attention to their surrounding,
so Mordecai was walking by, and heard them speaking. Being a good
citizen, and probably hoping for a warm meal, he reported it. The two
servants were caught, and, as you probably guessed, went to meet their
makers. Now Esther made sure that the king be aware the credit belongs
to Mordecai, and it was even written in the annals of the kingdom. What
further did the king do about it? Nothing! Who cares if some hobo saves
your life? It’s his duty, after all, no?

Fast forward a little more, and introduce our new actor, Haman. Haman
was one of those egotist and ambitious persons, who have enough
charisma to make people like and trust them. So he became one of
Achashverosh’s advisers, and at some point the head advisor. This is
like head vizier, and anyone who have ever watched a Disney movie know
how they come out, right? Evil, scheming, and full of himself. Haman
fit the bill perfectly. And, as is always the case, the king really
listened to him and gave him nearly free reign.

One of the first things Haman did was arrange for a law forcing
everyone to bow down to him. It made him feel all important inside.
Which takes us back to Mordecai. As we already mentioned, the guy had
some odd notions about what being a Jew meant, and decided he won’t be
bowing his head to anyone except to god. This annoyed Haman a great
deal, but being all important he couldn’t really complain, since people
would laugh at him, so he just let it simmer inside, and took it all on
his wife.

Well, not entirely. He wanted to get rid of Mordecai. But how do you
do it without admitting the hobo gets to you? A problem, indeed. Here
comes in the character which isn’t mentioned in scroll, or in any other
place. Yes, you get here an exclusive first tale of what really
happened. There was a witch involved, you see. An evil witch, scheming
mischief throughout the kingdom. She noticed Haman’s malice (Witches
are good at that), and knew exactly what to do. So she came over, and
suggested a solution. Get rid of all the Jews. All of them, to the
last. Since Mordecai is a Jew, that would neatly take care of the
problem.

Haman of course liked the idea, and went about it. Now, he didn’t want
it to happen too soon, so if anyone saw him talking with the witch, it
won’t be apparent. So he decided to cast a random lot. In Hebrew, this
can be called a "Pur", and this is why the holiday is called "Purim".
Yes, seriously! Absurd, isn’t it? Anyway, he picked a date, and went to
the king.

Now the king might refuse if he was told "Listen, I wanna get rid of
the Jews, what do you say?", so Haman put a spin on it. He told the
king that there are people in his country who plot against him and do
not obey his rules. He got the king so worked up about them, that when
he offered the customary bribe, the king refused. He gave Haman his
signet, and told him to deal with it however he wants to. Remember the
signet, it will be important later.

Haman, being like all great viziers too fond of overly elaborate and
complex plans, wrote and order for the Jews to be attacked and
destroyed on the given date, and sent it throughout the realm.

The Jews heard about it, and were bewildered. It really did came out of
nowhere, since nobody had a problem with Jews. Remember, this was not a
release of old cultural angers, but rather a revenge against Mordecai
that was manipulated and blown out of proportion.

In typical Jewish fashion, Mordecai did what any intelligent men would
do when hearing such news. He tore off his clothes, and wore sackcloth
and ashes (Probably got them at a sale, and was looking for a good
excuse to use them. Who knows?). And this being a grand gesture, the
other bewildered Jews followed suit.

But Mordecai wasn’t a complete idiot. He knew the queen is a relative,
and as a queen may have an effect on the king. So he approached her,
and asked her to talk to the king. Esther, being an excitable blonde,
reacted even more dramatically, and in a fit responded that she’ll
first go on a fast, and that she won’t (imagine much stomping of feet)
talk to the king unless all the Jews do likewise. So they did.

Actually, there was another reason she didn’t want to talk to the kind
directly. See, Achashverosh, being an important king, was not to be
disturbed. If you approached him without being invited, well, off with
your head! Now, a normal beautiful queen would probably have been able
to figure out that just wandering near him scantily clothed may get her
an invite. If not, it was always possible to send a message. The king
was seeing people, like all his advisers, and many servants. But, you
know, blonde.

So she fasted three days, to make sure she’ll look haggard instead of
beautifully radiant, and then just walked over to him. Luckily, he
noticed her before she quite reached him, and invited her to come over.
The king was still besotted, so she asked her what she wanted, up to
half his kingdom (They always do that, did you notice? No wonder there
were all those tiny kingdoms around, everyone getting anything from any
king ever was always offered half the kingdom, odd).

What would you have done? Asked to spare the Jews, of course. They
weren’t close to being half the kingdom. But Esther, well, blonde. It
has been three days, so she didn’t really remember what she wanted,
only that she really needed to ask the king for something, and that
Haman was somehow involved. Also, she hadn’t eaten for three days, so
was thinking about food. So what boon did she ask? That the king and
Haman will drop over for dinner. Yes, seriously.

They came for dinner, had lots of wonderful small talk, and at the end
of the evening the king again asked her if she wants anything. But she
still wasn’t able to really remember, so she just invited the both of
them to come again tomorrow evening.

Now, flash back to the undocumented story of the witch. She got her
nefarious plot in place, but had one problem. Witnesses. She knew of
the trouble brewing, and needed to find a way to make sure Haman would
die when everything will fall into place. Come in Haman’s wife Zeresh,
which according to the scroll is going to be introduced in the scene
later that evening. But this is a little flash back for background. You
See, according to the scroll, she was a pompous women as well, who
desired the glory and advancement of her husband. This could not be
further from the truth. They had ten kids, which she had to raise by
herself while he was having fun at the palace. She had to take care of
the house. She had to do whatever silly thing her husband demanded, by
law. And worst, she had to bow to him all the time, even if she was
doing the dishes. She hated the guy’s guts. So a few weeks before this
evening she went to look for someone to help her get rid of him. An
apothecary to sell her poison, or some such. And the witch found her,
and promised to help, without evidence that Zeresh had something to do
with it, provided at the right time Zeresh would do as she tells her to.

Back to the scroll time line and documented plot. Haman is just leaving
dinner, more full of himself than ever, on account of being invited to
eat with the king and queen. And he passes the ever lurking Mordecai,
who doesn’t bow. Haman knows what is going to happen to him pretty
soon, but he still fumes, especially this night.

The witch makes her move, goes to Zeresh, and instructs her. When Haman
comes home, instead of patiently ignoring his usual whines and fuming,
she pretends to really care, and suggests a solution. She tells Haman
to build a huge gallows, and that later he would find a reason to hang
Mordecai there. He was so astounded that his wide suddenly gave him
the appreciation he deserved, that it seemed to him like a good idea,
instead of as a totally silly one, and promptly arranged for a gallows
to be built.

Now, at this night, like many others, Achashverosh couldn’t sleep. So
he asked for the annals to be read to him. Usually the parts were
selected in random (seriously. Maybe it helped keep him interested).
This time, we can say that a certain meddling witch passed certain
bribed, and among the randomly selected bits was the not so randomly
selected story about how Mordecai saved his life.

And, as expected, he decided that maybe he should do something about
it. He was in a good mood himself, after all, and felt magnanimous.
But as you may have noticed, he was more accustomed to killing people
than in having them honoured, so the next day he called his trusted
assistant Haman for consultation.

Now, everyone of you who worked with pompous bosses, or with clients,
will agree that they are usually very bad at saying what they really
want and need. Achashverosh was no different. Instead of saying
"Remember that Mordecai guy who saved my life once? What do you think
would be a nice way to show my appreciation, and to make sure that the
rest of the population see how magnanimous I am?", he just said "So,
Haman, what do you think I should do with a person that I like really
want to honour?" . And so, understandably, Haman thought it was all
about him, and suggested the should be dressed in all the kings
regalia, and paraded throughout the city on the king’s horse by one of
the king’s trusted officers.

To which, to Haman’s chagrin, the king replied "Cool, so go do that to
Mordecai, will you?". And poor Haman had no choice, and had to parade
Mordecai throughout the city. But he knew what was going to happen to
Mordecai soon, so this must have been great comfort to him throughout.

Forward to the evening. Another dinner with Esther, Achashverosh, and
Haman. This time, Esther nearly managed to collect her wits together,
and when the king again asked what is it that she wanted, she asked to
spare the lives of her and her people that are being destroyed by an
evil person. Now, you all remember that Mordecai told her not to say
she was a Jew, so up to this point it never occurred to her it could be
a good idea to change that. Ergo, the king looked at her totally
stunned, and asked what the heck she was talking about. Esther, being
ever vigilant about her priorities, told the king it was Haman, but
didn’t quite paid enough attention to mention the whole being a Jew
thing and that there is already a decree  against the Jews. As the
furious king was wondering what to do about Haman, Haman tried to beg
the queen for forgiveness. The king was apparently insanely Jealous,
since when he saw Haman holding the queen, he assumed Haman was
assaulting her, and got even madder.

At this point another servant, previously primed and prompted no doubt
by the witch, mentioned the gallows which were just finished. This
seemed perfect to the king, and Haman was hanged. Knowledge of the
witch’s involvement went to the grave with him, not to surface again
until now.

The next day Mordecai noticed that something is still missing, so he
dragged Esther, and they went to talk to the king about that decree.
This is where you needed to remember the signet for. Apparently,
anything signed with the royal signet cannot be revoked. yes, again,
seriously.
I mean, how stupid is that? The king cannot change his mind if he
signed something with the signet? And this king? I want to see how long
will someone stay alive after telling the king "No frigging way, your
highness, your signet is on it, forget about it!"… Not to mention the
possibility for conflicting edicts. But in any case, that’s the way it
was.

This was all too complicated for poor Achashverosh, who has just lost
his head advisor so couldn’t even consult him. Can you guess what he
did? Gave the signet to Mordecai, and told him to deal with it in
whatever way he wants. Very free and loose with his signet, this
Achashverosh dude…

Now, given that much power, many things could have been done. The
previous edict, while not revoked, could have been altered. Even
something silly like "but you can only try to kill Jews for the first
five minutes, and don’t try too hard", or something like that.

Instead, Mordecai chose differently. He arranged for a law allowing the
Jews to defend themselves against anyone who would attack them. And
notified all the Jews throughout the land about it.

Yes, seriously. Because, of course, otherwise being good citizens, the
Jews would have certainly just rolled over nicely and turned the other
cheek, no doubt. The entire thing is very unclear. What’s important is
that on the day there were fighting throughout the land, many houses
were razed, and many people died, both Jews and otherwise. Fun all
around.

But Jews survived mostly, so officially they won. The scroll even
mentioned that they were generous, and didn’t take spoils from the war.
Well, duh! The queen pretty much took care of this for them, in a
frenzy for being a nice Jew and giving away to the needy. Trust me,
after a little civil war, they were all needy. why object to the spoils
going to the crown, if the crown will give them back, eh? In fact, this
was so blatant, that tons of gifts were sent, and many delicacies and
food items were distributed in the days of wild feasting afterwards.

Oh, yes, and Haman’s sons were hanged as well. Why not, right? I don’t
think the daughters were, but nobody paid much attention to daughters
anyway these days…

Mordecai was made an advisor to the king (and hopefully gave back the
signet, though it’s not explicitly stated), and is remembered as one
taking good care of his people. Today we’d say he was robbing the
kingdom in the favour of his own constituency, but then he was just a
good Jewish guy.

And there concludes the story. On to the customs of the holiday.

The first one is of course lots and lots of partying. You’re supposed
to party madly and get so drunk you won’t even be able to tell Mordecai
and Haman apart (pretty easy, they both probably look like specks of
dust these days). Probably to symbolize the crazy drunkard victory
celebrations and non-looting that went after winning, and the victims
be damned.

Another one is using a loud and annoying rattler (called gragger in
English for some reason I don’t fathom) whenever the name of Haman is
mentioned. Officially he is "The Evil Haman", and this is so that we
won’t have to hear his name. Yep, Jewish logic again, instead of not
saying it, make more noise so it won’t be heard. Of course you have to
know when it is said to do that, so you don’t really lose any
information. Very bright.

The most important of all is the wearing of costumes. Everybody dresses
up. Traditionally there are many Mordecai and Esther outfits, but
everything goes. As the years go by, it becomes as commercialized as
Halloween, only without the morbid undertones. Whatever is popular for
kid’s books and TV shows, or movies, goes.

Then there are the special cookies, called Hamantashen in English. In
Hebrew it’s "Ozney Haman", which means Ears of Haman. Someone at some
point, maybe after drinking enough alcohol, decided those triangular
cookies look like ears. I don’t see it. You make it by making a round
thin layer of dough, put filling in the middle, and fold it from three
direction so that you get an open triangle with the filling showing in
the middle. Poppy seeds are the common filling, but variations abound.

Gifts to the poor are officially another holiday custom. Practically,
you don’t see it so much on a personal level. This is of course to
celebrate the plunder that was divided after the fighting subsided.

And the "sending gifts of food", in Hebrew it’s "Mishloach Manot",
which is like Sending Rations or something of the sort. Basically, you
take a bunch of cookies, candies, and small toys, pack them with pretty
ribbons, and give them as gifts to friends, or strangers (not much of
that going on, except for schools where you sometimes randomly switch
between class members). Sadly, the custom is being ruined in recent
years by modern and healthy versions of those gift baskets.

And that’s about it. Happy Purim everyone!

One Response to “So what is this Purim all about?”

  1. Holiday Gifts says:

    So what is this Purim all about?

    Isn’t this against the law in some states:

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