This past week we entered the Hebrew month of Adar, a holiday whose catchphrase is, literally, “Smile! It’s Adar!” The main reason for this happy, optimistic catchphrase is that this is the month we celebrate Purim. Traditionally held on the 14th day of the month of Adar, Purim commemorates the salvation of the Jews living under the ancient Persian empire. The story, which is recorded in our Tanakh under the book of Esther, tells of an advisor, named Haman, who, under the Persian King, Ahasuerus, planned to kill all the Jews living in the empire. It was a plan foiled by Mordechai and his cousin, Esther. How much of this tale is legend and how much is historical is unknown, though there are some historical parallels to take note of, such as the king mentioned in the Purim story, Achashverosh, and the name of a historical King of Persia, Antaxerxes, (Artakhsher in the original Persian), which places this story around the 4th century BCE. Josephus, the Jewish historian, records that there was some Persian persecution of Jews in the empire at this time. Others, who take a more critical view of the Biblical account, note that the stars of the story, Mordechai and Esther, sound rather like the Babylonian Gods, Marduk and Ishtar, and that the book was written during the Greek period, rather than the Persian period, as the description of Ahasuerus’ court is almost identical to those written in classical Greek texts.
No matter if one believes that Purim is historical fact, or historical fiction, all of us obey the decree by Mordechai “…to observe them as days of feasting and merrymaking, and as an occasion for sending gifts to one another and presents to the poor.” Purim, therefore, is a time to rejoice and celebrate with good food and company, as well as to send gifts to friends, family, and those in need. In addition to having a carnival, and making the Ashkenazic hamantaschen (“Haman’s pockets”), we also add costumes and masks to our celebrations (a 15th century Italian invention) and do Purim spiels (an 18th century Eastern European tradition).
I hope, then, to see many of you at the various celebrations happening in our community, such as the Purim Carnival at Hillel on Sunday the 25th, and our Purim Rock Shabbat service and Megillah reading on the evening of March 2nd. No matter how you celebrate Purim, – with us or at home – remember to smile, it’s Adar! Have fun and celebrate life! Celebrate once again that Jews overcame adversity and survived! Chag Sameach, a freilichen Purim!