1) When the day arrived on which the order decreed by
the king was to be carried out, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, Adar,
on which the enemies of the Jews had expected to overpower them, the situation
was reversed: the Jews overpowered those who hated them.
central theme of Esther is reversals of fortune, with the tide eventually
shifting in favor of the Jews .
2) The Jews mustered in their cities
throughout the provinces of King Ahasuerus to attack those who sought to do
them harm, and no one could withstand them, for fear of them fell upon all the
much prefer targets who don’t fight back.
3) Moreover, all the officials of the
provinces, the satraps, governors, and royal procurators supported the Jews out
of fear of Mordecai; 4)
for Mordecai was powerful in the
royal palace, and the report was spreading through all the provinces that he
was continually growing in power.
have ever been a fickle lot. They would
have just as gladly supported Haman in his day.
5) The Jews struck down all their enemies
with the sword, killing and destroying them; they did to those who hated them
as they pleased.
those who hated them” matters. They did
not start this fight. Be advised,
however, that it is all too human to project one’s own hatred onto others, and
convince oneself that an attack is really a defense.
6) In the
royal precinct of Susa, the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred people.
people liked to boast, “We killed more of you than you killed of us!” even in
sacred writings. Here’s hoping that we can
outgrow this primitive attitude.
7) They also killed Parshandatha,
Dalphon, Aspatha, 8) Poratha, Adalia,
Aridatha, 9) Parmashta, Arisai,
Aridai, and Vaizatha, 10) the ten sons of Haman, son of Hammedatha, the foe of the Jews.
However, they did not engage in plundering.
because these sons supported and encouraged their father’s violent intent. The important note on plundering, however,
means that they left Haman’s great wealth to support his family’s women and
children—and did not take them as slaves.
Specifying this imposes a crucial limit, lest self-defense turn into
vendetta, and lest the innocent be punished for mere kinship with the guilty. (The innocent always, unavoidably, suffer
from the sins of their kin—anyone who has had a loved one in jail knows this—but
one can mitigate the damage.) This
contrasts, again, with Haman’s genocidal intentions. Forbidding plunder also removes a profit
motive, which could have tempted still more violence.
11) On the same day, when the number of
those killed in the royal precinct of Susa was reported to the king, 12) he said to Queen Esther: “In the royal
precinct of Susa the Jews have killed and destroyed five hundred people, as
well as the ten sons of Haman. What must they have done in the other royal
provinces! You shall again be granted whatever you ask, and whatever you
request shall be honored.”
I detect a bit of tension in this report?
Ahasuerus seems to realize that his helpless little kitten has grown
into a lioness. Yet he respects her,
now, and again offers her whatever she asks, no longer as one indulging a lover
in frivolities, but as one conferring with a strategist.
13) So Esther said, “If it pleases your
majesty, let the Jews in Susa be permitted again tomorrow to act according to
today’s decree, and let the ten sons of Haman be impaled on stakes.”
the ancient authors had editors, this would have been put in before the report
on the deaths of Haman’s sons. Impaling
is a horrible way to die, but it’s what they wanted for Mordecai—the only real loved
one that Esther had.
14) The king then gave an order that this
be done, and the decree was published in Susa. So the ten sons of Haman were
impaled, 15) and the Jews in Susa mustered again on the fourteenth of
the month of Adar and killed three hundred people in Susa. However, they did
not engage in plundering.
the emphasis on not plundering. Here it
seems to include not just Haman’s family, but all of the families of those who
had plotted against the Jews.
16) The other Jews, who dwelt in the royal
provinces, also mustered and defended themselves, and obtained rest from their
enemies. They killed seventy-five thousand of those who hated them, but they
did not engage in plunder.
COMMENTARY: So this restraint on plundering extended
throughout the empire. Bitter as the
widows and orphans might be, they would have to concede that, by the standards
of the ancient world, their lot could have been much worse. This could have prevented retaliations when the
orphans grew up.
17) This happened on the thirteenth day of the month of
Adar. On the fourteenth of the month
they rested, and made it a day of feasting and rejoicing. 18) The Jews in Susa,
however, mustered on the thirteenth and fourteenth of the month. But on the
fifteenth they rested, and made it a day of joyful banqueting. 19) That is why the rural Jews, who dwell in villages,
celebrate the fourteenth of the month of Adar as a day of joyful banqueting, a
holiday on which they send food to one another.
an explanation for the holiday of Purim.
Although considered a holiday of secondary importance by some
communities of Jews, others regard it as at least as important as receiving the
covenant at Mt. Sinai, (some have even said more important) because on that
earlier occasion the people embraced the covenant after many miracles, way out
in the desert and away from all other influences, as a coherent people; whereas
on Purim the Jews renewed their covenant without miracles, in the midst of
their subjugation, while scattered among people of other customs.
Some Jews celebrate an additional Purim on the anniversary of whenever their
own communities were saved at the last minute from massacre, throughout
history. And on that date, instead of
reading the story of Esther, they will read the chain of events of their own
people’s deliverance. These villages and
neighborhoods have sometimes made distinct scrolls recording the events,
preserved over the centuries and brought out every year.
Two notable modern examples seem more than coincidental. Joseph Stalin had planned his own “final
solution” for the Jews of the USSR, but couldn’t put them into operation
because he died—on Purim. And when
Saddam Hussain sent SCUD missiles against Israel, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
reassured that nation that they would be delivered—and the hostilities ended on
20) Mordecai recorded these events and
sent letters to all the Jews, both near and far, in all the provinces of King
Ahasuerus. 21) He ordered them to celebrate every year both the fourteenth and the
fifteenth of the month of Adar 22) as
the days on which the Jews obtained rest from their enemies and as the month
which was turned for them from sorrow into joy, from mourning into celebration.
They were to observe these days with joyful banqueting, sending food to one
another and gifts to the poor. 23) The Jews adopted as a custom what they had begun doing and
what Mordecai had written to them.
we have mention that banqueting cannot be completely joyful without including
gifts to the poor. Jewish (and, by extension,
Christian) religious practices without generosity are empty.
Interestingly, celebration of Purim also includes costumes. The reason given is that Jews pretended to
worship other gods along with their neighbors in the days when Mordecai and
Esther took on names honoring Pagan deities, and so God pretended to be about
to destroy them. When they took off
their masks and came out as Jews, so did He take off His mask and come out as
son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the foe of all the Jews, had planned to destroy
them and had cast the pur, or lot, for the time of their defeat and
destruction. 25) Yet, when the plot
became known to the king, the king ordered in writing that the wicked plan
Haman had devised against the Jews should instead be turned against Haman and
that he and his sons should be impaled on stakes. 26) And
so these days have been named Purim after the word pur.
Thus, because of all that was contained in this
letter, and because of what they had witnessed and experienced in this event, 27) the Jews established and adopted as a
custom for themselves, their descendants, and all who should join them, the
perpetual obligation of celebrating these two days every year in the manner
prescribed by this letter, and at the time appointed. 28) These days were to be
commemorated and kept in every generation, by every clan, in every province,
and in every city. These days of Purim were never to be neglected among the
Jews, nor forgotten by their descendants.
explanation for the name of the holiday.
29) Queen Esther, daughter of Abihail, and
Mordecai the Jew, wrote to confirm with full authority this second letter about
Purim, 30) and Mordecai sent
documents concerning peace and security to all the Jews in the hundred and
twenty-seven provinces of Ahasuerus’ kingdom.
nitpicky Bible scholars seem upset about this supposedly contradicting the
earlier part about Esther and Mordecai writing a letter together, but if two
people write separate letters building the same case, that counts as
collaboration in my book.
(Interestingly, this passage shows that Esther was also literate.)
31) Thus were established, for their
appointed time, these days of Purim which Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had
designated for the Jews, just as they had previously enjoined upon themselves
and upon their descendants the duty of fasting and supplication.
and fasting traditionally precede the festivities of Purim on the day before.
32) The command of Esther confirmed these
prescriptions for Purim and was recorded in the book.
The timid girl at the start of the story has become a bold woman capable
of commanding generations for thousands of years into the future.