Megillah Scroll



Purim Summary

Date14th of Adar

DurationOne Day

Source:  "Therefore they called these days Purim after the name of Pur" (Ester 9:26)

General ThemePurim commemorates the deliverance of the Jews of Persia from the destruction plotted by Haman, minister of the King Achashverosh (Ahasuerus).

The story is told in the book of Ester, which relates how lots (purim) were cast to select a day for the annihilation of the Jewish community and how the king decreed that this should be done on the 13th day of the month of Adar.  With the help and guidance of Mordechai, her uncle, the kings beautiful Jewish wife Ester intervened and the intended day of destruction was turned into a day of salvation.

Haman was hung on the gallows he had set up for Mordechai and the Jews were given free rein to wreak vengeance on their enemies.  This they did on the 13th, celebrating their deliverance on the next day.  In some places such as the capital of Shushan, fighting continued on the 14th, so that the redemption could only be celebrated on the 15th.  The tradition arose that cities which were walled at the time of Yehoshua, for instance Yerushalayim, should celebrate the festival on the 15th of Adar, as was done in Shushan.

Purim is the most joyous day in the Jewish calendar.  In the synagogue, the major part of the service consists of reading the book of Ester from a specially prepared, handwritten parchment scroll known as Megillat Ester.  The reading is preceded by a special benediction, and both men and women must listen to the Megillah recited both in the evening and the morning.  It is the custom during the reading to greet every mention of the name of Haman with much noise and shouts of disapproval.  This represents the name of Haman being blotted out forever.  The Al Hanisim prayer which contains an account of the Purim story is inserted in the Amidah and in the Birkat HaMatzon (Grace After Meals).  This prayer offers gratitude to G-d for the miraculous deliverance of our ancestors in days of old as well as in modern times.

In the morning service, there is special reading from the Scriptures of the defeat of the Amalekim by the Bnei Yisrael.  The reading is based on the tradition that Haman was a descendant of the Amaleki king, Agag.  Another part of the Purim celebration is the banquet which has become a traditional occasion for merrymaking.  Also Purim is the occasion for the sending of gifts (Mishloach Manot) to friends and the giving of tzedakah (charity) to the poor.  Purim is a most popular festival in Yisrael, especially Tel Aviv, where the festivities take the form of a three-day colorful carnival, called Adloyada.

Traditional FoodsHamantaschen - triangular pastries filled with purnes, poppy seeds, cherries, and the like are served.  The shape of these pastries is reminiscent of the three-cornered hat worn by Haman.

CustomSome Jews follow the custom of fasting on the day before Purim.  This fast, called the Fast of Ester (Taanit Ester) is in honor of Ester, who abstained from food for 3 days before petitioning King Achashverosh. 

The Scroll of Ester (Megillat Ester) is publicly chanted aloud in both the evening and the morning.  At these services, people are encouraged to masquerade in costume and use noisemakers (called greggars or raashanim in Hebrew) to drown out the name of Haman each time his name is read. 

Many synagogues and Jewish Community Centers hold Purim carnivals for participants to enjoy eating festive food, costumes, and playing carnival games.

A festive Purim meal (called the Purim seudah) is customarily served.  This meal affords family members, relatives, and friends the opportunity to be together on a joyous occasion.

EsterEster's Hebrew name was Hadassah and means myrtle, an evergreen tree that produces leaves of a sweet fragrance.  They myrtle tree is used in many ceremonies, Chag Sukkot (Festival of Booths); also as a substitute for incense during Havdalah when incense was no longer used.  Myrtle was used at the marriage ceremony.  Myrtle and palm would deck the home; the groom would wear a garland or crown made with myrtle, and during funerals myrtle was spread over the dead.

An ancient Jewish saying is that roses and myrtles bloom in paradise, and the sanctified in heaven bear the branches of myrtle in their hands.  So, myrtle is an allusion to the resurrection and eternal life.  Myrtle also represents the sweetness of Yisrael to G-d.  In the Pesach Haggadah, myrtle typifies G-d and is often used as an illustration of the righteous of Yisrael.

The myrtle was in Zecharya's vision:

Zecharya 1:8 I saw by night, and behold, a man riding on a red horse, and it stood among the myrtle trees in the hollow; and behind him were horses; red, sorrel, and white.  9 Then I said, "My master, what are these?"  So the angel who talked with me said to me, "I will show you what they are."  10 And the man who stood among the myrtle trees answered and sad, "These are the ones whom Hashem has sent to walk to and fro throughout the earth."  11 So they answered the angel of Hashem, who stood among the myrtle trees, and said, "We have walked to and fro throughout the earth, and behold, all the earth is resting quietly."

"Myrtle trees in the hollow" typifies Yisrael in the depths of exile.  The Rabbis also taught that Hananya, Mishael and Azarya (Shadrach, Mesach, and Abedinego) were as myrtle in the fiery furnace, fragrant, righteous, and filled with life. (ibid.)

MordechaiMordechai, who adopted Ester, was a very important figure during this time. 

Ester 2:19 When virgins were gathered together a second time, Mordechai sat within the king's gate.

"Sat within the king's gate" is an expression associated with being stationed, as in service at the gate.  This gate within the palace buildings indicates that Mordechai possibly had the duty of providing protection to the inhabitants of the palace and to the king.  It is very possible that Mordechai served as an official of the body guard staff.

HamanHaman, described as an Agagi, descended from the family of Agag.  And this evil man would never had been born if king Shaul, son of Kish, would have obeyed what G-d told him to do:

1Shmuel 15:2 Thus says Hashem Master of Legions: 'I will punish what Amalek did to Yisrael, how he laid wait for him on the way when he came up rom Egypt.  3 Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them.  But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.

1Shmuel 15:7 And Shaul attacked the Amalekim, from Chavilah all the way to Shur, which is east of Egypt.  8 He also took Agag king of the Amalekim alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword.  9 But Shaul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them.  But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.

This allowed king Agag time to sire more children and keep the line of the Agagim, the enemies of Yisrael, alive.

Name of Haman Blotted OutThere are many symbolic ways that is used to blot out the name of Haman.  Each time the name Haman is mentioned during the reading of the Megillat Ester many, having previously written this name on the bottom of their shoes, will stomp the floor, booing and shouting.  Many have noisemakers (greggers).  The idea is to make enough noise to drown out the name of Hman each time it is mentioned.

When the Bnei Yisrael came out of Egypt and were in the Wilderness journeying to receive the Torah a Har Sinai, they were attacked by Amalek:

Shemot 17:8 Then came Amalek, and fought with Yisrael in Refidim.

"Then came Amalek."  Why is the word "then" used to begin this sentence?  You would think it would had started as "Amalek came and fought with Yisrael in Refidim."

To find the answer we need to look at the word Refidim, which is from a Hebrew root word that means "to be slack or remiss."  Yisrael had been striving with G-d and questioning, "Is Hashem among us or not?"  The Rabbis stated that it is this lack of faith in G-d, Who had recently brought them out from Egypt, destroyed their enemies in the Reed Sea, that allowed Amalek to attack he.

After Amalek attacks and he and his army are defeated Hashem says: 

Shemot 17:14 Then Hashem said to Moshe, "Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Yehoshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven."

"Zikkaron" is the Hebrew word for "memorial or remembrance" and the Jewish custom is that during the reading of the Megillah that the name of Haman is to be blotted out with shouts, and using noisemakers whenever his name is read.  There is also the custom to write his name on the sole of one's shoe and stomp on his name when it is mentioned.

LotsThe word "Pur" is related to the Hebrew word "porer" which means to dismantle, break, destroy, break into crumbs.  The word "hefir", derived from the verb "pur", has the meaning of cancellation, cessation, breaking of something permanent, such as violating an alliance, breaking a marriage, breaking a strike.

The earliest meaning of the word "pur" is small fragments of stones or pottery.  This very ancient use of the word has it source in an ancient custom of drawing lots by throwing small stones, or stone splinters, into an urn.  In the Book of Yehoshua, Chapter 18, it was discovered that Achan had violated the "herem" on Yericho only after lots were drawn on all the people, first by tribes and then within the tribe, by families.

Megillat Ester BlessingBefore reading the Megillah, the reader recites the following three blessings:

Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His mitzvot and has commanded us regarding the reading of the Megillah. Amein.

Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who has wrought miracles for our forefathers, in those days at this season. Amein.

Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season. Amein.

Al Hanisim for Purim: 

In the days of Mordechai and Ester, in Shushan, the capital, when Haman, the wicked, rose up against them and sought to destroy, to slay, and to exterminate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women, on the same day, on the 13th of the 12th month which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their possessions.  But You, in Your abundant mercy, nullified his counsel and frustrated his intention and caused his design to return upon his own head and they hanged him and his sons on the gallows.