Wouldn’t we all love to have one whole month of happiness? I know I sure could use one right about now after searching for a job for almost four years. On the Jewish calendar, the month of Adar is just such a month. The month of Adar—Adar 1, 5773 to Adar 29, 5773–correlates to the same time frame this year on our calendar as February 11, 2013 to March 11, 2013. For more information on the Jewish calendar click here.
Okay, I can hear you asking, “What is a month of happiness?” I’m glad you asked! The month of Adar was “the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration” (Esther 9:22). The story of Esther is one of my favorite stories from the Old Testament.
There are five main characters in the Book of Esther: Xerxes (the Hebrew rendering of the name is “Ahashuerus”), who was the King of the Persian Empire; Vashti, the Queen, who at the opening of the Book of Esther was deposed when she refused to come before the King on the final day of a lavish party he threw “eager to flaunt her beauty to his guests.” When she refused, the King was “filled with anger” and “he deposed Queen Vashti, forever removing her from his presence” (quote source here). Esther (her Hebrew name was “Hadassah”), a young Jewish orphan who had an older cousin named Mordecai who raised her as his own daughter and she was described as being “lovely in form and features” (Esther 2:7). Mordecai, a Jew and Esther’s older cousin who “became a minor official in the Persian government of Susa” (quote course here); and Haman (an Agagite in the royal line of the Amalekite people which God commanded Saul to exterminate; however, he didn’t), who was the King’s highest official and described as “a wicked man. He hated the Jews and he especially hated Mordecai, who had refused to bow down to him” (quote source here). And he plotted to have all the Jews killed.
Now that you know the cast of characters, here a brief account of the story (you can read the entire account in the Bible/Old Testament in Esther 1-10). For those who are unfamiliar with the true story of Esther, the story unfolds from the time Queen Vashti was deposed and a search for a new queen began. The time frame for the events start when Esther was chosen from that search and taken to the King’s palace in 362 BC through the celebration of Purim in 356 BC, and were recorded in 355 BC which instituted the celebration of Purim for all future generations (source here). An excellent synopsis of the story has been written by Mary Fairchild at Christianity.about.com and is quoted below (source here):
To find his new queen, Xerxes hosted a royal beauty pageant and Esther was chosen for the throne. Her cousin Mordecai became a minor official in the Persian government of Susa.
Soon after, Mordecai uncovered a plot to assassinate the king. He told Esther about the conspiracy, and she reported it to Xerxes, giving credit to Mordecai. The plot was thwarted and Mordecai’s act of kindness was preserved in the chronicles of the king.
At this same time, the king’s highest official was a wicked man named Haman. He hated the Jews and he especially hated Mordecai, who had refused to bow down to him.
So, Haman devised a scheme to have every Jew in Persia killed. The king bought into the plot and agreed to annihilate the Jewish people on a specific day. Meanwhile, Mordecai learned of the plan and shared it with Esther, challenging her with these famous words:
“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14).
She invited Xerxes and Haman to a banquet where eventually she revealed her Jewish heritage to the king, as well as Haman’s diabolical plot to have her and her people killed. In a rage, the king ordered Haman to be hung on the gallows–the very same gallows Haman had built for Mordecai. (Some translations read “impaled on a pole” rather than “hung on the gallows.” In ancient Persia the precursor to Roman crucifixion was done by impaling the body and hanging it on a wooden pole or stake.)
Mordecai was promoted to Haman’s high position and Jews were granted protection throughout the land. As the people celebrated God’s tremendous deliverance, the joyous festival of Purim was instituted.
Haman’s plan to have all the Jews anniliated was decreed by Persian law and set to take place on the 13th of Adar. This decree could not be revoked even by the King; however, since Mordecai was promoted to Haman’s high position, the King told Queen Esther and Mordecai, “Now write another decree in the king’s name in behalf of the Jews as seems best to you, and seal it with the king’s signet ring—for no document written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring can be revoked” (Esther 8:8). This new edict “granted the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate any armed force of any nationality or province that might attack them and their women and children; and to plunder the property of their enemies” on the 13th of Adar (Esther 8:11).
The rest of the story is quite exciting, and is taken directly from Esther 9:1-22:
“On the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, the edict commanded by the king was to be carried out. On this day the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, but now the tables were turned and the Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them. The Jews assembled in their cities in all the provinces of King Xerxes to attack those seeking their destruction. No one could stand against them, because the people of all the other nationalities were afraid of them. And all the nobles of the provinces, the satraps, the governors and the king’s administrators helped the Jews, because fear of Mordecai had seized them. Mordecai was prominent in the palace; his reputation spread throughout the provinces, and he became more and more powerful.
“The Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and they did what they pleased to those who hated them. In the citadel of Susa, the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men. They also killed Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha, Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha, Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai and Vaizatha, the ten sons of Haman son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews. But they did not lay their hands on the plunder.
“The number of those slain in the citadel of Susa was reported to the king that same day. The king said to Queen Esther, ‘The Jews have killed and destroyed five hundred men and the ten sons of Haman in the citadel of Susa. What have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces? Now what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? It will also be granted.’
“‘If it pleases the king,’ Esther answered, ‘give the Jews in Susa permission to carry out this day’s edict tomorrow also, and let Haman’s ten sons be hanged on gallows.’
“So the king commanded that this be done. An edict was issued in Susa, and they hanged the ten sons of Haman. The Jews in Susa came together on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar, and they put to death in Susa three hundred men, but they did not lay their hands on the plunder.
“Meanwhile, the remainder of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces also assembled to protect themselves and get relief from their enemies. They killed seventy-five thousand of them but did not lay their hands on the plunder. This happened on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth they rested and made it a day of feasting and joy.
“The Jews in Susa, however, had assembled on the thirteenth and fourteenth, and then on the fifteenth they rested and made it a day of feasting and joy.
“That is why rural Jews—those living in villages—observe the fourteenth of the month of Adar as a day of joy and feasting, a day for giving presents to each other.
“Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.”
Isn’t that outcome exciting to read? The fierce enemy of the Jews, Haman, along with his ten sons, actually received the punishment Haman meant for Mordecai to receive, and the edict he issued to annihilate all of the rest of the Jews backfired in the Jews’ favor. And to this very day the Jewish people celebrate this victory every year.
This celebration is known as Purim and is celebrated in the Jewish community world-wide on the 14th day of Adar every year. “In certain cities in Israel, Purim is observed on the 15th of Adar and is known as Shushan Purim” (quote source here). So if the celebration of Purim is primarily one day in the month of Adar, why do they celebrate all month long? An article at Chabad.org titled, “A Month of Happiness” by Naftali Silberberg gives us that information:
. . . Perhaps a comprehension of the unique nature of Purim will allow us to understand why its joy extends throughout the entire month of Adar.
Haman successfully pinpointed the moment when the Jews were at their lowest point. After nearly a millennium of freedom, independence, and constant reliance on miracles, they were now banished from their land, helpless and seemingly at the mercy of the laws of nature. This was a completely new experience for the Jewish nation . . . .
“The timing has never been better,” Haman thought. “Surely the Chosen People have lost their exalted status. Now is the perfect moment to implement the Final Solution.”
Haman, however, was not yet satisfied. He needed one more sign indicating the Jews’ vulnerability. The lottery would have the final say. And indeed, the lottery provided the exact sign he anxiously awaited. The lottery designated Adar to be the month when his nefarious plan would be put into motion. The Talmud tells us that Haman was overjoyed by this favorable omen. “My lottery fell on the month when Moses died,” he exclaimed. The demise of Moses, the “head” of the Jewish nation, was surely a metaphor for the demise of the entire nation!
Haman successfully pinpointed the moment when the Jews were at their lowest point – historically as well as calendar-wise – to implement his plan… But his plan still did not succeed.
The history of our nation is very much compared to the human lifespan. Through the course of a lifetime every person undergoes drastic changes; fluctuation being the most consistent feature of life. The helpless newborn has virtually nothing in common with the independent, talented personality which will emerge years down the line. Adulthood, too, has ups and downs, happy days and depressing days, fulfilling days and seemingly wasted days. There is, however, one constant: the very identity and essence of the person. John Doe remains John Doe from the day he is born until the day he dies.
The same is true with our nation. We have ups and downs, both spiritually and materially, but our very identity, the fact that we are G-d’s chosen nation, is never affected.
It can actually be argued that, in a certain sense, our perpetual relationship with G-d is more evident when we are exiled and downtrodden due to our sins, and G-d still interferes on our behalf, as was demonstrated by the Purim miracle. This phenomenon demonstrates the durability of our relationship; the ability of our essential identity to survive no matter our external state.
All other holidays celebrate the “highs” of our nation. And therefore their joy is limited, because highs don’t last. Purim celebrates a time when we were at a low point in our history – but our relationship with G-d remained intact. Its joy is therefore greater than the joy of any other holiday, because it demonstrates the essential nature of our relationship with G-d — and that is a constant.
The month of Adar, the month which Haman understood to be the most inauspicious month for the Jews, is the happiest month of the year—the month when we bear in mind that “inauspicious” has absolutely no bearing on our relationship with G-d (article and quote source here).
The nation and people of Israel are God’s chosen people, but through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary the apostle Paul states that those of us who are Gentile (non-Jewish) and believe in Him, “though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root” (Roman 11:17).
The story of Esther is an amazing story of how God intervenes for His people in their time of need. And just like He intervened in a miraculous way back then and throughout so many accounts in the Old and New Testaments, He intervenes in the lives of His people today. As I read through this entire account the excitement I felt, not only for the Jewish people, but for all of us who have been “grafted in” exploded with an excitement I haven’t felt in quite a long time.
I don’t know about you, but I intend to celebrate the entire month of Adar along with the Jewish people. Suddenly, it makes looking for a job after almost four years seem like small potatoes compared to what God is capable of doing, and yet He knows the needs of each one of us in our particular circumstances and no need is too small for Him to take care of if we put our faith in Him and not in ourselves or our circumstances.
“A month of happiness” has just begun. Let’s start anticipating that miracle God wants to bring into our circumstances . . . .
So what are you waiting for?
YouTube Video: The following song is usually sung at Christmas but I think you will agree that it is a wonderful rendition for this particular blog post–“Joy to the World” sung by Whitney Houston in the movie, “The Preacher’s Wife” (1996):