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Celebrating Purim 5778 (2018)

The Jewish holiday of Purim is celebrated every year on the 14th day of the month of Adar on the Hebrew calendar and it is a very joyous celebration of victory for the Jews over their enemies. On our Western calendar, this year Purim falls on February 28th (starting at sundown) and ends on March 1th (at nightfall). Here is a brief description of Purim from Wikipedia.com:

Purim (Hebrew: פּוּרִים) is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire where a plot had been formed to destroy them. The story is recorded in the Book of Esther (Megillat Ester מגילת אסתר in Hebrew).

According to the Book of Esther, Haman, royal vizier to King Ahasuerus (presumed to be Xerxes I of Persia) planned to kill all the Jews in the empire, but his plans were foiled by Mordecai and his adopted daughter Esther who had risen to become Queen of Persia. The day of deliverance became a day of feasting and rejoicing. (Quote source here.)

The entire story can be read in the Book of Esther in the Old Testament. Wikipedia.com provides this plot summary at this link:

Ahasuerus, ruler of a massive Persian empire, holds a lavish party, initially for his court and dignitaries and afterwards for all inhabitants of the capital city Shushan. Ahasuerus orders the queen Vashti to display her beauty before the guests. She refuses. Worried all women will learn from this, Ahasuerus removes her as queen and has a royal decree sent across the empire that men should be the ruler of their households and should speak their own native tongue. Ahasuerus then orders all beautiful young girls to be presented to him, so he can choose a new queen to replace Vashti. One of these is the orphan Esther, whose Jewish name is Hadassah. After the death of her parents, she is being fostered by her cousin MordecaiShe finds favor in the king’s eyes, and is made his new queen. Esther does not reveal that she is Jewish. Shortly afterwards, Mordecai discovers a plot by courtiers Bigthan and Teresh to assassinate Ahasuerus. The conspirators are apprehended and hanged, and Mordecai’s service to the king is recorded.

Ahasuerus appoints Haman as his prime minister. Mordecai, who sits at the palace gates, falls into Haman’s disfavor as he refuses to bow down to him. Having found out that Mordecai is Jewish, Haman plans to kill not just Mordecai but all the Jews in the empire. He obtains Ahasuerus’ permission to execute this plan, against payment of ten thousand talents of silver (which the King declines to accept and rather allows him to execute his plan on principle), and he casts lots to choose the date on which to do this—the thirteenth of the month of Adar. On that day, everyone in the empire is free to massacre the Jews and despoil their property. When Mordecai finds out about the plans he and all Jews mourn and fast. Mordecai informs Esther what has happened and tells her to intercede with the King. She is afraid to break the law and go to the King unsummoned. This action would incur the death penalty. Mordecai tells her that she must. She orders Mordecai to have all Jews fast for three days together with her, and on the third day she goes to Ahasuerus, who stretches out his sceptre to her which shows that she is not to be punished. She invites him to a feast in the company of Haman. During the feast, she asks them to attend a further feast the next evening. Meanwhile, Haman is again offended by Mordecai and consults with his friends. At his wife’s suggestion, he builds a gallows for Mordecai.

That night, Ahasuerus suffers from insomnia, and when the court records are read to him to help him sleep, he learns of the services rendered by Mordecai in the previous plot against his life. Ahasuerus is told that Mordecai has not received any recognition for saving the king’s life. Just then, Haman appears, to ask the King to hang Mordecai, but before he can make this request, King Ahasuerus asks Haman what should be done for the man that the king wishes to honor. Thinking that the man that the king is referring to is himself, Haman says that the man should be dressed in the king’s royal robes and led around on the king’s royal horse, while a herald calls: “See how the king honours a man he wishes to reward!” To his horror and surprise, the king instructs Haman to do so to Mordecai. After leading Mordecai’s parade, he returns in mourning to his wife and friends, who suggest his downfall has begun.

Immediately after, Ahasuerus and Haman attend Esther’s second banquet, at which she reveals that she is Jewish and that Haman is planning to exterminate her people, including her. Overcome by rage, Ahasuerus leaves the room; meanwhile Haman stays behind and begs Esther for his life, falling upon her in desperation. The king comes back in at this moment and thinks Haman is assaulting the queen; this makes him angrier than before and he orders Haman hanged on the gallows that Haman had prepared for Mordecai. The previous decree against the Jews cannot be annulled, but the king allows the Jews to defend themselves during attacks. As a result, on 13 Adar, 500 attackers and Haman’s ten sons are killed in Shushan, followed by a Jewish slaughter of 75,000 Persians, although they took no plunder. Esther sends a letter instituting an annual commemoration of the Jewish people’s redemption, in a holiday called Purim (lots). Ahasuerus remains very powerful and continues reigning, with Mordecai assuming a prominent position in his court (quote source here).

The story of Esther is truly one of the most inspiring stories in the Old Testament, and while the name of God is not mentioned in the Book of Esther, God is all over every page and circumstance that happens in this book. It is about a courageous young Jewish woman and her relative, Mordecai, whose faith and courage remained unwavering in the midst of a plot to destroy all of the Jewish people in Persia. And the plot was not only foiled, but the man behind the plot fell victim to the very plans that he laid out for the destruction of Mordecai.

The day before Purim begins is known as The Fast of Esther.” In an article titled, The Fast of Esther: What, Why, and How,” published on Chabad.org states the following regarding this fast:

The Fast of Esther is a dawn-to-nightfall fast held on the day before the jolly holiday of Purim. It commemorates the fasting of our ancestors in response to the dramatic chain of events that occurred during their exile in the Persian empire. These events are recorded in the Book of Esther, and the salvation that came about at that time is celebrated on the holiday of Purim. (Click here to find out what times the Fast of Esther starts and ends in your location.)

This year the Fast of Esther is held on February 28, and Purim is celebrated from the evening of February 28 through March 1 (March 1-2 in Jerusalem). While the fast is generally celebrated on the day before Purim, when Purim is on Sunday, the fast is moved from Shabbat to the preceding Thursday.

The Fast of Esther, or Ta’anit Esther, is not one of the four public fasts that was ordained by the prophets. Consequently, we are more lenient in its observance, particularly when it comes to pregnant women, nursing mothers and others who are weak.

Click here for basic fast-day information.

Fasting is associated with some pivotal moments in the Purim narrative. One such moment is when Esther approached King Ahasuerus without permission in an effort to intercede on behalf of the Jewish people. Before she went to the king, she fasted for three days, and asked that all the Jews fast as well.

Another dramatic turnaround occurred on Adar 13 (the default date for the Fast of Esther), the date that Haman had set aside for killing the Jews. Instead the Jewish people soundly trounced their enemies. This triumph was accomplished while the Jews were fasting, as they prayed to G‑d that they be successful.

Click here for more on why this fast is named for Esther. (Quote source and more information is available on Chabad.org at this link.)

Regarding the actual celebration of Purim, in a March 2017 article titled, 5 Thing to Know About Purim–The Most Fun Jewish Holiday,” by Constance Gibbs, Features Writer at NYDailyNews.com, she writes:

Purim is one of the most fun holidays celebrated by the Jewish people, but is often under recognized.

Purim (held on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar — usually March or April) commemorates the day Esther, Queen of Persia, saved the Jewish people from execution by Haman, the advisor to the Persian king. Esther bravely exposed her previously hidden Jewish heritage to her husband the king and asked him to save her people, which he did.

A little bit of Mardi Gras, Easter, and Halloween all rolled into one, these are some of the traditions that make the holiday so fun.

There’s lots of food and drink

Many Jewish holidays incorporate stricter rules, which could include mandatory fasting, but Purim is much more relaxed. There is only a minor fast the day before Purim, which commemorates the three days Esther fasted before approaching the king. Then, the holiday itself is known for a party atmosphere, with big feasts where you can eat and get drunk (within reason, but it is encouraged).

There’s Hamantaschen

Speaking of food, one of the best treats for Purim are hamantaschen: triangle-shaped cookie pastries with fruit or savory filling. The treat is said to look like Haman’s tri-cornered hat or his ears (“oznei Haman” in Hebrew). Sweet hamantaschen are most popular, with poppy seed, chocolate, date, apricot, or apple filling, but some bakeries (like Bread’s Bakery) are getting into savory fillings, like eggplant, mushroom, or different meats and cheeses.

There’s fun heckling

During the synagogue service, the “megillah,” or scroll, of Esther is read aloud, telling the story of Esther and Haman. Because the book says Haman’s name was “blotted out,” everyone in the synagogue stamps their feet, yells, and heckles using “graggers” (ratchet noisemakers) all 54 times his name is read in the story.

There are baskets of candy

A Purim tradition is to send out baskets of food and drink (“shalach manot”/”mishloach manot”) to family and to the poor. They look kind of like Easter baskets because they are to be filled with food that is ready to eat — pastries, wine, candy, chips, and other snack foods certainly count.

There are carnivals

On Purim, there are often carnivals, with revelers dressing up, dancing and having parades. Kids have tons of fun at these events, doing crafts, making Purim baskets, playing games and making noise-makers. Carnival attendees enjoy showing off their costumes; anything from Biblical characters like Moses or Esther and Haman to more traditionally secular costumes like you’d see at Halloween (and maybe even a few hamantaschen) are worn. (Quote source here.)

In a second article published literally two hours ago titled, Purim 2008: Five Things You Didn’t Know About the Jewish Holiday (It Known as the Jewish Mardi Gras),” by Kashmira Gander, Lifestyle Writer at TheIndependent.com, she adds the following information (some of which has been mentioned above):

Jewish people across the world are gathering today to mark the end of Purim, which celebrates an attempt by an ancient Persian King to wipe out the Jewish population 2,500 years ago.

Here are five things you may not have known about the colourful festival.

It celebrates the bravery of a young woman called Esther

The story follows Esther, who was chosen to be the wife and Queen of King Ahasuerus (believed to be Xerxes I) of Persia.

When the King’s adviser, Haman, persuades him to kill all the Jews in the empire, Queen Esther’s cousin and adopted father, Mordecai, calls on her to use her influence to stop the bloody plan.

The tale is told in the Book of Esther, known as the Megillah, and ends with Haman’s hanging and the Jewish people being saved.

Purim is celebrated on the 14th and 15th days of Adar, the twelfth month of the Jewish Calendar which usually coincides with March.

Making a racket at the synagogue is encouraged

As part of celebrations, Jewish people gather at the synagogue where the story of Esther is recited and the atmosphere is rowdy.

While it is read, listeners are encouraged to use noisemakers called graggers and to boo, hiss and stamp their feet when Haman’s name is mentioned in an attempt to drown it out.

Some congregations also shout “Long live Mordecai, cursed be Haman, blessed be Esther” or “May the name of the wicked rot!”

It’s known as Jewish Mardi Gras

Purim has a carnival-like atmosphere, with people either wearing their best Sabbath clothing or fancy dress – with King Xerxes, Vashti, Queen Esther, Mordecai and Haman among the most popular costumes.

Rabbi Gadi Levy, director of adult education at Portland Kollel in the US state of Oregon, told the Oregonian newspaper that the costumes symbolise how God is hidden in all our lives.

“Throughout the year we wear a mask,“ Levy said.

“Our facial expressions cover who we really are, our society covers who we really are. On Purim we’re trying to break that. You put on the mask and the inner self is able to explode,” he explained.

Observers also perform plays and parodies of Esther’s story, hold costume contests, and give money to the poor.

Purim means…

The term itself refers to the lottery system that Haman used to decide that the massacre would be on, which fell on the 14th day of Adar.

On a leap year, when there are two months of Adar, Purim is celebrated in the second month of Adar, so it always falls one month before Passover.

Food eaten

On the eve of Purim, Jews do not eat or drink from dawn until dusk to remember Esther’s three-day fast in preparation to meet the King.

However, during the festival friends give each other foods and a feast known as the Purim se’udah is held. Adults are obliged to drink until they do not “know the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai’”.

While there is no set main meal, triangular biscuits called hamantaschen – which translated to Haman’s pockets – filled with fruit marmalade or poppy seeds are served to observers.

In Israel, Purim baskets containing an assortment of sweets, cookies, bagels, wine, nuts and fruit are sold. (Quote source here.)

I hope this information has sufficiently put you in the mood to enjoy a fun Purim celebration this year! And if you need more, just listen to the YouTube video below to put you in a festive mood! I’ll end this post with the words from Esther 9:28: These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never fail to be celebrated by the Jews . . . 

Nor should the memory . . .

Of these days die out . . .

Among their descendants . . . .

YouTube Video: “Happy Purim” video to “Happy” by Pharrell Williams:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here
Photo #4 credit here
Photo #5 credit here

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Celebrating Purim 5775 (2015)

Purim-Theme1Lg-840x270

Today, March 5, 2015, is the celebration of the Jewish holiday of Purim. The following blog post below was written a year ago on Purim 2014. The only changes that has been made in it from last year’s post is the updating of the date for Purim on our Western Calendar for 2015, and a new YouTube Video, Purim Song,” at the end of the post.

Celebrating Purim

Originally posted on March 12, 2014 (date changed to reflect date for 2015)

happy purimThe Jewish holiday of Purim is celebrated every year on the 14th day of the month of Adar on the Hebrew calendar and it is a celebration of victory for the Jews over their enemies. On our Western calendar, this year it started at sundown yesterday (March 4th) and ends this evening at nightfall March 5th. Here is a brief description of Purim from Wikipedia.com:

Purim (Hebrew: פּוּרִים) is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire where a plot had been formed to destroy them. The story is recorded in the Book of Esther (Megillat Ester מגילת אסתר in Hebrew).

According to the Book of Esther, Haman, royal vizier to King Ahasuerus (presumed to be Xerxes I of Persia) planned to kill all the Jews in the empire, but his plans were foiled by Mordecai and his adopted daughter Esther who had risen to become Queen of Persia. The day of deliverance became a day of feasting and rejoicing (quote source here).

The entire story can be read in the Biblical Book of Esther in the Old Testament. Wikipedia.com provides this plot summary at this link:

Ahasuerus, ruler of a massive Persian empire, holds a lavish party, initially for his court and dignitaries and afterwards for all inhabitants of the capital city Shushan. Ahasuerus orders the queen Vashti to display her beauty before the guests. She refuses. Worried all women will learn from this, Ahasuerus removes her as queen and has a royal decree sent across the empire that men should be the ruler of their households and should speak their own native tongue. Ahasuerus then orders all beautiful young girls to be presented to him, so he can choose a new queen to replace Vashti. One of these is the orphan Esther, whose Jewish name is Hadassah. After the death of her parents, she is being fostered by her cousin Mordecai. She finds favor in the king’s eyes, and is made his new queen. Esther does not reveal that she is Jewish. Shortly afterwards, Mordecai discovers a plot by courtierBigthan and Teresh to assassinate Ahasuerus. The conspirators are apprehended and hanged, and Mordecai’s service to the king is recorded.

Ahasuerus appoints Haman as his prime minister. Mordecai, who sits at the palace gates, falls into Haman’s disfavor as he refuses to bow down to him. Having found out that Mordecai is Jewish, Haman plans to kill not just Mordecai but all the Jews in the empire. He obtains Ahasuerus’ permission to execute this plan, against payment of ten thousand talents of silver (which the King declines to accept and rather allows him to execute his plan on principle), and he casts lots to choose the date on which to do this—the thirteenth of the month of Adar. On that day, everyone in the empire is free to massacre the Jews and despoil their property. When Mordecai finds out about the plans he and all Jews mourn and fast. Mordecai informs Esther what has happened and tells her to intercede with the King. She is afraid to break the law and go to the King unsummoned. This action would incur the death penalty. Mordecai tells her that she must. She orders Mordecai to have all Jews fast for three days together with her, and on the third day she goes to Ahasuerus, who stretches out his sceptre to her which shows that she is not to be punished. She invites him to a feast in the company of Haman. During the feast, she asks them to attend a further feast the next evening. Meanwhile, Haman is again offended by Mordecai and consults with his friends. At his wife’s suggestion, he builds a gallows for Mordecai.

That night, Ahasuerus suffers from insomnia, and when the court records are read to him to help him sleep, he learns of the services rendered by Mordecai in the previous plot against his life. Ahasuerus is told that Mordecai has not received any recognition for saving the king’s life. Just then, Haman appears, to ask the King to hang Mordecai, but before he can make this request, King Ahasuerus asks Haman what should be done for the man that the king wishes to honor. Thinking that the man that the king is referring to is himself, Haman says that the man should be dressed in the king’s royal robes and led around on the king’s royal horse, while a herald calls: “See how the king honours a man he wishes to reward!” To his horror and surprise, the king instructs Haman to do so to Mordecai. After leading Mordecai’s parade, he returns in mourning to his wife and friends, who suggest his downfall has begun.

Immediately after, Ahasuerus and Haman attend Esther’s second banquet, at which she reveals that she is Jewish and that Haman is planning to exterminate her people, including her. Overcome by rage, Ahasuerus leaves the room; meanwhile Haman stays behind and begs Esther for his life, falling upon her in desperation. The king comes back in at this moment and thinks Haman is assaulting the queen; this makes him angrier than before and he orders Haman hanged on the gallows that Haman had prepared for Mordecai. The previous decree against the Jews cannot be annulled, but the king allows the Jews to defend themselves during attacks. As a result, on 13 Adar, 500 attackers and Haman’s ten sons are killed in Shushan, followed by a Jewish slaughter of 75,000 Persians, although they took no plunder. Esther sends a letter instituting an annual commemoration of the Jewish people’s redemption, in a holiday called Purim (lots). Ahasuerus remains very powerful and continues reigning, with Mordecai assuming a prominent position in his court (quote source here).

The story of Esther is truly one of the most inspiring stories in the Old Testament, and while the name of God is not mentioned in the Book of Esther, God is all over every page and circumstance that happens in this book. It is about a courageous young Jewish woman and her relative, Mordecai, whose faith and courage remained unwavering in the midst of a plot to destroy all of the Jewish people in Persia. And the plot was not only foiled, but the man behind the plot fell victim to the very plans that he laid out for the destruction of Mordecai.

Faith has nothing to do with how we look on Sunday morning or who we know at church or in the community-at-large. It is a total dependence on God in the midst of circumstances we cannot control. It is not looking out to the larger world to find answers, but relying on God to supply them as they are needed. It is a laying down of any personal agendas; indeed, of one’s own pride and self-sufficiency, and humbly submitting our lives to the will of God. Without this, faith is meaningless. It becomes nothing more than depending on our own resources or people we know to get us out of our trials and circumstances.

True faith leaves the circumstances and the results up to God. True faith doesn’t try to manipulate; it doesn’t fabricate; it doesn’t deceive others to get our own way. In fact, true faith isn’t about us and what we want; it’s about God and how He is working in this world of ours. And it’s about giving Him total control of the situation and following His lead and not one of our own making.

Far too often we view faith as something we want to manipulate in our own small world, yet God is at work in the entire world weaving a large and dynamic story of the history of humankind, and each of us has a role in it. It’s not about selfishly seeking for our own gain, but living daily under God’s control so that His will is accomplished through us. Second Peter 3:8-9 summarized God’s mission on this earth:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

If we take seriously the stories in the Old and New Testaments, God is not into giving us everything we want in this life so that we can have “the good life.” That is an American ideal that has no basis in Scripture. Whether as Kings or paupers, Biblical characters from Abraham, Moses, Esther, Job, David, Solomon, the Prophets, John the Baptist, Mary and Joseph, Jesus Christ (the Son of God), Nicodemus, the Disciples, Paul (and the list goes on and on), the one thing they all had in common was total submission to God and His will, not their own will. They weren’t always perfect at it but God looks at the heart attitude. And a selfish and self-centered heart attitude doesn’t know God, nor does it care about His will.

God’s will is done in each and every one of our lives on this planet of ours, make no mistake about that. Whether we acknowledge Him or not, He is still in ultimate control. Whether we submit to that control determines which way our lives will go–either self-serving or serving God. In the story of Esther, there came a point when she was Queen where she had to make a choice, and it was clear that even if she didn’t make the right choice, God would still find someone else to bring about the redemption needed to save the Jews at that time. When the plot by Haman became known throughout Persia to kill all the Jews, Mordecai sent this message to Esther (Esther 4:13-14):

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?

We make choices daily that indicate who we really serve–God or ourselves. It shows in the way we treat others, including those we don’t like or view as our enemies. It shows in how we spend our time and our money, and what is truly important to us (e.g., status, careers, money, possessions, etc.) Every decision we make is either self-center or God-centered. We live in a society that is constantly telling us to put the focus on ourselves and what we want, and that attitude has invaded the Church-at-large. And if we are focusing on what we want all the time, we will eventually drown out the voice of God in our lives as to what He wants us to do, and He will look elsewhere to accomplish His will, just as Mordecai stated to Esther.

Esther chose right because she had a heart for God and for her people, the Jews. She wasn’t focused on being Queen, but on being God’s servant in the role He had given to her. How much do we miss today because we focus on ourselves and what we want more than we focus on truly getting to know God and what He wants? Mostly likely far too often.

The celebration of Purim stands as a monument to us down through the ages as to what one person can accomplish who is truly sold out to God and His will. Through her obedience to God, Esther’s actions saved her people, the Jews living in Persia, from total destruction.

Our challenge today is to take our eyes off of everything our society offers to us and what we want, and to spend time understanding what God would have us to do in this world of ours. We never know what circumstances might be coming our way–for example, I never dreamed I’d spend five years late in life unemployed through no fault of my own. Yet if that had not happened, my life would have still been focused on me trying to find “my best life now” and asking God to bless it instead of getting to know God through Jesus Christ and what He would have me do with my life in serving Him.

While most of us may not ever have to make a decision on the scale of Esther’s, we have no idea what the impact on others might be even in the smallest decisions we make if they are God-focused and not self-focused. God’s focus is on the redemption of humankind. And that should be our focus, too.

I challenge all of us to take some time in the next few days to consider the story of Esther and how it applies to our own life, even in the small decisions we make. Are our lives God-focused or self-focused?

Now is the time . . .

Before it’s too late . . .

Don’t wait . . . .

YouTube Video: “Purim Song” by the Maccabeats:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Celebrating Purim 2014

happy purimThe Jewish holiday of Purim is celebrated every year on the 14th day of the month of Adar on the Hebrew calendar and it is a celebration of victory for the Jews over their enemies. On our Western calendar, this year it falls on March 15th (starting at sundown) and ends on March 16th (at nightfall). Here is a brief description of Purim from Wikipedia.com:

Purim (Hebrew: פּוּרִים) is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire where a plot had been formed to destroy them. The story is recorded in the Book of Esther (Megillat Ester מגילת אסתר in Hebrew).

According to the Book of Esther, Haman, royal vizier to King Ahasuerus (presumed to be Xerxes I of Persia) planned to kill all the Jews in the empire, but his plans were foiled by Mordecai and his adopted daughter Esther who had risen to become Queen of Persia. The day of deliverance became a day of feasting and rejoicing (quote source here).

The entire story can be read in the Biblical Book of Esther in the Old Testament. Wikipedia.com provides this plot summary at this link:

Ahasuerus, ruler of a massive Persian empire, holds a lavish party, initially for his court and dignitaries and afterwards for all inhabitants of the capital city Shushan. Ahasuerus orders the queen Vashti to display her beauty before the guests. She refuses. Worried all women will learn from this, Ahasuerus removes her as queen and has a royal decree sent across the empire that men should be the ruler of their households and should speak their own native tongue. Ahasuerus then orders all beautiful young girls to be presented to him, so he can choose a new queen to replace Vashti. One of these is the orphan Esther, whose Jewish name is Hadassah. After the death of her parents, she is being fostered by her cousin Mordecai. She finds favor in the king’s eyes, and is made his new queen. Esther does not reveal that she is Jewish. Shortly afterwards, Mordecai discovers a plot by courtiers Bigthan and Teresh to assassinate Ahasuerus. The conspirators are apprehended and hanged, and Mordecai’s service to the king is recorded.

Ahasuerus appoints Haman as his prime minister. Mordecai, who sits at the palace gates, falls into Haman’s disfavor as he refuses to bow down to him. Having found out that Mordecai is Jewish, Haman plans to kill not just Mordecai but all the Jews in the empire. He obtains Ahasuerus’ permission to execute this plan, against payment of ten thousand talents of silver (which the King declines to accept and rather allows him to execute his plan on principle), and he casts lots to choose the date on which to do this—the thirteenth of the month of Adar. On that day, everyone in the empire is free to massacre the Jews and despoil their property. When Mordecai finds out about the plans he and all Jews mourn and fast. Mordecai informs Esther what has happened and tells her to intercede with the King. She is afraid to break the law and go to the King unsummoned. This action would incur the death penalty. Mordecai tells her that she must. She orders Mordecai to have all Jews fast for three days together with her, and on the third day she goes to Ahasuerus, who stretches out his sceptre to her which shows that she is not to be punished. She invites him to a feast in the company of Haman. During the feast, she asks them to attend a further feast the next evening. Meanwhile, Haman is again offended by Mordecai and consults with his friends. At his wife’s suggestion, he builds a gallows for Mordecai.

That night, Ahasuerus suffers from insomnia, and when the court records are read to him to help him sleep, he learns of the services rendered by Mordecai in the previous plot against his life. Ahasuerus is told that Mordecai has not received any recognition for saving the king’s life. Just then, Haman appears, to ask the King to hang Mordecai, but before he can make this request, King Ahasuerus asks Haman what should be done for the man that the king wishes to honor. Thinking that the man that the king is referring to is himself, Haman says that the man should be dressed in the king’s royal robes and led around on the king’s royal horse, while a herald calls: “See how the king honours a man he wishes to reward!” To his horror and surprise, the king instructs Haman to do so to Mordecai. After leading Mordecai’s parade, he returns in mourning to his wife and friends, who suggest his downfall has begun.

Immediately after, Ahasuerus and Haman attend Esther’s second banquet, at which she reveals that she is Jewish and that Haman is planning to exterminate her people, including her. Overcome by rage, Ahasuerus leaves the room; meanwhile Haman stays behind and begs Esther for his life, falling upon her in desperation. The king comes back in at this moment and thinks Haman is assaulting the queen; this makes him angrier than before and he orders Haman hanged on the gallows that Haman had prepared for Mordecai. The previous decree against the Jews cannot be annulled, but the king allows the Jews to defend themselves during attacks. As a result, on 13 Adar, 500 attackers and Haman’s ten sons are killed in Shushan, followed by a Jewish slaughter of 75,000 Persians, although they took no plunder. Esther sends a letter instituting an annual commemoration of the Jewish people’s redemption, in a holiday called Purim (lots). Ahasuerus remains very powerful and continues reigning, with Mordecai assuming a prominent position in his court (quote source here).

The story of Esther is truly one of the most inspiring stories in the Old Testament, and while the name of God is not mentioned in the Book of Esther, God is all over every page and circumstance that happens in this book. It is about a courageous young Jewish woman and her relative, Mordecai, whose faith and courage remained unwavering in the midst of a plot to destroy all of the Jewish people in Persia. And the plot was not only foiled, but the man behind the plot fell victim to the very plans that he laid out for the destruction of Mordecai.

For such a time as thisFaith has nothing to do with how we look on Sunday morning or who we know at church or in the community-at-large. It is a total dependence on God in the midst of circumstances we cannot control. It is not looking out to the larger world to find answers, but relying on God to supply them as they are needed. It is a laying down of any personal agendas; indeed, of one’s own pride and self-sufficiency, and humbly submitting our lives to the will of God. Without this, faith is meaningless. It becomes nothing more than depending on our own resources or people we know to get us out of our trials and circumstances.

True faith leaves the circumstances and the results up to God. True faith doesn’t try to manipulate; it doesn’t fabricate; it doesn’t deceive others to get our own way. In fact, true faith isn’t about us and what we want; it’s about God and how He is working in this world of ours. And it’s about giving Him total control of the situation and following His lead and not one of our own making.

Far too often we view faith as something we want to manipulate in our own small world, yet God is at work in the entire world weaving a large and dynamic story of the history of humankind, and each of us has a role in it. It’s not about selfishly seeking for our own gain, but living daily under God’s control so that His will is accomplished through us. Second Peter 3:8-9 summarized God’s mission on this earth:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

If we take seriously the stories in the Old and New Testaments, God is not into giving us everything we want in this life so that we can have “the good life.” That is an American ideal that has no basis in Scripture. Whether as Kings or paupers, Biblical characters from Abraham, Moses, Esther, Job, David, Solomon, the Prophets, John the Baptist, Mary and Joseph, Jesus Christ (the Son of God), Nicodemus, the Disciples, Paul (and the list goes on and on), the one thing they all had in common was total submission to God and His will, not their own will. They weren’t always perfect at it but God looks at the heart attitude. And a selfish and self-centered heart attitude doesn’t know God, nor does it care about His will.

God’s will is done in each and every one of our lives on this planet of ours, make no mistake about that. Whether we acknowledge Him or not, He is still in ultimate control. Whether we submit to that control determines which way our lives will go–either self-serving or serving God. In the story of Esther, there came a point when she was Queen where she had to make a choice, and it was clear that even if she didn’t make the right choice, God would still find someone else to bring about the redemption needed to save the Jews at that time. When the plot by Haman became known throughout Persia to kill all the Jews, Mordecai sent this message to Esther (Esther 4:13-14):

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?

We make choices daily that indicate who we really serve–God or ourselves. It shows in the way we treat others, including those we don’t like or view as our enemies. It shows in how we spend our time and our money, and what is truly important to us (e.g., status, careers, money, possessions, etc.) Every decision we make is either self-center or God-centered. We live in a society that is constantly telling us to put the focus on ourselves and what we want, and that attitude has invaded the Church-at-large. And if we are focusing on what we want all the time, we will eventually drown out the voice of God in our lives as to what He wants us to do, and He will look elsewhere to accomplish His will, just as Mordecai stated to Esther.

Esther chose right because she had a heart for God and for her people, the Jews. She wasn’t focused on being Queen, but on being God’s servant in the role He had given to her. How much do we miss today because we focus on ourselves and what we want more than we focus on truly getting to know God and what He wants? Mostly likely far too often.

The celebration of Purim stands as a monument to us down through the ages as to what one person can accomplish who is truly sold out to God and His will. Through her obedience to God, Esther’s actions saved her people, the Jews living in Persia, from total destruction.

Our challenge today is to take our eyes off of everything our society offers to us and what we want, and to spend time understanding what God would have us to do in this world of ours. We never know what circumstances might be coming our way–for example, I never dreamed I’d spend five years late in life unemployed through no fault of my own. Yet if that had not happened, my life would have still been focused on me trying to find “my best life now” and asking God to bless it instead of getting to know God through Jesus Christ and what He would have me do with my life in serving Him.

While most of us may not ever have to make a decision on the scale of Esther’s, we have no idea what the impact on others might be even in the smallest decisions we make if they are God-focused and not self-focused. God’s focus is on the redemption of humankind. And that should be our focus, too.

I challenge all of us to take some time in the next few days to consider the story of Esther and how it applies to our own life, even in the small decisions we make. Are our lives God-focused or self-focused?

Now is the time . . .

Before it’s too late . . .

Don’t wait . . . .

YouTube Video: “High and Lifted Up” sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A Month of Happiness

"My Cup Runneth Over"Artist: Yitzchok Moully

“My Cup Runneth Over”
Artist: Yitzchok Moully

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 AdarAdar 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.

All days on the Jewish calendar start and end at sundownAnd as I am looking out my window right at this moment it is now sundown on February 11, 2013 . . . so let a month of happiness” begin!!!

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).

Esther urged all of the Jews to fast and pray for deliverance. Then risking her own life, brave young Esther approached the king with a plan of her own.

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.”

joy to the worldIsn’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.

Why?

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):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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