My Jud@ism – Purim
There are three kinds of Jewish holiday.
Firstly, there’s you worked hard, so take a day off. Go drink, hang out with your family and friends… relax, man. That one happens every week.
Secondly, there’s trees are awesome! Let’s get drunk and talk about how awesome trees are!, which is what happens when you start off as a desert-based culture.
Lastly, there is in every generation, someone tries to destroy us and we’re still here… so drink to remember and drink to forget. We’re still here. We’re still here. They tried to kill us and failed, so let’s get drunk.
… no wonder our blessing for wine and mourning prayer share the same name.
Today, we celebrate one of the last sorts of Holidays, and one where my people got deliciously petty.
Welcome to Purim.
As recounted in the Book of Ester, an ancient Persian King named Ahasuerus (pronounced Ahasuerus) goes on an epic three-month long drunk and gets thoroughly smashed. During his drunk he wants his wife, Vashti, to dance and get naked for him and his friends and she does the sensible thing and hightails it for anywhere other than where her husband is.
Once he sobers up and realizes his wife is gone, Ahasuerus has her removed as Queen and holds a beauty contest featuring all the girls of the kingdom so he can choose his new bride because that’s how he rolls. One of the girls is a Jewish orphan named Ester who has been raised by her cousin, Mordecai. Ahasuerus is sort of disinterested in his new wife’s hobbies and religion and is just kind of trying to put the whole drunk behind him and wants someone pretty nearby to help him stay sober.
A couple of his bodyguards, Bigthan and Teresh, are not quite ready to let the king get away with his drunk and try to assassinate him. Mordecai uncovers the plot while helping Ester settle and reports it, resulting in two traitors being hanged and Mordecai being noted down as a patriot before being shown the door.
See, the king’s primary advisor is a dude named Hamen, who wears a triangular hat and is pretty much Jafar from Aladdin. Hamen has an issue with Mordecai because the Jew won’t bow to him the way everyone else does – in fact, Mordecai won’t even bow to the king, which the king has no problem with, but Hamen’s masculinity is a little more fragile and a lot more toxic and he comes up with a final solution to his problem:
“Since Mordecai claims his religion is what keeps him from bowing, I’m going to have all the Jews killed.”
Dude. Overcompensating much?
Hamen gets an army of five hundred people together and plans on murdering every Jew in the Persian Empire and taking all their stuff. He goes to Ahasuerus and claims there is a group of people disrespecting the king (“they’re not bowing to me, so they don’t respect you~!”), and gets approval and funds to take down what Ahasuerus thinks is a rebellion.
Because Hamen is not the most rational human, he chooses the date of the execution by lots (the word for which is ‘purim,’ which, hey, is the name of the holiday~!). Mordecai finds out about this and tries to get Ester to intervene but she’s still settling in and kind of nervous and isn’t sure what to do. Worse, Ahasuerus is suffering from insomnia and that’s making him even more surly and maybe that’s why he went on the three-month drunk in the first place?
Mordecai finds out about Hamen’s plot because Hamen finds out where he lives, knocks on his door, and is all “bow before me or I’ll have you hanged before I kill your whole people”, and Mordecai still won’t do it. Hamen has some of his friends build a gallows outside Mordecai’s home and Mordecai takes to dressing in rags to try and avoid the triangle-hat wearing nutjob and his buddies, but he still won’t bow and Hamen keeps getting angrier because Mordecai does not respect his authority.
Meanwhile, in the palace, Ester has Ahasuerus over for dinner and he brings Hamen and his wife at what might be the most awkward dinner in the Old Testament. No one at Ester’s table knows she’s Jewish or Mordecai’s cousin, so they speak freely; Hamen talks about how he’s going to have that troublemaker, Mordecai, hung the next day before wiping out his whole people. Ester, with perfect quiet vindictiveness, invites Hamen over for dinner afterward and volunteers to read the court records over to help her husband sleep.
“You can read?” Ahasuerus asks.
“All my people are literate,” Ester replies. Ahasuerus is still not interested in her hobbies, but he’s getting there.
During the reading, Ahasuerus learns about how Mordecai saved his life and asks if anything was done to reward the man. It’s quickly discovered that no, nothing was done. Hamen comes to check on the king and Ahasuerus is all “my good friend, tell me, what should be done for someone I wish to honor?”
“Uh… I don’t know. Let him wear the king’s robes and ride on your horse? That’d be cool. I mean, we’re talking about me, right? That’s what I’d want.”
“Oh, Hamen, you silly man with your weird hat, no. There’s this dude that uncovered a plot to kill me and we didn’t reward him, so go give him this robe – the really nice one – and let him ride around on my horse so everyone knows that I really like him for that thing he did.”
“Oh… okay. What’s the guy’s name?”
You can just imagine Hamen’s face when Ahasuerus says “Mordecai.” and then adds “Bring him over for dinner, too. I’d like to meet the man that saved my life.”
So that’s a thing that happens.
Hamen goes and gives Mordecai the robe and gets him settled on the horse and takes him around the city and then to the royal palace for dinner.
“Are you poor or something?” Ahasuerus asks over dinner, looking at Mordecai’s rags.
“No, but you’ve sentenced me and my people to death because we won’t bow to the dude with the triangle-hat.”
“What what what?”
“It’s true,” Hamen says, doubling down. “This rebel won’t bow before me and is, therefore, disrespecting you.”
“Okay… what’s the deal, man?” Ahasuerus asks.
“I’m a Jew,” Mordecai says. “We don’t bow to kings, but we do pay our taxes and follow your laws.”
“And you’re clearly not disloyal, having, you know, saved my life and all,” Ahasuerus says. “And we are all about freedom of religion so long as you pay your taxes and follow our laws, but… is this a Royal decree?”
“It is,” Hamen smiles.
“Can’t go countermanding a royal decree,” Ahasuerus shrugs. “Sorry, man.”
“What about an assassination attempt on the crown?” Ester asks.
“Why’s the woman speaking?” Hamen spits. “And I’d never do anything to harm the crown. The king is totally my meal ticket.”
“Not the king,” Ester says primly. “The queen. I’m a Jew, so if you’re going to kill my people, you’re going to kill me with them.”
Hamen looks at her with wide eyes as Ahasuerus does his best Nic Cage impression, flipping the table as he turns to his advisor.
“I just got this one!” Ahasuerus roars. “Her chicken soup is amazing! Do you know how long it took me to find a wife that can cook? And she helped me with my insomnia! And she can read! And she’s helping me with my alcoholism! And you want to kill her and this guy that saved my life-”
“He’s also my cousin,” Ester adds, and Ahasuerus and Hamen both stop and look at her, then at Mordecai.
“Yeah, I think we’re family now,” Mordecai says.
“You’re trying to kill my family!” Ahasuerus shrieks, pointing at Hamen. “Arrest this man! Have him and his friends executed by hanging!”
“I know where there’s a handy gallows,” Mordecai volunteers.
“Good on you,” Ahasuerus says, then pauses. “Typically, when people are executed for crimes, the people that were victims of the crime can claim the stuff of the criminal.”
“Yeah, we don’t want their things,” Mordecai says. “Those people have families. Let them try and rebuild.”
“On one condition,” Ahasuerus says, turning his attention to Mordecai.
“I have a job opening I’d like you to fill.”
And so Mordecai becomes the king’s advisor and Ahasuerus and Ester have a pretty happy life when Ahasuerus isn’t being a drama king. Good times are had by all except for Hamen.
But Hamen’s troubles don’t stop there.
Traditionally, when we Jews gather round to read the Book of Ester and recount this tale, we make noise whenever Hamen is mentioned to block out his name. The idea is that while we remember him and what he did, we don’t want people thinking that what he did was okay or something to aspire to. His is a name to be mocked, pitied, and vilified because of the actions the man took in life. There’s no glory to be had in trying to kill people.
But wait! That’s not all…! I did say that this holiday is where my people get deliciously petty.
There’s a pastry we eat during this time of year called hamentaschen, which is a triangular crust filled with nummy jams or other sweets, which are then shared with friends and family. Triangular, like the weird that Hamen wore, so we remember what he did while eating the symbol of his power. Click anywhere on this sentence for the recipe~!
And Happy Purim, everyone!