Rebekah James Author

Shushan Purim

March 21, 2011

This week’s blog is going to be short, in part because I didn’t really have time to plan out a blog post, and in part because I am hoping I will have time later in the week to get some other things up here, like poetry and short stories up.  I thought I would do a little storytelling to keep you entertained until then.

Today, for those of you who don’t know, is the second day of Purim. It is a Jewish holiday that involves costumes, parties and storytelling, and general silliness. I have heard it referred to as “Jewish Halloween” but it has nothing to do with Halloween, just coincidence that both involve costumes.  Despite the silliness, this day has a much deeper purpose – to examine ourselves and to point out our own faults.  For those who don’t know the story behind the holiday it goes, somewhat, like this.

In Persia, under King Xerxes, the king was so busy conquering other lands that he didn’t really pay much attention to what was going on at home. During this time, while there was definitely persecution, things weren’t quite as bad as usual for the Jewish community that had been dragged into exile as they were at other times.  So far so good, except that one of the Jewish leaders named Mordecai really became a thorn in the side of one of the King’s ministers named Haman.  To be honest, I don’t really know what either one of them did for a living, but the bottom line is that Mordecai really annoyed Haman and annoying someone who has life and death power over you, literally, is never a good idea.  Haman would have just killed Mordecai outright except that Mordecai was something of a national hero having foiled an assassination attempt on Xerxes a couple of years before.

Xerxes came home from conquering his neighbors, and as was his habit, threw a pretty wild party in which he and all of his ministers got really drunk. Xerxes made a bet with one of the guys there that his wife was more beautiful than anyone else’s, and to prove it, he was going to have her come to the party stark naked.  Persian society then was pretty much the way that muslim societies are now in terms of expectations of modesty from their women.  Vashti, the King’s wife who was throwing her own party for the wives of all the ministers, said “Wait a minute, I AM the Queen, I can’t be running around naked, what would happen then? Nope, forget it.” Probably, if he hadn’t been playing drinking games with his buddies, Xerxes would have actually appreciated this, but his buddies started teasing him that if he couldn’t even tell his own wife what to do, then he wasn’t man enough to be king.  If he let Vashti refuse to do what he said, then all of the women in Persia would start refusing their husbands and his country would obviously fall apart because we all know that women who don’t follow orders are big trouble.  Looking at it that way, Xerxes was really angry and embarrassed, so he did what any man would do in his situation – he had her executed.

Of course now, Xerxes needed a new Queen.  He left that up to Haman while he went out and conquered a few more of his neighbors to blow off some steam. Haman wisely decided to hold a beauty contest and find some peasant girl who would be too terrified to mouth off like that spoiled princess turned Queen, Vashti had.  It took 3 years of dragging all the pretty girls in from the countryside, teaching them to have nice queenly manners, and “beauty treatments” but when the finalists were brought to Xerxes, he picked a girl named Esther.  Now Esther just happened to be Mordecai’s orphaned niece. Her uncle had told her to not mention that part, so no one really connected them or Haman would have no doubt had her eliminated in the first round.  Esther settles in as Queen, and everything is pretty cool for a while until Mordecai really gets into it with Haman and the entire Jewish community is up in arms about things. Haman decides enough is enough; after all, the only guy in the land who is bigger than him is Xerxes himself. So, when he is bringing in a bunch of stuff for Xerxes to sign one day, he gets him drunk then slips in a bill that says on this particular day, all Jews will be executed.  (By the way, the day was decided by drawing a lottery apparently, which is why the holiday is called Purim which means “lots”.)  Haman has so much fun with planning this, he actually has a gallows built in his own yard just for Mordecai.  When Mordecai hears about this, he decides it is time to put Esther to work, thinking being Queen and smoking hot and all, that she might have some influence with Xerxes in this.  Esther isn’t really sure what to do, but eventually decides to just ask nicely. Really nicely apparently – she goes all out and invites Xerxes over to her palace for a hot date. Xerxes isn’t doing anything, so he says sure. Apparently they had a really good time because he agrees to come over the next night as well.  As he is getting dressed afterward, he is in such a good mood, that he offers her a gift.  Anything she wants. He is probably thinking she is going to pick something like a dress or a new crown or something, instead she gets all heavy on him and says that what she really wants is to not be executed, but with this new law in effect, she is pretty much sure that she isn’t going to be around for any more of these dates with the king.

Xerxes is really mad about this – Really mad.  He goes stomping through the palace to figure out who pulled a fast one on him, and has to figure out what to do about it. (Not even he can just cancel it apparently).  Haman is, with good reason, terrified because we all know how things usually turn out for those who make Xerxes mad.  Haman figures that since Esther is in good right now, maybe she can talk to the king for him and he goes running into her room and grabs her sleeve. Bad move. Esther screams, shimmies out of her robe and runs away, shouting that Haman attacked her.  You can see where this is headed now. Xerxes has Haman hung on the gallows in his own yard, has Mordecai promoted to Haman’s old job since he never did thank him for that whole foiled assassination thing anyway.  He also decides, to even the odds a bit, to arm the Jews so they can fight back, and orders his guys to really not put that much effort into it.  The Jews end up not getting wiped out, and Esther and Xerxes have a nice weekend away in that cozy little place Xerxes found the last time he was out conquering.

It is not lost on the Jews that their whole rescue thing was due to the fact that Esther was smoking hot, or that all of this could have been avoided if someone had started an AA group for Xerxes, so Purim tends to be a celebration of seeing our own faults as well.

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