It was in the days of Ahasuerus – we’re talking about the Ahasuerus who ruled 127 provinces, from India to Ethiopia. That Ahasuerus.
In the third year of his reign the king had a party for all his ministers and court to display the wealth of his great empire. The party lasted 180 days. After that, the king had another 7-day afterparty in the garden of his palace at Shushan. Drinks were served in gold goblets – no two goblets were alike. The drinks were served according to the law: no one was forced to drink, because the king was all about consent.
Queen Vashti had a feast for the women in the royal court. On the seventh day, when the king was wicked drunk, he ordered Vashti to come down wearing only her royal crown so all his friends could see her, for she was wicked hot.
Vashti was having none of that and refused to parade in front of the king and his buddies. The king was seriously pissed off and not so much about consent anymore.
The King spoke to his community leaders. The question was: what should be done to Queen Vashti for disobeying the king’s command?
Memuchan, one of the advisors, said:
When Queen Vashti disobeyed, she hurt not only the king but also all of the ministers of all the nations in all of the provinces of the empire. When word gets out, women all over the empire will treat their husbands with less respect, saying ‘King Ahasuerus ordered Queen Vashti to come, and she didn’t come, so I’m not listening to you.’
If it pleases the king, let him write an immutable law to the effect that Queen Vashti may never again come to King Ahasuerus, and that her royal position will be given to someone else more suitable. Let the decree be posted throughout the entire empire, even though it is very large, and then all women will respect their husbands, regardless of their status.
The king and the ministers liked this idea, so they sent scrolls to all the king’s provinces, each scroll written in the alphabet and language of the province, stating that a man is legally the master of his own home, and that everyone in the household must speak the man’s language.
After these events, King Ahasuerus’s anger abated. He remembered about Vashti and decided he needed a new queen. One of his ministers said:
Let’s find a replacement for Vashti. Let the king appoint officials in each of the provinces of his empire to gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in Shushan, under the administration of the king’s eunuch Hegai, guardian of the women, and give them cosmetics. And the woman that the king likes will rule instead of Vashti.
The King liked this idea, so he did it.
There was a Jewish man in Shushan whose name was Mordechai, son of Yair, son of so and so, son of so on and so forth. He had raised, Hadassah, his cousin, after she lost her parents. The Gentiles knew Hadassah as Esther because she had to have a cool handle. She was beautiful, with pleasant features, and when her parents died Mordechai, who was her cousin or maybe her uncle, adopted her.
When Mordechai got word of the king’s search for a new queen, he took Esther to the palace, to Hegai, guardian of the women. Hegai liked Esther, so he rushed to give her cosmetics, food, seven maids from the palace, and set her up in the best part of the harem.
Esther did not reveal her race or nationality, because Mordechai had told her not to. Every day Mordechai would walk near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was doing.
The line of women to be presented to the king progressed. Each woman underwent the usual twelve-month treatment which involved six months’ application of oil of myrrh and six months of perfumes and cosmetics.
Once she was scrubbed and buffed, a woman would arrive before the king in the evening, and in the morning she would return to the lesser harem, the one for concubines. No woman could return to the king unless the king requested her by name. Ahasuerus was not good with names.
In the tenth month (Tevet), in the seventh year of his reign Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus. The king loved Esther better than all the other women, and she pleased him more than all the virgins. He set a royal crown on her head, and he made her queen in place of Vashti.
The king made a big feast, called Esther’s Feast, for all his ministers and servants. He declared a tax break for the provinces, and gave royal gifts, which were paid for by reducing social services.
Also, Mordechai was appointed to sit with the ministers at the King’s Gate.
Still, Esther did not reveal her nationality or race as Mordechai had ordered her. Esther obeyed the words of Mordechai, her uncle or cousin, just as she did when he was raising her.
One day, while sitting at the king’s gate, Mordechai overheard two officers of the king’s guards conspiring to poison him. Mordechai told Queen Esther. Esther told the king, citing Mordechai as her source. The officers were hanged on gallows, and the matter was recorded in the royal chronicle. This is called foreshadowing.
After a while, King Ahasuerus promoted Haman to be his prime minister. To celebrate his promotion, Haman asked the king to order the court and servants to kneel and bow to him. But Mordechai would neither bow nor kneel.
Mordechai, my dude, why do you disobey the king? Why don’t you bow to Haman?
Because I am a Jew. I am forbidden to bow to Haman. I bow only to God.
Haman was really pissed that Mordechai wouldn’t bow. But when he found out that it was because Mordechai was Jewish, he decided he was going to kill all the Jews in the empire.
(This is why he’s called “Wicked Haman”.)
Haman said to the king:
There is a people scattered and separated among the nations throughout your empire. Their laws are different than everyone else’s. They do not obey the king’s laws, and it does not pay for the king to tolerate their existence. If it pleases the king, let a law be written that they be destroyed, and I will pay ten thousand silver Kikar-coins for the king’s treasury.
The king removed his signet ring which he used to sign immutable laws and gave it to Haman.
Keep the money, and do whatever you want with those people.
On the 12th of Nisan, in the 12th year of King Ahasuerus’s reign, Haman rolled dice to choose a day near the end of the year when the Jews would be eradicated. The dice came up with the 12th of Adar, eleven months later.
(He actually drew lots. Purim means lots, but they are notoriously hard to roll.)
The next day, Haman ordered the king’s scribes to write a decree: On the 13th of Adar, all of the Jews in the empire, young and old, children and women, were to be killed and their property pillaged. This decree was posted in throughout the empire.
The king and Haman sat down to drink, and the Jews in the city of Shushan slumbered, unaware of what was coming.
But Mordechai knew about Haman’s evil decree. He tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes. He went to the center of the city and wailed loudly and bitterly.
Esther’s maids and attendants told her what Mordechai, her cousin or uncle, was doing and the queen became very concerned. She sent clothing to Mordechai to replace the sackcloth, but he sent the clothes right back. Esther asked one of her attendants to find out what was up with the sackcloth and ashes.
Mordechai gave the attendant a copy of the decree that had been circulated in Shushan, with the words “to destroy them” highlighted. He told the attendant to show the decree to Esther, and to ask her to go to the king to beg and plead for her people.
Esther responded to Mordechai:
Everyone knows that anyone who comes to the king in the inner court without being summoned is sentenced to death unless the king extends his royal scepter to them. And the king has not called for me for thirty days now.
Don’t imagine that you alone among the Jews will escape in the king’s palace, and that this will save your life.
Even if you are silent now, the Jews will get relief and rescue some other way, and you and your father’s house will be lost. And who knows? Maybe it was for just such an occasion that you were made queen!
Gather all the Jews in Shushan. Tell them to fast for me: not to eat or drink f or three days and nights. My girls and I will also fast. then I’ll go to the king – which, as I mentioned, is against the law. If I die, I die.
On the third day of the fast, Esther dressed in her royal clothes and stood at the king’s inner court, facing the king’s apartment. The king sat on his royal throne in the palace, facing the entrance. When the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased, so he extended his golden scepter toward Esther. She approached the king and touched the tip of his scepter.
What do you wish, Queen Esther? What is your request? I would give you up to half my empire.
If it please the king, could the king and Haman come later today to a little party I’m having?
So the king and Haman went to Esther’s party. Over drinks, the king said to Esther:
Whatever your request, you will receive it. Whatever you desire, up to half my empire, it shall be done!
So, about my request and desire: If the king likes me, and if it pleases the king to grant me my request and desire, could the king and Haman come to another party tomorrow? Then I will reveal my true request and my true desire.
Haman was happy that he got to party with the queen, and he was ecstatic that he was going to do it the next day, too.
But on his way home, Haman saw Mordechai at the king’s gate sitting with the king’s ministers. All of the ministers stood and bowed to Haman. But while Mordechai stood, he did not bow. He gave Haman just a little nod of the head. Haman got very very angry and controlled himself until he got home. Then he let go on his wife.
I am the prime minister of the empire! I am the top man next to the king! Queen Esther invited no one else to the party, just me (and the king)! Plus, she invited me to another party tomorrow, too! (With with the king.) But all this glory means nothing to me as long as that Jew Mordechai sits at the king’s gate and refuses to bow to me.
Haman’s wife knew what to do when her husband got like this.
You know what, Haman honey? You’re always better when you have a project. Make a gallows 50 cubits high out in the yard. The excercise will calm you down. Then in the morning go to the king and ask him to let you hang Mordechai on it.
Haman liked the idea so much, that he didn’t wait until morning. He ran back to the palace right away.
Meanwhile back at the palace, the king was having trouble sleeping. He asked his attendants to bring the book of chronicles and read to him. This always put Ahasuerus to sleep.
When they got to the entry about Mordechai thwarting the plot to kill the king, Ahasuerus, sat up.
What reward was given to Mordechai for this?
Lemme look. Uhm, nothing.
Hey, what’s the noise in the courtyard.
Looks like Haman. Wonder what he’s doing here this time of night?
Haman was so excited about his wife’s plan that he wanted to tell the king about hanging Mordechai on that 50-cubit gallows right away.
Tell Haman to come in!
The servants brought Haman in to see the king.
Listen Haman. There’s this guy who did something amazing for me, and I want to honor him. How do you think I should do that?
(to himself) Oh boy! He must be talking about me!
Well, King, if you really want to honor someone, here’s what you do. Have one of your most trusted ministers dress the man you want to honor in one of your royal robes. Put him on your royal horse. Then have the minister lead him through town crying: This! This is what the king does for someone he wishes to honor!
What a great idea, Haman. Here, take this robe and my horse to Mordechai the Jew, and do just as you said. Lead Mordechai on my horse through the streets of Shushan. Don’t leave out a single thing.
Haman got the clothes and horse. He dressed Mordechai in the royal robes and led him through the streets of Shushan as he called out:
This! This is what the king does for someone he wishes to honor!
After this little romp, Mordechai returned to the king’s gate, and Haman hurried home, depressed, with his head covered.
Soon it was time for Esther’s second party, and the king and Haman came to hang out.
The king was in a good mood.
Whatever your desire, Queen Esther, you shall have. And whatever you request, up to half the kingdom, will be done.
If the king likes me, and if it pleases the king: grant me my life as my desire, and my people as my request. My people and I have been sold to be destroyed, killed, and eradicated. Had we been only sold as slaves, I wouldn’t have bothered you.
What? What is this? Who would dare do this?"
That man, the persecutor, the enemy, is that evil Haman there!
In his anger, Ahasuerus stood up and stormed out to the garden to think. While the king was out in the garden, Haman threw himself on Esther, who was lying on her couch. He was pleading for his life, but the king didn’t see it that way when he came back.
Dude! WTF? You’re making moves on Queen Esther when I’m standing right outside?
Guards! Take him away
You know, king, there’s a gallows in Haman’s yard. He made it for Mordechai. Fifty cubits high. Just sayin’
Hang him on it.
So they hanged Haman on the gallows he had built for Mordechai. The king’s anger subsided.
On the day Haman was executed, King Ahasuerus gave Queen Esther Haman’s house. With Haman out of the way, Mordechai revealed his relationship as Esther’s uncle. Or cousin. Or whatever.
The king took the ring he had given Haman to seal the Jews’ death warrant, and gave it to Mordechai.
Even though Haman was dead, his decree to eradicate the Jew was not. Esther fell at the king’s feet. She cried and pleaded with him to overturn Haman’s evil decree to kill the Jews.
The king extended his golden scepter to Esther, which is a good thing because she had come to the king without being summoned.
If it pleases the king, and if the king likes me, and if he thinks this is a good idea, and if he approves of me, let a decree be written to repeal the Haman’s decree, which was to kill the Jews throughout the empire.
No can do, toots. The original decree was sealed with the royal signet ring, so it cannot be repealed. What to do, what to do? I know! Mordechai! You write up a new decree to fix this. Then use the royal signet ring to seal it, so it can’t be repealed.
Mordechai’s new decree stated that for one day, on the 13th of Adar, the king would allow the Jews of each city in the empire to defend themselves against Haman’s execution order.
Copies of the new decree were distributed in each province, so that the Jews would be ready to take revenge against their enemies on that day.
Mordechai left the king’s presence wearing royal clothing of blue and white, with a large golden crown, and a robe of fine purple linen. The city of Shushan was lighthearted and joyful.
The Jews were now able to enjoy the light of Torah, the delight of the Jewish Holidays, and the joy of the commandments.
The 13th day of the 12th month, which is the month of Adar, the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower the Jews, but the plot was thwarted, and the Jews overpowered their enemies.
On the 13th of Adar, the day that Haman decreed that the Jews of the empire should be eradicated, the Jews gathered in their cities to defend themselves. No one could withstand them because everyone was afraid of them. The Jews struck at all their opponents with the sword, killing and destroying them. They defeated all their enemies.
Esther, in Shushan the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men, as well as the ten sons of Haman. Who knows what they did in the more distant provinces of the empire? Whatever you want, you will be given. Whatever your request, it will be done.
If it pleases the king, may the Jews of Shushan have tomorrow also, with the same rules as today?
So the Jews of Shushan gathered again on the 14th of Adar, and they killed another three hundred men in Shushan, but they did not pillage their property. The Jews in the rest of the empire also gathered to defend themselves and demand peace from their enemies. They killed a total of seventy-five thousand, but they did not pillage their property.
They fought their battle on the 13th of Adar and made the 14th a day of feasting and celebration. That’s why Jews observe the 14th of Adar as a day of feasting and rejoicing and of sending gifts of food to friends and to the poor. These days must be remembered and observed for every generation, in every family, in every part of the world, in every city. The holiday of Purim will never be abolished among the Jews, and their descendants will never cease to observe it.
Philip Borenstein 2023