Thursday, February 25, 2021

Happy Purim!

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I'm pretty late to today's party, but did want to acknowledge the celebration of Purim today! 

If you're not Jewish (I'm not), you may be wondering what this holiday is all about, and you might also be wondering why it might matter to anyone who isn't Jewish. Like me. Well, for me, I'm interested in all kinds of cultural celebrations just because I'm interested in history and other cultures. But I find Jewish holidays especially intriguing because the most important ones are commanded by God, and tell us a lot about God and his relationship to his people. Purim is a celebration that isn't commanded by God, but the story of its origin is in the Bible, and it's also a story of God saving his people. 

 Purim is celebrated every year on the 14th of the Jewish month of Adar. In 2021 that's February 25th. The celebration begins at sundown on Thursday (today), and ends on Friday evening. It's a holiday that dates back to the ancient Persian empire and commemorates the Jewish people being saved from the evil plan of a Persian prime minister to wipe them out. The name comes from the Persian word for "lots" as in casting lots or throwing dice. So what happened? You can read the whole story in the Old Testament book of Esther, but here's my short summary:

The Jewish people were subjects of the Persian Empire during the 4th century BC. During the reign of King Ahasuerus, he deposed his queen and searched for a new queen among his subjects. A Jewish girl named Esther was chosen. She was cousin to Mordecai, a Jewish leader and an advisor to the king, but her Jewish heritage was kept a secret. The Persian prime minister Haman devises a plot to get revenge on his rival Mordecai by killing all the Jews and tricks the king into signing this into law. (This is the part where they cast lots - the purim - to determine the date for this genocide.) Mordecai alerts Esther and challenges her to go to the king. After a period of fasting, Esther risks her life to go to the king and is able to expose Haman's plot and thus save her people.

So on the day that the tables were turned and Haman and his family were executed instead, Jewish people celebrate to remember this event and how they were saved.

On the day before Purim, it's customary to fast because Esther and the Jews fasted before she went to the king. Once the celebration begins, though, it's fun and joyous! Purim celebrations include reading the story from the Megillah (the Hebrew scroll), giving gifts to the poor, feasting and sending gifts of food. Often children dress up in costumes - and sometimes adults do too! During the reading of the story, listeners will boo, stomp their feet, or use noisemakers when the name of Haman is mentioned. He's the bad guy, and his name is to be wiped out. 

Sometimes people wonder why the book of Esther is included in the Bible, since it doesn't mention God by name. I think that the "coincidences" surrounding Mordecai's favor with the king, Haman's plan and the timing of it, and Esther's position in the royal household all point to God's hand at work. Mordecai and Esther are observant Jews - they fast and pray and call upon all the Jews to do the same, and God works on their behalf. I believe the bold and unusual plan Esther used to appeal to the king was put on her heart by God as she fasted and prayed. 

You see, even though she was a royal wife and the queen, she was not supposed to go to the king. She had to wait for him to summon her, which he hadn't done for quite some time. If she went to him, and he wasn't interested, she could be put to death. She actually reminded Mordecai of this fact, and his response to her is one of my favorite lines: "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance 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 4.14)

She responds: "Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish." (Esther 4:16)

What courage! After this persistent calling on God through fasting, she is ready to go to the king. Here's where her plan is crazy brilliant and unexpected. She could be killed just for walking in uninvited, but when the king receives her warmly and says he'll give her anything at all she asks for, she says she just wants to invite him and Haman to dinner. What?! Then at the banquet, the king repeats his generous offer - he is persistent in wanting to honor her! - and she says that they are invited to dinner again the next day. Before that second dinner, Haman winds up having to honor Mordecai at the king's command, and he loathes it. In his fury, he has a gallows made ready thinking he'll get his revenge on Mordecai very soon. But then at the second banquet, Esther makes her request - she asks for her life and the lives of her people, and she reveals that Haman is the villain plotting against the Jews.

The persistence of Esther and Mordecai pays off when God intervenes and turns the tables so that the Jews are allowed to defend themselves and get revenge on their enemies. Despite Haman's persistent hatred, his plans are foiled and he gets what he deserves.

God has always kept his promises. He will always save his people, and he will always be in control. That's one of the lessons to learn from Esther - be persistent in faith and obedience to God.

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For more about Purim and the book of Esther, see these valuable resources:


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There are a lot of foods associated with Purim celebrations, but the best known is the cookie called Hamentaschen. These are three-cornered pastries or cookies with a sweet filling. They are often given as gifts. Here's the recipe I've used before (I used a different one this year - I'll let you know how they turn out!):


Hamentaschen (adapted from America the Beautiful)
2 2/3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup cold butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg plus 1 egg white
cherry, strawberry or apricot preserves

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl.  Cut butter into small pieces and blend into flour mixture using a pastry blender.  Mix egg, egg white and sugar together, then blend into flour mixture.  Mix to a stiff dough.  Divide into two discs, wrap each in plastic and chill for about 30 minutes.  Roll out to 1/8-inch thickness.  (The original recipe suggested doing this between two sheets of waxed paper.  I used a floured pastry board, but did find that a sheet of waxed paper on top kept the dough from sticking to the rolling pin without incorporating more flour into the dough.)  Using a biscuit cutter or cookie cutter, cut dough out into circles about 2-1/2 to 3 inches in diameter.  Spoon about a quarter-sized drop of preserves onto each circle.  Fold the edges in to form a triangle, overlapping the corners and pinching them a little.  Bake about 1 inch apart on a lightly greased cookie sheet in a 350* oven, for about 15 minutes.  The preserves will start to bubble and the cookies will be a light golden brown when done.  Cool on a wire rack before serving.  Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
 
This is from my article: Hamentaschen

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This post is part of the Write 28 Days Blogging Challenge hosted by Anita Ojeda. Find all my posts for the challenge here: Write 28 Days Blogging Challenge - Disappointed



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