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Purim, costumes, and the story behind it

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

Purim פורים, is one of the most colorful Jewish holidays. It features candy, and costumes, just like halloween, but the story is completely different.

Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar (י״ד באדר: Learn more about the Jewish Calendar, click here) This holiday commemorates the saving of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire, by the lord, from Haman (המן) , who was planning to kill all the Jews. This is the story, as described in the biblical Book of "Esther - אסתר": One day the king of Persia- king Ahashverosh (המלך אחשוורוש melec'h ahashverosh), decided to have a feast with all of his friends. He called his queen, Vashti (ושתי), to come and dance at the feast, however Vashti refused. She didn’t want to appear before them to show her beauty.

The king was furious of Vashti and wanted a new queen. He held a beauty contest in the kingdom, and the winner was Esther – an orphan Jewish girl who lived with her uncle Mordechai (מרדכי) , who raised her. At her cousin's request, Esther conceals her Jewish identity from the king.

The king’s chief advisor was an evil man named Haman Haman the evil, (haman harasha - המן הרשע). Haman expected everyone to bow down to him, but Mordechai refused to bow because Jews only bow before God. Haman was furious and decided to kill all the Jewish people in Persia. He went to the king, and eventually convinced him to go along with his plans.

When Mordechai found out about Haman’s evil plot, Mordechai came to Esther and asked for her help, he begged her to speak to the king on the Jews’ behalf. Esther was nervous but eventually agreed to appear before the king. Esther them appeared before the king dressed in her most royal clothes (בגדים מלכותיים bgadinm malchutiim).The king asked Esther what had happened and stated that he would give her anything she wanted.

Esther replied that she wants to invite the king and Haman to a banquet ( סעודה seuda). The king accepted. Esther’s plan was to get the king drunk so it will be easier to get what she wanted out of him. At the banquet, Esther told the king of Haman’s evil plan and revealed that she herself was Jewish. The king was furious that anyone would threaten to kill his queen and ordered to hang Haman. By that, the Jews were saved. Mordecai declared that the victory is remembered every year, and the celebration is called Purim (פורים) because Haman cast the pur (פור)

(meaning "lot") against the Jews, yet failed to destroy them.

The mitzvah of the holiday:

1. Reading the Book of Esther (megilat ester מגילת אסתר)

Want to know how to read the book of "Esther" in Hebrew?Try out our Biblical Hebrew course- special offer here

2. Gifts for the poor (מתנות לאביונים matanot laevyonim): On this day it is obligatory to give charity to two needy people.

3. Mishloach Manot משלוח מנות - translated as "sending of portions": The purpose of the mitzvah is to increase the brotherhood and friendship of the Jewish people on the holiday, as well as to provide food for the poor so that they can perform the Purim meal.

4. Perform a Purim meal ( ארוחת פורים aruc'hat purim)

Holiday customs: 1. The most popular custom is putting on costumes (להתחפש to put on costume, lehitc'hapes): Every year in purim, children and adults alike, are dressed up in colorful and unique costumes, and go out to parades and celebrate. That custom began in the Middle Ages in Venice, probably under the influence of the local mask carnival.

Various explanations were given for the custom. One of them is that disguise teaches the idea that a person's internality can change as a result of external actions.

2. Eating Haman's ears (אוזני המן ozney haman): Triangular pastries filled with anything sweet - prunes, dates, apricots, apples, chocolate, and more.

Happy purim to all! What is your costume this year?

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