Our story begins in ancient Persia in the capitol city of Shushan. There, in Shushan’s Fortress lived King Achashveirosh. His Kingdom was huge and covered most of the known world from India all the way to Africa. In all, there were 127 provinces within the kingdom. King Achashveirosh and his queen, Vashti, lived in the kind of luxury that no one had known before and no one has known since. They had riches from all over the world and their storehouses and treasuries we full to the brim.
Now, in the third year of his reign, King Achashveirosh hosted a HUGE party for all the officials of the Kingdom, the whole administration including the nobles and the governors of all the provinces in his service. The party lasted for 180 days, and at the end of that time, King Achashveirosh gave a seven day party for all that lived in the Fortress of Shushan. The royal wine was served and everyone drank in excess. Queen Vashti also gave a seven day feast for the women of the Shushan Palace.
By the seventh day of partying, King Achashveirosh was incredibly drunk. He ordered his seven eunuch servants to bring Queen Vashti and to display her in front of the King and all his guests for Vashti was incredibly beautiful. The King added that Vashti should be wearing her royal crown….and nothing else. But Queen Vashti refused the seven eunuchs and the King became very mad and fury burned within him.
Not knowing what to do, the King consulted the seven wise men of the Kingdom. He asked them, “according to the law, what can be done to Queen Vashti for disobeying me?” Then one of the wise men said, “What Queen Vashti has done is a horrible thing. I mean, really, if the King’s wife, remember it’s the King we’re talking about, if even she won’t listen to her husband, not obeying his command by being brought before the King, why should any wife anywhere listen to her husband. Any woman who hears about what Vashti has done will cause great grief for her husband. Therefore, my King, I think you should kick Vashti out of the Kingdom and find someone better to be the Queen. That should show all wives in the kingdom to respect and obey their husbands.” And the King thought that that was a good idea and so messages were sent to all the 127 provinces proclaiming that the men should be the boss of every family.
After some time, when the King got over his anger at Vashti, he realized that she was no longer the queen. One of King Achasveirosh’s servants said “why don’t we call for all the young women of the Kingdom to come to Shushan and audition for you. The girl you like the most could be the next queen. The King seemed to like the idea and so he made it happen.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the capitol city of Shushan lived a Jew by the name of Mordechai. Mordechai was a foster father to his cousin, Hadassah, or as she was known in Persia, Esther. When Esther’s parents died when she was young, Mordechai adopted her as his own daughter. But now she was a young beautiful woman and Mordechai had a plan for her.
During the weeks and months of the competition to become the next queen, Esther became a favorite of Hegai, the King’s eunuch and supervisor of the contestants. The whole time Esther kept her Jewishness a secret. Mordechai also kept a close watch. And when the year of preparation came to an end, each woman was brought before the King.
The King would call by name the woman that he wanted to see again. But when it was Esther’s turn to see the King, King Achashveirosh immediately called an end to the contest because he knew he found his queen. The King made Esther queen instead of Vashti and he threw a banquet in her honor. And Esther kept the fact that she was Jewish a secret just as Mordechai had told her.
While the King and his new Queen were partying with all their guests, Mordechai sat inside the palace gate. It was there that he heard two of the King’s eunuchs talking. Their names were Bigtan and Teresh and they were so angry with the King that they planned to do away with him.
Mordechai heard every word they said, how they planned to do away with King Achashveirosh, and he told of their plan to Queen Esther. Esther then reported it to the King in Mordechai’s name. The King had the matter investigated and found that Bigtan and Teresh were guilty so he had them hung. And all of this was recorded in the King’s journal.
Some time after King Achashveirosh promoted Haman the Agagite. The King advanced his position and made him higher than anyone else who worked for the King. Wherever Haman went people would bow down to him because that is what the King commanded. But Mordechai refused to bow. The King’s servants in the palace gate asked Mordechai, “who do you think you are to not bow as the King commands?” Day after day they bugged him and Mordechai explained that he was a Jew. So, seeing that Mordechai wouldn’t listen they told Haman. When Haman saw with his own eyes that Mordechai would not bow down to him, he was filled with rage. Haman wanted to bully Mordechai around but he thought that it would be better if he could get rid of all of Mordechai’s people. Finding out that Mordechai was Jewish, Haman plotted to kill all the Jews.
Haman consulted with his astrologist who used the Pur or lots to predict the future. He was trying to find the right day to kill the Jews. The pur were cast and they fell on the month of Adar. Haman then went to the King and said “You know King, there is a certain people scattered all around your kingdom that has its own set of laws. Their laws are different and they don’t follow your laws. If I were you….I wouldn’t tolerate them. If you’d like I could draw up the order to have them all exterminated….I’ll even throw in ten thousand pieces of silver for the royal treasury. What do you think, King?”
The King immediately removed his ring, the ring which he used to sign all the royal papers and documents, and handed it Haman the Agagite, enemy of the Jews. Achashveirosh said “you can do whatever you want with the money and the people.” And so Haman had orders written up with the King’s signet ring and had copies sent all over his kingdom in every language that the people spoke. The orders, written in the name of King Achashveirosh, called for the destruction, massacre, and extermination of all Jews on one single day; the thirteenth of Adar and for all the possessions of the Jews to be taken. The orders were written, signed, sealed, and delivered throughout the Kingdom and were posted in public so everyone could read it and be ready for that day. The order was declared in Shushan and while Haman and the King sat down for a feast the people of Shushan were seriously confused.
When Mordechai heard about what happened, he became extremely depressed. He yelled and cried and tore his clothes and he walked all through the city until he got to the Palace gate. Mordechai wasn’t allowed in because he wasn’t dressed appropriately so he sat there and cried. All throughout the Kingdom, wherever the Jews heard about the evil plot they too were horribly depressed.
Esther tried to get Mordechai into the Palace but Mordechai wouldn’t change his clothes so Esther told Hatach, one of her eunuchs, to find out what was wrong with Mordechai. So Hatach found Mordechai in the city square just outside the palace and there Mordechai told him all that had happened, about all the money that Haman was going to give to the royal treasury to pay for the destruction of the Jews. Mordechai gave Hatacha a copy of the proclamation to show to Esther. Mordechai explained that Esther will have to plead for her people. But Esther sent word back to her foster father Mordechai, “Everyone knows that no one is allowed to be in the King’s presence unless he raises his golden scepter and asks for you!” Mordechai replied by saying “Don’t think that just because you’re the queen that you will escape with your life. Without your help the Jews will probably be saved by someone else but maybe you became queen for this very reason; to save the Jews.” Esther answered Mordechai by proclaiming a three day fast. Every Jew in Shushan will go without food for three days and nights and at the end of the fast I will approach the King.” So Mordechai did what Esther asked.
On the third day of the fast Esther walked into the King’s inner court. The King, sitting on his throne, noticed Esther and so he raised his golden scepter. Esther knew that she could now approach the King and she gently touched the tip of the scepter. King Achashveirosh could see that something was troubling his queen. “What’s troubling you?” He asked “Whatever you ask for, I’ll give it to you, even half the Kingdom.” Esther requested that both the King and Haman come to a dinner that she will prepare. And so it was that the three of them King Achashveirosh, Queen Esther, and Haman, sat down to dinner. The King once again asked, “What is it that you want Esther, whatever it is, I’ll give it to you, I’ll give you half of everything I own.” Esther replied “If you two come to dinner again tomorrow night, I will tell you what I want.”
That night Haman left the palace feeling really happy but when he walked past Mordechai and saw that Mordechai didn’t even acknowledge his presence he became extremely angry. Nevertheless, Haman continued home thinking about when he was younger before he held such a high position.
Haman got himself together and went home. A bunch of his friends were there with his wife Zeresh and so Haman told them about his promotion and the fact that he just had dinner with the king and queen. “And furthermore”, Haman said getting more and more excited, “I’ve been invited to dinner with them tomorrow night too…just me. But all of that means nothing every time I see that Jew Mordechai sitting there at the palace gate.” His wife Zeresh said, “why don’t you build a fifty foot gallows and in the morning ask the King if you could hang him on it?” This seemed like a good idea to Haman so he had the gallows built.
That night the King couldn’t sleep. He ordered his journal to be brought to him and as it was being read to him, King Achashveirosh learned how Mordechai saved him from Bigtan and Teresh’s plot to kill him. The king asked his servants, “Has anyone done anything for Mordechai?” His servants told him that no honor had been given to Mordechai, not even a thank you note.
All of a sudden the King turned and asked “Who is in the court?” It was Haman. Haman was just coming to see the King to ask about hanging Mordechai. The king’s servants told him who it was and the King invited Haman in. As soon as Haman entered the room the King asked him “what do you think I should do for someone that I would like to honor?” Haman thought to himself, “He’s talking about me! The King wants to honor me!” Haman said, “Why don’t you give him one of the royal suits, and a royal crown, and he could be taken around the city on one of your horses? That’s what I think you should do for him.” Haman winked at the king stil thinking that he wanted to honor him. “Quick!” The King yelled. “Get the suit, crown, and horse and give them all to Mordechai the Jew who sits at the gate and do to him what you just told me.” And so Haman did just that. He led Mordechai around the city telling people that this is what the King does for someone he wants to honor.
Later, Mordechai returned to the palace gate while Haman, with his head hanging low, went back home, depressed. He told his wife and his advisors what happened and they warned Haman not to mess with the Jews. As they were getting that message across some eunuchs arrived to take Haman to the second dinner with the King and the Queen.
The King and Haman joined the second dinner that Esther had prepared for them. Again, the King asked Esther, “What can I do for you? I would give you up to half the Kingdom if that’s what you wanted.” Esther then said “If you could Your Majesty, give me my life and the life of my people for we have been sold to be destroyed, massacred, and exterminated. Had we just been sold into slavery I might have kept quiet because I wouldn’t want to bother you….”
King Achashveirosh demanded of Esther, “Who is it? Who dares to do this?” “The enemy is….” Esther replied, “is this evil HAMAN!” As soon as his name left Queen Esther’s lips, Haman started to shriek like a little girl as he cringed in the corner.” The King was furious and he left the room. Haman stayed and pleaded with Esther to save his life because he knew that the King now wanted to destroy him. When the king returned to the room Haman was lying on the couch where Esther was sitting. The King yelled out to Haman, “Are you trying to mess with my wife??” As those words were coming at him, Haman lost all the color in his face. One of the eunuchs that happened to be there said “Hey, I just saw the gallows, fifty feet high that Haman built for Mordechai, you know the guy that saved your life….” The King snapped back quickly “Hang Haman on it!” And so they did. They hung Haman on the gallows that were meant for Mordechai
That very day, King Achashveirosh gave all of Haman’s property to Esther. Esther introduced Mordechai to the King and explained how they were related. The King immediately took off his ring, the one he took back from Haman, and gave it to Mordechai and Esther made him the trustee of Haman’s estate. But Esther fell to her knees crying, “If you would please, Your Majesty, there’s still something that you could do. Stop Haman’s evil plan!” She continued, “Please have letters sent to all the provinces telling them to cancel the letters that Haman had sent calling for the destruction of my people!” The King told Mordechai to dictate a letter to his scribes calling for all Jews to defend themselves on one single day, the 13th of Adar. And to sign the letters with his signet ring.The letters were sent out to all the provinces of the Kingdom and they were displayed in public so that all Jews would know what to do. Mordechai left the palace wearing his new clothes and the whole city of Shushan rang out with cries of joy. The Jews enjoyed light and gladness, happiness and honor. And when word got to all the Jews in the Kingdom they had joy and gladness and a feast and a holiday. And many people started to say that they were Jewish because before they had been afraid to reveal their identity.
And on the 13th of Adar when the king’s first command, to kill all the Jews, was executed, and the enemy of the Jews would be the victorious, the opposite happened and the Jews were victorious over their enemies. Throughout the Kingdom of Achashveirosh the Jews were ready to fight for their freedom to live as Jews. Mordechai was getting more powerful in the royal palace and he was becoming famous all over the world.
And all the people of the Kingdom came to respect the Jews and Mordechai their leader and his wisdom. Jews and non Jews came to seek his advice.
On the 13th of Adar the Jews fought for their right to be Jewish and won their battles. And on the fourteenth of Adar they rested. So Esther and Mordechai made the 14th of Adar a holiday with lots of feasts and partying. Mordechai and Queen Esther sent letters all over the world telling the Jews what had happened and that the fourteenth of Adar should now be the holiday of Purim. People should be happy and give gifts to one another and give presents to the poor. And this is how the festival of Purim began, thousands of years ago.
All the words of Esther and Mordechai have been recorded on a scroll, a M’gilah and since then, Jews all over the world in every generation have celebrated Purim and have promoted the values of honesty and equality for all people.