This story begins with a feast during which Ahasuerus – the king of Persia — sentenced his wife Vashti to death for disobedience. To find a new queen he decreed that all the prettiest maidens in the kingdom be gathered so he could choose a new wife among them. One of the potential candidates was Hadassah — a beautiful young Jewish girl. Following the advice of her adoptive father Mordecai she did not give her Jewish name but introduced herself with the Persian name Esther. She did not disclose her origins. Ahasuerus, impressed by her beauty, took her as his wife. Some time later Mordecai managed to overhear two of the king’s eunuchs — “the guardians of the threshold” — planning to assassinate the king.
He conveyed the information to Esther and the king’s life was saved. Shortly thereafter the king raised Hamman, one of his advisors, to the position of his second. Everyone in the kingdom was to kneel and bow before him. Only Mordecai, for religious reasons, would not bow down before him. This angered Haman greatly; he began to wish not only for Mordecai’s death but also for the death of all Jews. Thanks to the influence he had over the king, thanks to his lies and contrivances, as well as his offer to pay the enormous amount of ten thousand silver talents into the treasury, he managed to convince the ruler to give permission for the massacre of all Jews. The day on which this plan was to be executed was chosen by the casting of purim — lots — hence the holiday’s name.
When Mordecai learned of this he realized the Esther, who might approach the king to seek his help, was the Jewish people’s only hope. The situation was not simple — according to tradition only those who had been summoned could go in front of the king, an uninvited audience was punishable by death. Esther agreed to ask the king for mercy but under one condition — she and all other Jews were to fast and pray for her success for three days. After that time the queen went to her husband who, glad to see her asked “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you”. Esther asked only that the king and his advisor Haman come to her feast.
During the feast Ahasuerus asked Esther what she wished for once again. However she only invited him and Haman to another feast the following day. This pleased Haman who considered himself to be very important — the queen herself invited him! The only thing marring his satisfaction was that the Jew Mordecai still walked among the living. Encouraged by his wife and friends he built a gallows in front of his house and intended to go to the king on the following day and request permission to hang Mordecai. However that same night Ahasuerus could not sleep and demanded that his servants read to him from the court’s daily records. And it just so happened that the servants read the passage which described how Mordecai saved his life by exposing the eunuchs’ plot. The king asked what had been done to reward Mordecai? The servants answered: nothing.
The king summoned Haman and asked: “What should be done for a man whom the king wishes to honor?” Haman (certain that the king was referring to him) responded: “For the man whom the king wishes to honor have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, and the royal crown which is set upon his head […]and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ’This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!”. The king liked his advice and instructed Haman to honor Mordecai in this way.
In the evening on that same day the queen’s second feast took place. The king asked Esther about her wish for the third time and she requested he spare her life and the lives of her people. The king asked: “Who is the man who wishes for your death?” — “The wicked Haman” she responded. At that the king became enraged and left for the palace gardens and Haman fell at Esther’s feet and began to beg her for mercy. However when the king returned he became even angrier with Haman for harassing the queen. He sentenced him to death by hanging on the same gallows intended for Mordecai. Then he gave Mordecai his golden ring and allows him to write another decree warning the Jews of Haman’s plot and giving them permission to take arms in defense of their lives and property. Thanks to this on 13 Adar the Jews were triumphant over their enemies. We celebrate Purim on 14 Adar to commemorate the feast they held in celebration of their victory. Only the cities surrounded by walls fought one day longer. That is why their citizens can celebrate Shushan Purim a day later on 15 Adar.
If you found the story of Purim interesting you might also like to read about Purim traditions.