Friday, March 18, 2011

Grab the booze and your favorite costume

It’s Friday, time yet again for another posting of Interesting Jewish Stories & Facts. Winter is a fading memory and it’s time for a little fun!

Purim is only a day or so away and it’s time to party. The festive holiday, a bit of Mardi gras with a very Jewish accent, begins Saturday night and once again we’ll be reading about a land far, far away and a beautiful queen who saved her people. Did I mention there will be drinking?

Purim is the stuff of fairy tales, a delightful story filled with good and evil and, if you happen to be Jewish, a really great ending. The players include a powerful king, Ahasuerus, and a really nasty guy, Haman; a hero, Mordechai, and a beautiful queen, Esther.

Once upon a time the king got rid of his queen and picked a new wife. Meanwhile, the really bad guy gets really angry at our hero and orders that he and all his fellow Jews be killed. Our beautiful queen – that would be Esther – just so happens to be a cousin of our hero and, of course, a Jewess. The plot thickens.

The king, with lots of help from Esther, learns that the hero, Mordechai, uncovered a plot to kill the king, saving his life. He also learns that his queen is Jewish and the really evil guy, Haman, wants her cousin and all the other Jews in Persia slaughtered. The king decides instead that Haman should be killed and that the Jews, if attacked, can defend themselves. They are and they do!

Really, this is all too detailed to make up. Also, it’s pretty much all written down in the Biblical Book of Esther, Megillat Esther, the last of the 24 books of the Jewish Bible to be canonized by the sages of the Great Assembly.

Some of the assembly’s fellow sages – that would be the rabbis of the Talmud – came up with a wonderful idea when trying to figure out how best to recall Esther, Mordechai and their heroic deeds. They decided Purim would be a grand time to have a party and get drunk. Purim, btw, means lots in Hebrew; as in, Haman decided to cast lots to figure out the day to kill the Jews.

“A person,” the rabbis of the Talmud suggested, “is obligated to drink on Purim until he can no longer distinguish between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai.” Much has been written about this obligation, but that’s fodder for next year’s posting on Purim. Meanwhile, gin, tonic, three ice cubes and a wedge of lime. Enjoy and Chag Sameach.

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