שירת שלום

Song of Peace


Purim-The Story Behind the Story by Rabbi David Degani

25 Feb 2018 10:05 AM | Shirat Shalom (Administrator)


Jewish people have been celebrating the holiday of Purim for about 2400 years. It is, as we all know, a fun holiday of parties, dressing in costumes eating hamantaschen and enjoying the day. It is a celebration in remembrance of the great salvation of the Jews of Persia who were under a great threat of annihilation only to be saved by the Jewish queen Ester and her Uncle Mordechai.

But the story of Purim has much deeper roots. It involves a very old and bitter political rivalry between two royal families. which goes all the way back to King Saul and King David some 3,100 years ago, way before the events of the story of Purim in Persia.

While all of the 12 tribes that inherited  the land of Israel were considered one nation, there was friction between the ten tribes who lived in the center and northern part of Israel, known as the northern region tribes, and the two southern region tribes, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.

King Saul, the first king of Israel, came from the tribe of Benjamin of the southern region. This created friction with the northern tribes who wanted the king of Israel to come the northern region. Nevertheless, King Saul in his wisdom was a unifying king who treated all the tribes fairly and therefore all of the tribes of Israel considered him their king.

However, things did not work well for King Saul. G-D explicitly ordered him to totally annihilate the Amalekite nation, man, woman and children and completely destroy all of their property. (Indeed, we do have some moral issues in the Bible.) King Saul granted "professional curtsey" to the Amalekite king, Agag, as well as his wife and did not kill them. He also allowed the people to take booty from the Amalekites’ possessions against G-D’s explicit instructions. In order to follow G-D's order, the Amalekite king, Agag, was eventually killed by the prophet Samuel. With King Agag’s death it was thought that this was the end to all living Amalekites. 

But that was not the case. Our great sages explain that even prophet Samuel neglected to kill Agag's wife who happened to be pregnant . The Amalekite line therefore continued throughout the generations.

G-D was furious with King Saul. He took away the kingdom from him and gave it to King David who was from the tribe of Judea. The ten tribes considered the anointment of David to be a king as another insult since he too like King Saul came from the southern tribe region.

Unlike King Saul, King David and his son, King Solomon, had an ongoing animosity towards the northern region. They treated the northern tribe very unfairly. Among other things, they imposed heavy taxation, long military service as well as other national duties. That unfair treatment came about probably because the northern tribes refused to accept David as their king for seven years until they finely capitulated.

Fast forward centuries later to Persia where a large Jewish population had formed over centuries of exile.   

King Saul's descendents never forgot the humiliation of tearing the kingdom from them  and giving it to the house of David.  They were hoping to regain back the respect of G-D and maybe even any future kingdom of Israel.  At least part of the Jewish population in the Persian Diaspora who centuries earlier belonged to the ten northern tribes probably preferred the house of Saul as well since he was considered a national unifier as opposed to King David and his son King Solomon who held a grudge against them.

The major characters of the story of Purim which took place in Shushan, the capital of Persia, have a direct connection to the story of King David and King Saul. In fact Mordechai who was most likely the leader of the Jewish community in Shushan  and Ester, the heroes of the story, were direct descendants of King Saul. It seems that the house of King Saul was still enjoying a leadership position among the Jews.

We know that because the narrative refers to Mordechai as "the son of Kish", referring  to Kish, the father of King Saul who was also called "Saul, son of Kish." Obviously the narrative is making sure that we are aware of the connection between Mordechai and King Saul. The narrative refers to Haman as the Aggagite, making sure we understand  that Haman is a direct descendent of Aggag the king of the Amalakites. 

So now we see the story of Purim clearly. This is the second round of the conflict  between the house of King Saul and the house of Agag the Amalekite. Mordechai knows that this time around the all the descended of the Amalekites must be killed in order to comply with G-D's order as well regaining the honor of the house of Saul. This is about an unfinished business that must be completed.

When Mordechai suggests to Queen Ester that G-D had made her the queen of Persia for a specific reason, this is the reason to which he is most likely referring. 

But the story of Purim does have a twist at the end. While Haman and his ten sons were hanged, his wife and possibly daughters were not. So yet again the Amalekite line was not completely annihilated and may have continued through the wife who might have been pregnant at the time or through the daughters.

However it is interesting to note that from this point on Judaism takes a more philosophical approach to the line of the Amalekite. We consider every enemy of Israel  who is trying to annihilate the Jewish people as an Aggagite, a descendent of the Amalekite king. 

Haman and the rest of the cruel enemies who throughout the generations have tried to destroy us, are considered the manifestation of evil in the world. That evil is what we   are trying to eradicate by spreading around the world the Light of G-D which dwells  within each and every one of us, in order to make our world a better, more peaceful one. 

May this holiday of Purim be joyful to all of us.

Rabbi David






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