An Introduction to Purim

Rabbi Mark S. Diamond
Executive Vice President
The Board of Rabbis of Southern California

The Hebrew word Purim means "lots," and takes us back to the Biblical Book of Esther. The evil Haman, deputy to King Ahasheurus of Persia, sought to kill the Jews of the land. He drew lots to decide the date on which he would carry out his decree. The hero of the story, Mordechai, and his niece, Queen Esther, turned the tables on Haman, and convinced the king to hang Haman on the gallows in place of Mordechai. The Jews of Persia celebrated their deliverance on the fourteenth day of the Jewish month of Adar, the date on which we observe Purim each year.

Purim is a colorful, fun-filled holiday. The major mitzvah (precept) of the Purim observance is to hear the public reading of the megillah, the Scroll of Esther. Traditionally, the megillah is read both during the evening and morning services of the holiday. Time-honored custom dictates that whenever the word Haman is read aloud from the scroll, children drown out his name by shouting and making noise. Special noisemakers, known as groggers, are provided for this purpose. Years ago, as a rabbinic student, I used a vacuum cleaner to drown out Haman's name, much to the dismay of my rabbis and professors at the Seminary.

There are many other Purim customs, including: Mishlo'ah manot---sending portions of food to friends and neighbors; matanot l'evyonim---gifts of tzedakah for the needy; se'udat Purim---a festive meal held in the home during Purim afternoon; ad lo yadah---imbibing enough strong beverages on Purim in order to mix up the phrases "blessed be Mordechai" and "cursed be Haman."

Purim is a special day for the young and the young at heart. Children dress up in costume both for synagogue services and special Purim carnivals held throughout the community. The traditional greeting for the holiday is simhat Purim or hag Purim same'ah -- Happy Purim!