Strange Facts About Purim
- The Megillat Esther is the only book in the Tanakh where there is no occurrence of any form of God's name.
(Shir haShirim, the Song of Songs, also does not mention God’s name, but Song 8:6 contains a word (shalhevetyah)
that can be read as two words that still make grammatical sense; the second word is one of the less common forms of God’s name: Yah.)
Shalhevetyah, one word, means “great fire”; two words would mean “fire of the Lord.” This is how Ibn Ezra and a few other
commentators read it but most don't.
However, in an interesting twist, the Apocrypha, a collection of texts that Catholics consider deutero-canonical, contains “Additions to Esther,” expansions to the story of Esther, which includes a prayer by Esther in which God’s name is mentioned.
- How did Esther get into the Bible? It seems that this was a tough one but the rabbis of the Talmud came up with an
after-the-fact justification by pointing out, “Where does one find an allusion to Esther in the Torah? In the verse,
‘I [God] shall surely hide [haster ‘astir] My face from them’” (Dt. 31:18). The rabbis used the pun
‘astir = Est(h)er. (bt. Hullin 139b.)
- Esther means "Star of the East" in Persian. Esther was her secular name; her Hebrew name was "Hadassah," meaning "myrtle." Having two different names was common in the Diaspora (it still is); note that Daniel and his friends are given Babylonian names in addition to their Hebrew names.
- Purim is the only biblical holiday not mentioned in the Torah.
- Esther becomes a heroine in the Purim story, but Mordecai is no slouch either. Mordecai is referred to as someone
who “sat in the king’s gate.” This term describes neither a beggar nor a layabout person. It’s reserved for those people who held
positions of closeness to the king, generally as second-level advisors or other mid-level court functionaries. The king’s gate
was actually an assembly place, similar to the Roman agora, where disputes were judged and the empire’s nobles and
- Why didn’t Mordecai bow to Haman? After all, Haman was the king’s direct representative and had royal powers. Jews have
always believed that “the law of the king is the law,” and in Shushan the law was to bow to people like Haman. The reason, midrash
tells us, is that the command the king issued to honor Haman was to “bow down and prostrate themselves” before Haman.
Bowing and prostration, to the Jews, were only used in relation to religious worship, and Haman was an idolater. Mordecai,
as an observant Jew, could not worship Haman.
- It is a mitzvah to hear the Megillat Esther read, not once, but twice! The first reading is on erev Purim, and the
second is on the following morning.
- Because of its secular celebratory nature, Purim can never fall on Shabbat. But Shushan Purim, 15 Adar—which
is celebrated in Jerusalem—can. So what do the Jews of Jerusalem do when Shushan Purim falls on a Shabbat? They get
to celebrate Purim for three days! The Megillah is read on 14 Adar, on the fifteenth the blessing al ha-nissim, "who wrought miracles," is read, and on the sixteenth the Purim celebratory meal takes place.
- Hearing the Megillah read is a positive mitzvah for both men and women, since Esther, a woman,
was the architect for the deliverance of the Jews from Haman's plot.
- Haman is a descendent of Agag, king of the Amalekites, while Mordechai is a Benjaminite, a descendent of Kish. This recalls the ancient encounter of Saul (whose father was named Kish), of the tribe of Benjamin, and Agag, where Saul did not follow God's instructions to annihilate the Amelekites and destroy all their possessions, leading to his losing the kingship. Mordechai sees that the job is done this time. Also, "They did not lay their hands on the spoil..." (Es. 9:10) is a reflection of Saul's taking the Amelekite spoil, proving that the Jews were now fit to triumph over Agag's descendants.
- All the letters of the Hebrew alphabet are found in one verse of Megillat Esther, in Esther 3:13.
- Also, the longest verse in the Bible appears here. It has 43 words in Hebrew (which translate to about 90 English words); see Esther 8:9.
- Of all of the books of the Tanakh, Megillat Esther is the only book of which no copy or even a fragment has been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
- Purim is a holiday that celebrates deliverance from a catastrophe. Thus the holiday has given rise to the creation of
special local Purims, called Purim Katan, "Little Purim," in many locales throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia.
In each locale, the holiday marks the deliverance of the populace from disaster. History records a Purim Katan in such places as Cairo, Algiers, Baghdad, Galacia, Belgrade, Vilnia, Prague, Castille, and many others. There are also instances of families celebrating their own Purim commemorations on the anniversaries of their own rescues from some evil plot.
- Megillat Esther contains a number of words which appear nowhere else in the Tanakh, including:
achashtranim benei haramachim: no one knows what this means (Rabina in b. Megillah 18a cited
the term as one with a totally unknown meaning). (Persian) Most likely this: “something used in the king’s service, bred of the stud” but what? Possibly
swift camels(?), horses(?), mules(?), riders atop these animals(?); found in 8:10; in 8:14 the word achashtranim alone is found
hanachah: causing to rest, holiday(?), Aramaic, found in 2:18
karpas: cotton or fine linen, Persian loan-word (Hebrew karpas has a different meaning: parsley, celery), found in 1:6
kasher: be fit, proper, suitable (kosher is from the same root), found in 8:5
patshegen: decree, text, document (Aramaic), found in 3:14, 4:8 and 8:13
pur: lot, (from Persian) and purim (plural form), found in 3:7, 9:24, 26, 28-29, 31–32
tebet: the tenth Hebrew month, found in 2:16–17
- There are a number of words in Esther that are taken from other languages, including Persian, Aramaic, and Akkadian.
Some examples are:
achashdarpenim: satraps, king's officers (from Persian), found in 3:12, 8:9 and 9:3, also in Daniel
birah: palace, fortress, acropolis (Persian), found in 1:2, 1:5, 2:3, 2:5, 2:8, 3:15, 8:14, 9:6, 11–12
bitan: palace (Akkadian), found in 1:5 and 7:7–8
dat, law (Persian), found in 1:8
genez: treasury (Persian). Hebrew is otzer. Found in 3:9 and 4:7
igeret: letter (Akkadian), found in 9:26, 29
partmim: nobles (Persian), found in 1:3 and 6:9
pitgam: decree, edict (Aramaic), found in 1:3 and in Ecclesiastes 6:6
sharbyt: scepter (Akkadian), found in 4:11, 5;2 and 8:4
- The Hebrew word mishteh, meaning "banquet," occurs 20 times in Megillat Esther. It appears only
20 additional times in the rest of the Tanakh. Those Persians loved to party!
- Most descriptions of Haman's punishment mention his being hanged on a gallows, but the text of the Megillah has him being impaled on a stake fifty cubits high, about 75 feet—the height of a seven-story building!
- The Talmud tells us to celebrate Purim so thoroughly that one can't tell the difference between "Blessed
be Mordecai" and "Cursed be Haman" (b. Meg. 7b). According to gematria, the practice of converting words to their
numerical equivalent, the numerical value of the Hebrew letters in each of those phrases, barukh Mordechai
(בָּרוּךְ מָרְדָּכַי) and arur Haman
(אָרוּר הָמָן), is exactly 502.
(See here for more information on
(But before you get tanked, look
at these rabbinical opinions. And if you do drink, let someone who hasn't do the driving!)
- "Shushan" was one of the four Persian capitals: Susa, Ecbatana, Babylon, and Persepolis. Susa was the location of
the king's winter residence.
- According to Esther 1:1, King Ahasuerus ruled over 127 provinces. There’s a midrash that claims that 100 of Ahasuerus'
provinces were located on continental land masses. So obviously the remaining 27 must be islands in the sea. So the Vilna Gaon
sought to show how this could be proved from the Megillah. The Vilna Gaon has the reputation of being a genius among geniuses.
Obviously that reputation came from this particular proof: Esther 10:1 states: "King Ahasuerus levied a tax (mas) on the land and the islands
(vi-eyay) of the sea." The gematria of "mas" (tax) is 100 and the gematria of "vi-eyay" (and the islands) is 27.
This is incontrovertible proof that King Ahasuerus ruled over 100 provinces on the mainland and 27 in the sea.
- Adar is the most confusing (and confused) month in the calendar. In leap years, which occur seven times in a
nineteen-year cycle, there are two Adars, which are called, logically enough, Adar Rishon and Adar Sheni (Adar I
and Adar II). So which is the real leap (added) month—I or II? If you look at many, nay, most, sources, they will
tell you that Adar II is the added month, but lo, they are wrong. It's that Adar confusion at work. Purim gives us the
major clue for which month is added. Purim always stays with the real Adar, which is Adar II in leap years, and
Adar I is the added month. The confusion about Adar is manifested in how one observes birthdays and
yahrzeits when they fall in one of the Adars. You guessed it—the rules are different! A person born in Adar in
a regular year in Adar would celebrate his birthday in Adar II; if born in a leap year Adar I or II, he would celebrate
his birthday on the corresponding day of Adar in a regular year. The yahrzeit rules are either more or less complex, depending
on your community's minhag (custom). More here;
look halfway down the page.
Famous Jewish riddle: Two twins who were born minutes apart have their b'nei mitzvah 29 days apart. How can this be?
Simple. Adar again. The first twin was born just before sunset on 29 Adar I, the last day of the month, while his brother
was born just after sunset—now the date is 1 Adar II. But in a regular year, both twins have their birthdays in
Adar—the younger twin on the first of Adar, and the older twin 28 days later on the 29th!
- Some authorities have argued that in leap years, Purim belongs in Adar I, citing the Megillah where it frequently states that Purim
is to be celebrated in "the twelfth month, the month of Adar." In fact, the Talmud Yerushalmi claims that the year that the Purim story took
place was a leap year. However, the opinion that Purim belongs in Adar II prevailed, and the only trace of the alternate opinion remains
in the existence of the (very) minor holiday, Purim Katan, "Little" Purim, which is celebrated on 14 Adar I.
- Missouri and Louisiana each has a town, and Minnesota has a township, named "Esther."
- Esther Mountain is a mountain located in Essex County, New York. and there's an island in Prince William Sound, Alaska, named "Esther Island" (pop. 31 in 2009).
- In the city of Tel Aviv, Israel, there is a street called Queen Esther Street.
- In 1987 the Esther Company was formed in Ugglerum, Sweden. Their product is the "Esther," a Lotus-7-type car.
—Collected from, well, all over
Top Ten Reasons for Celebrating Purim
10. Making noise in shul is a mitzvah!!
9. Levity is not reserved for the Levites.
8. Nobody knows if you're having a bad hair day. You can tell them it's part of your costume.
7. Purim is easier to spell than Chanukah, I mean Hanukah, I mean, Hanukkah, I mean Chanuka, ok I mean the Festival of Lights.
6. You don't have to kasher your home and change all the pots and dishes.
5. You don't have to build a hut and live and eat outside (but you could volunteer to build a new Purim booth for next year's Carnival).
4. You get to drink wine and drink wine and drink wine and you don't even have to stand for Kiddush (you probably can't!).
3. You won't get hit in the eye by a lulav.
2. You can't eat hamantaschen on Yom Kippur, right?
1. Mordecai: 1 ; Haman: 0 !!!!
—Kenneth Goldrich, the Web
Top Ten Ways Purim is like Yom Kippur
10. Someone's always passing out by the end of both.
9. You wear a nice suit for both, except on Purim you call yourself "Agent Smith from the Matrix."
8. Spinning chickens around your head is considered completely normal.
7. On Yom Kippur you don't drink and after Purim you swear you'll never drink again.
6. One has Kol Nidre, the other has someone dressed up as Dr. Dre.
5. For both days, "Winning the Lottery" is actually a death sentence.
4. Heck, the fish threw up Jonah.
3. The phrase, "The Whole Megillah," was made for Yom Kippur services!
2. Sneakers make any rabbi look like he is in costume.
1. A hanging judgment finally makes sense.
—The Kosher Top 10, Bangitout.com
Contents copyright © 2015 S.R.