Purim is probably the most boisterous of the Jewish holidays, celebrating Jewish deliverance from the hands of the evil Haman. Typically, synagogues read the Book of Esther (called the Megillah) on the evening of Purim - this year, Thursday, March 20. The reading is highly interactive with the congregation; for when Haman is mentioned, noisemakers (groggers) are twirled and people boo, whereas when Mordecai and Esther are read, there is cheering and whistling. Often, synagogues or Jewish Community Centers offer Purim parties which includes kids dressing up in costumes or performing crazy plays. Special foods are concocted also representing the day, such as hamantaschen (triangular shaped pastries), representing Haman’s hat, or smaller pastries, representing his ears. Drinking alcoholic beverages is also common.
But there are some very serious issues raised by the Book of Esther, one being that our decisions often have implications far into the future. Two of the book’s principal characters are introduced by mentioning their lineage, not uncommon in Biblical literature. The story line begins in the Persian Empire, sometime in the early 5th century BCE, where most, if not all, the Jews of the world lived. The Persian king becomes displeased with his wife and begins to look for a successor. Mordecai is then introduced as the uncle of Hadassah (Esther) who later becomes queen. But the book’s author directs attention to Mordecai’s lineage, who is a descendant of Kish. Kish was the father of King Saul, Israel’s first king, just preceding King David.
Later, Haman (prime minister) is introduced as an Agagite. From this point to the end of the book there is a fascinating and developing conflict between Mordecai and Haman. But it’s these men’s ancestries which give the book one of its deepest implications. 600 years before the story, God commanded King Saul to destroy the Amalekites. However, Saul permitted the king of the Amalekites to live; his name was Agag. As a result, the Prophet Samuel rebuked Saul and informed him that God had removed his authority to continue as king. Rather, another man was God’s choice for kingship - David. From then on, Saul becomes a tragic figure, finally dying in a losing battle against enemy forces. It appears from the text that Saul’s series of poor choices, culminating in allowing King Agag to live, conclude with Saul’s death. But the Book of Esther shows it doesn’t.
Haman is now described as a descendant of Agag, whose purposes are to destroy the Jewish people. Mordecai, the descendant of Saul, spars with Haman over his future as well as that of his people. In a delightful and ironic ending, the very gallows intended for Mordecai is used to execute Haman, and the Jews who were about to be slaughtered now become a favored and protected people. Few of us consider the impact of our decisions beyond our children or grandchildren, but this story reveals how vital they are, even affecting generations hundreds of years later. Consider what the Apostle Paul said, “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Gal. 6:7-8)
Jamie Cowen 2008