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February 23, 2013 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 

The story of the Book of Esther in the Bible takes place between the finishing of the second Temple in Jerusalem under Zerubbabel (515 BC) and the return of Ezra to the Holy City (458 BC).  The story begins in the third year of the reign of Ahasuerus of Persia.  In Greek his name was Xerxes I and he reigned in Persia from 486 – 465 BC.  Ahasuerus is throwing a really big party to celebrate his third year and calls for the appearance of his chief wife, and Queen of Persia, Vashti by name.  Vashti is holding a big party of her own in another part of the palace for the wives of dignitaries from all over the empire.  Here she is the belle of the ball.  She declines to appear at the men’s party where she will get little respect except as an ornament of royalty.  And so begins a fascinating story of God’s providence and the victory of good over evil in the flow of history.

The celebration of Purim begins this evening at sunset.  It celebrates the survival of Israel and the foiling of a plan to perpetrate genocide on the Jewish people throughout the Persian Empire.

The two protagonists in the story are both high officials in the palace bureaucracy.  Mordechai is a Jew, and we are not told exactly what office he held, but he is obviously familiar with the inner circles of palace life.  Haman is an Agagite, a descendant of Agag, king of the Amalekites, who was defeated by King Saul of Israel and killed by the Prophet Samuel. Mordechai was descended from Kish who was the father of King Saul so that there was really bad blood between the two men.  Haman not only hates Mordechai but all Jews everywhere, and he intends to wipe them off the face of the earth.  Being the Prime Minister of Persia makes this an achievable goal for him, and he hatches a plan to do so.

“Purim,” the name of this feast of survival, comes from the Persian word for “lots.”     Haman cast lots to determine the most auspicious time to approach Ahasuerus with his diabolical plan.  He approached the king in the twelfth month of the Jewish calendar, the month of Adar.  The fourteenth and fifteenth days of this month are celebrated as Purim.

Purim is celebrated in Israel and around the world with a joviality which seems incongruous with remembrance of a victory over anti-Semitism and genocide.  But, it is a festival commemorating survival, so it can be understood.  One of the customs of the feast is the reading of the entire megillah (or scroll) of Esther in the synagogue.  At the mention of the name of Haman, which occurs 54 times in the book, the congregation makes all sorts of loud noises, like stamping of the feet and clapping of the hands, but mostly by using groggers, or ratchet noise makers brought to the service for this purpose.   Thus the passage in Deuteronomy 25:19 is fulfilled in a literal way – “Blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.”

It seems to me there is here a germ of an idea that we have failed to practice in this modern age.  When evil is confronted we should raise a ruckus.  We should make some noise to indicate we recognize it as evil.  We should call it what it is and do our best to blot it out.  Instead we sit back and ignore it, or call it politically correct to not to interfere with the rights of people to pursue perverse life styles that soil society,  corrupt the nation and lead us into a moral depravity that will be judged both in history and in eternity.  We need more groggers.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at