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February 20, 2016 by William H. Scarle, Jr., 813-835-0129

When is a holiday not a holiday?  The answer is, “When it comes in a calendar leap year on the Hebrew calendar.”  Purim, or the Feast of Esther, falls on Adar 14, which is the last month of the Hebrew year.  In order to keep the lunar calendar in line with the solar year there are seven leap years in a nineteen year cycle.  This year, 5776, is one of those years.  As a result there is an Adar I and an Adar II.  Since Purim falls in the month of Adar there are two Purims.  The first one falls on Tuesday of next week, February 23.

In order to solve this problem the first Purim is noted as Purim Katan, or “Little Purim.”  It might have been Purim, but it isn’t.  It should be recognized, but all the celebration should be saved until Adar II.

Purim is not the most important holiday in the Hebrew calendar, but on several counts it is a very special celebration.  At a family dinner last evening I mentioned that I might write an article on Purim and the table lit up like turning on a LED bulb.  Esther was a favorite.  She was a brave and committed young lady in a situation which threatened to annihilate her people.

As a new queen of Persia Esther discovered a plot to eliminate all the Jews in the kingdom.  It was led by Haman, the Agagite.  Agag was the king of the Amalekites who was slain by the Prophet Samuel following the defeat of the Amalekites by King Saul of Israel.  Haman hated the Jews, and held a special grudge against Mordechai, Esther’s uncle.

The key verse of Esther comes as Mordechai pleads with Esther to approach Xerxes I, king of Persia, and interceed for her people.  It is found in Esther 4:14.  “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish.  And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this.”

The book of Esther has only ten chapters.  The entire scroll (Hebrew, megillah) is read as the center piece of the synagogue service of Purim.  This reading is the occasion for some of the celebration of Israel’s protection by the Almighty.   The congregation comes to the service equipped with grogers, or noise makers.  At every mention of Haman’s name the grogers are whirled and feet are stomped.  Thus the name of Haman is blotted out and Israel is preserved by the Lord God and a young lady named Esther.

If making noise during the reading of the sacred text is not exciting enough it is the custom during Purim for the children, and I am sure some adults, to dress up in costumes representing Esther, Mordechai, and the king.  It is a kind of sacred mascaraed party.

Since there is an entire month between Purim Katan and the real thing an opportunity is available for a special study of the book of Esther.  It is a delightful book, filled with plots and counterplots, malicious ploys and sacred deception.  It has one special feature that becomes obvious as one reads.  God is everywhere active in the unfolding of Israel’s deliverance, but his name is never mentioned.   Mordechai says that even if Esther refuses to speak, “Deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place.”  Mordechai understood the Shepherd of Israel could be trusted.  But Esther did not refuse to speak.  It is a great story about a remarkable young woman.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at  END – whs