Historical Background of Purim


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The History of Purim

By Ezra Souffer

The time period of Purim is between the time of the two Temples, approximately 358 years before the common era. The Persian kingdom waxed strong as the Babylonian empire receded in worldly influence. A prophecy claiming that after seventy years of exile the Jews would be redeemed from their exile was known not only by the Jews, but also by the gentiles. (see Jeremiah 29:10 and Daniel 9:2) The power of the G-d of the Hebrews was well known to the gentiles.

The Persian King, Cyrus I, gave permission for the Jews to return to Israel and to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. However at that time many foreign groups had moved into the Land of Israel. Amongst these people, were a group who decided to accept upon themselves the Jewish religion because they were attacked by lions. They felt that each land had it's own god, and therefore since they lived in Israel, they would worship the G-d of Israel. However, they had no commitment to Judaism and the Jewish laws. This group lived in an area called Samaria and they became known as the Samaritans.

At first they tried to help in building the Temple, but because of their insincere motivation and minimal observation of Jewish living, they were not accepted to work on the Temple. This caused them to turn on the Jewish People and they began to send reports to the Persian authorities stating that the Jews were planning another rebellion. Needless to say, many of Persian ministers were anti-Semitic. They prevailed upon Cyrus to stop the building which he did.

After Cyrus died, Achasverosh, in a dramatic power struggle, took over the kingdom. He was a cruel man. He took for his wife, Vashti, the daughter of Nebuchadnetzer, the former king of Babylon. It was Nebuchadnetzer, who was responsible for the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jews from their land.

Achasverosh, like the kings that preceded him were aware of the prophecy that the Jewish G-d would return his people after seventy years of exileThere were vaious opinions of how to calculate the seventy year period. Each person had his personal calculation.

Belshazar, the king who preceded Achasverosh, made his calculation. When, according to his calculation the seventy years had passed and the Jews were not redeemed, he rejoiced. To him this meant several important things. One, his kingdom was intact. The Jews would remain a stateless people. He did not have to worry about future rebellions from such a hard lot. Two, the non-fulfillment of the prophecy of not less then two distinguished prophets, meant that there really was no G-d. The respect that the gentiles had for the Hebrew G-d until now could be forgotten. With this in mind Belshazar took out the gold and silver vessels that had been taken as booty from the Temple and he made a feast using them for his private enjoyment. (see Daniel 5:22 - 30) That night Belshazar was killed. Frightened again because of the prophecy of the Jews, the Temple vessels were put away.

Now Achasverosh began his rein. He too enlarged his kingdom, yet feared the redemption of the Jews by the Jewish G-d. He, too, made his calculation as to the end of the seventy year waiting period. Seeing that the seventy years, according to his calculations had passed, he felt that his kingdom was secure. Happy in this security he too made a tremendous feast. Like Belshazar, he brought out the Temple vessels and ordered that they be used at his gigantic feast. Achasverosh became drunk at this feast. He bragged of the greatness of his kingdom and the splendor of his queen, the daughter of Nebuchadnezer. In his stupor, he ordered his queen to appear in front of him and his advisors naked. The queen refused the king's inappropriate request, invoking Achasverosh's wrath. The king, acting upon the advice of his minister, Haman, had her executed.

Subsequently, Esther became the new queen and the story of Purim and the redemption of the Jews unfolded as related in the Megilla Esther.

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