Chag Sameach! We are entering the festival of Purim, a joyous festival in which we witnessed the salvation of the Jewish nation via Queen Esther.
The background to the Purim story actually started when the Babylonian King, ‘Belshazzar,’ held a grand feast, featuring wine and food (Daniel 5:1/4). During this party he was hosting, he witnessed a mysterious hand writing on the wall; however no one was able to interpret what was written except for the famous prophet, Daniel (Daniel 5:5).
Daniel interpreted that the writing was stating three crucial things; that Belshazzar’s full number of day’s as king was to finish on that night, G-d weighted out what the Babylonians was worth in his eyes and that the Babylonian kingdom would be split up on that night, between the Mede’s and half to the Persians (Daniel 5:28).
On that very night, Belshazzar was murdered and King Cyrus, King of the Mede’s, took the empire of Babylon for himself. Cyrus, during his reign as King, allowed the Jews to rebuild the Temple, however during the rebuilding of the Second Temple (Ezra 1:2), other sectors slandered the Jews to the King, which in turn resulted in a halt to the building of the Second Temple (Ezra 4:11/16). After King Cyrus had ruled, King Ahasuerus became the King (Gemara Megillah 11b).
The Book of Esther begins with a 180 day drinking banquet provided by King Ahasuerus, for the army of Persia and Media, for the 127 provinces of his kingdom (Megillat Esther 1:4), at the conclusion of which there was a seven day drinking feast for the locals of Shushan, rich and poor with a separate drinking feast for the women made by his wife, Queen Vashti (Esther 1:9).
King Ahasuerus disgracefully used as part of his utensils, items from the First Temple (Beit Hamikdash) and he even wore the Kohen Gadol outfit! However as the Jews did also take part and furthermore, failed to protest within regards to this desecration, trouble was to befall the Jews (Megillah 12a)!
At the end of the banquet, the King became drunk and ordered his wife, Queen Vashti, to dance naked, proving to the other princes of the 127 provinces, that he had the most beautiful wife. She refused to appear naked, the Talmud suggests this was because she was suffering from leprosy (Megillah 12b), so she would in turn, be too ashamed to appear in front of everyone, despite being known as a very immoral person. This caused huge embarrassment for the King as Vashti refused his orders. After receiving advice from Haman, King Ahasuerus executed Vashti, a decision he would regret the next day. Vashti, however, was by no means a ‘nice’ queen, the medrash relates that she used to torment the Jewish ladies and force them to work on Shabbat, if they refused, she would order people to beat them.
Ahasuerus needed to find a new queen, He then ordered all young ladies to be presented to him, so he could select a new queen to replace Vashti. One of the girls in line was Esther, in fact her name before was Hadassah (Megillah 13a), she changed it in order to hide the fact that she was Jewish. Esther who was orphaned at a young age was adopted by her Uncle, Mordechai, who according to opinions later on became her husband (Chullin 139).
Esther did not reveal that she was Jewish (Megillah 13a) as she had prophecy that she would be the person to be the salvation for the Jews, in turn, by revealing her identity, would wreck this potentially.
Ahasuerus appointed Haman as his prime minister. Haman was a descendant of Agag, in turn making him a descendant of Amalek. Mordecai, always sat at the palace gates, he found Haman's disfavor as he refused to bow down to him (Esther 3:2). Haman discovered that Mordechai was Jewish, and then planned to kill not just Mordecai but the entire Jewish people in the empire (Esther 3:6). He was a massive anti Semite. Haman obtained Ahasuerus' permission to execute this plan, against payment of ten thousand talents of silver (Esther 3:9), and Haman then went on to cast lots to select the date on which this execution would take place - the thirteenth of the month of Adar (Megillah 13b).
When Mordecai found out about the plans he ordered widespread repentance and fasting. Esther then discovered what had transpired; she requested that all the Jews have to fast and pray for three days together with her (Esther 4:16), and on the third day she would seek an audience with Ahasuerus, during which she invited him to a feast in the company of Haman. By going to the King, she was in turn risking her life. Also the Gemora gives reasons why Esther requested for Haman to accompany them at a banquet, reasons including, to not make the Jews too confident in her and not G-d; and also to make the King jealous of Haman (Megillah 15). As Esther fasted for three days, we fast for a single day before Purim, the fast of Taanit Esther.
During the feast, she asked both of them to attend a further meal the next evening. Meanwhile, Haman was again offended by Mordechai as he again refused to bow, and built gallows for him to later on be hanged (Esther 5:14).
That night, Ahasuerus could not sleep; he was paranoid that Haman was out to kill him as Esther invited him to a banquet. The court's records were read to him to help him sleep, he learned of the services rendered by Mordecai in a previous plot against his life. Where two Persians were plotting to kill the King, Mordechai prevented this and was never rewarded (Esther 6:1/3). Ahasuerus was then told that Mordecai had never received any recognition for saving the King's life. Just then, Haman appeared, and King Ahasuerus asked Haman what should be done for ‘the man that the King wishes to honor?’ Haman was thinking the man that the King wishes to honor is himself, Haman replied that the man should be dressed in the king's royal robes and led around on the King's royal horse (Esther 6:8). To Haman's horror, the king instructed Haman to do so for the man he hates, Mordecai.
Later that night, Ahasuerus and Haman attended Esther's second banquet, at which she revealed that she is a Jew and that Haman was planning to kill her people, which included her (Esther 7:6). Ahasuerus, believing his life to be at risk also, ordered Haman to be hanged on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai.
Instead of the Jews being destroyed on the 13th of Adar, the Jews were allowed to kill the people plotting against them and those that hated them (Esther 9:5). A second day was granted on the 14th of Adar, where a total in the two days of 75,000 Anti Semites were killed (Esther 9:16).
Mordecai then went on to assume a prominent position in Ahasuerus' court (Megillah 16b Rashi), and instituted a yearly commemoration of the delivery of the Jewish people from being annihilated. This festival is known as Purim. In the Jewish year 3408, the son of Esther, King Darius permitted the rebuilding of the Second Temple (Ezra 4:24).
Dvar Torah written by Michael Zaroovabeli