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For a Time Such as… Puriym?

Just before the renewal of Israel’s annual calendar, the last month of the year hosts the Feast of Puriym, as birthed out of the events reported in the book of Esther.

The story of Esther and the Jews living in Persia takes place around 500 BC, near the end of Israel’s expulsion to Babylon. The historical account concludes with Esther and Mordechai’s triumph over Haman and the spirit of anti-Semitism, securing the Jewish peoples’ momentary safety in a foreign land. In short,

…Haman… the ’Agagiy, adversary of all the Jews, had devised [a plot] concerning the Jews to destroy them, and had caused pur to fall—that is, the lot—to crush them and to destroy them. But in [Esther’s uncovering of Haman’s plot and] coming in before the king, [the king responded] with the [written proclamation] letter, “Let [Haman’s] evil device that he devised against the Jews turn back upon his own head!” And they hanged him and his sons on the tree. (Esther 9:24-25)

The ensuing “days of banquet and of joy, and of sending portions [of food] one to another, and gifts to the needy” were celebrated “as days on which the Jews have rested from their enemies, and the month that has been turned to them from sorrow to joy, and from mourning to a good day.” (vs. 22) These days inaugurated an annual memorial—“Puriym—by the name of the lot”—established by Mordechai’s letter to the Jews of Persia.

Therefore, because of all the words of this letter, and what they have seen concerning this, and what has come to them, the Jews have established and received upon themselves and upon their seed and upon all those joined to them—and it may not pass away—to be keeping these two days according to their writing, and according to their season, in every year and year. And these days are [to be] remembered and kept in every generation and generation, family and family, province and province, and city and city. And these days of Puriym may not pass away from the midst of the Jews, and their memorial may not [be] ended from their seed. (Esther 9:26-28)

So by royal decree, the Jews of Persia escaped an onslaught against them, and instituted Puriym as an annual reminder to all Israel of this “good day.” Puriym is to be celebrated “the fourteenth day of the month of Adar [the twelfth month], and the fifteenth day of it, in every year and year…” (Esther 9:21)

The Silence of God

One of the historical criticisms levied against the book of Esther is that neither the name of Adonai, nor any reference to the God of Israel, is found in its text. The defense of the book’s inclusion in the canon of Scripture, however, comes from the allegedly underlying theme of divine providence, which may be encapsulated in the famous line uttered by Mordechai to the reluctant Queen Esther, “and who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for a time such as this?” (Esther 4:14)  It is therefore traditionally understood that God’s silent role in the story of Esther is what brought about the protection and salvation of the Jewish people of Persia.

But with the voice of God sounding so loudly throughout the bulk of Scripture, His “silence” in the book of Esther rings ever so conspicuously where the authoritative establishment of Puriym is concerned. Indeed, it is absolutely clear from the text that Adonai in no way authorized and implemented Puriym as a feast to be kept by Israel. Rather, it is a self-appointed time of celebration—much like that of Chanukah, another self-proclaimed feast which commemorates Israel facing and defeating a similar foe. In the end, there can be no argument that Mordechai and the Jews in Persia unilaterally imposed the annual celebration and memorial of Puriym upon their descendants forever—an appointment which was never explicitly sanctioned by Adonai. How, then, are we to handle this precarious—and somewhat presumptuous—command, which has been preserved for us in the context of Scripture? Read more