Article - Purim
Purim - the Feast of Esther and Mordechai - falls in early spring. Celebrated on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar, its story is told in the biblical Book of Esther. The events described took place during the reign of Ahasuerus, better known as Xerxes, who ascended the Persian throne in 486 BCE, and who was a grandson of Cyrus - the same Cyrus under whose rule the Jews in exile were encouraged to return to their homeland.
The Book, or Scroll, of Esther, relates how Vashti the Queen refused to attend one of her husband's riotous parties in the Palace of Shushan. As a result, she was deposed, and Ahasuerus married Esther - whose Hebrew name was Hadassah - the lovely adopted daughter of Mordechai, one of the Jewish courtiers at Shushan. Meanwhile, a plot to destroy the Jewish communities of Persia was hatched by Haman, the king's favorite. Mordechai discovered the plot, and asked Esther to intercede with the King. Only then did Esther reveal to him her Jewish origins and pleaded for the protection of her co-religionists. Ahasuerus readily agreed. Haman was hanged from the gallows he had prepared for Mordechai, and the Jews were given permission to defend themselves. The ordained day was the 13th Adar, and so great was the sense of foreboding that, as the date drew near, "many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews tell upon them" (Esther 8:17).
Thousands of Jew-baiters died on that fateful day, and on the morrow the Jews rejoiced, "sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor" (Esther 9:22). Only in the walled city of Shushan did the slaughter continue, and Haman's ten sons were hanged upon the gallows. Accordingly, the Jews of Shushan postponed their festival to the 15th Adar, establishing the custom of "Shushan Purim," whereby Purim takes place 25 hours later in walled towns than in unwalled towns and villages.
Until today, Purim is considered a minor feast, perhaps geared more to the Diaspora than to the Land of Israel. It does not demand a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but is marked by reading the Scroll of Esther in all synagogues. punctuated by shouts whenever "Haman" appears in the text.
Other customs which persist are the sending of gifts, and participation in a festive meal, including the traditional "Hamantaschen" - triangular pastries filled with poppyseed and honey - and pulses, recalling the years when Esther, as an observant Jewess, kept to a vegetarian diet in the King's palace. Purim is also the one holiday in the year when merrymaking supersedes study! The Purimspiel and masquerades are later additions, probably stemming from European carnivals. Although Purim was at first frowned on by Israel's higher authorities, many aspects were so popular that it soon became an integral part of the Jewish calendar, and as early as Maccabean times it was observed as the Day of Mordechai. Its universality endeared it to the man-in-the-street. The story of Haman, the symbolic Amalekite, archenemy of the Jews, and his defeat has been endlessly repeated since the first Dispersion 2,500 years ago.
The scenes depicted on the three stamps of the series are based on the Scroll of Esther: musicians serenading King Ahasuerus (inscription on the tab - "In the days of Ahasuerus" (Scroll of Esther 1:1-3); Esther being crowned queen (tab inscription - Scroll of Ether 2:16-17), and Mordecai being honored by the king and led through the streets by Haman, the tab inscription announces "Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor" (Scroll of Esther 6:11)