A Queen who saved a Nation

Next week, throughout the cities of modern-day Israel, a carnival atmosphere is in the air. Children (and some of the adults) walk around the streets in fancy dress - the shops are full of costumes and gift baskets filled with special Purim cookies. The joyful Feast of Purim has arrived and the Israelis certainly know how to have a good time.

Purim celebrates victory over annihilation. The Jewish community of the ancient city of Susa had been condemned to death but through an amazing series of events, they survived and held a joyous celebration on this date.  Purim is the time to celebrate and be glad, a time to feast and have fun with family and friends. Jewish communities gather to listen to the ancient tale or to watch the children dress up and re-enact the story.

Purim dates back to biblical story of Esther. In the 4th Century BC, King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) became ruler of the Medo-Persian Empire. Queen Vashti disobeyed the King during a high profile banquet and is deposed. The King then decrees that beautiful young women from the region be brought to his harem in the Citadel of Susa so that he can choose a new queen. Esther, a young Jewish girl, is chosen to be queen but is warned by her uncle Mordecai, to hide her ancestry for her own safety. The King's advisor Haman, "...looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes." (Book of Esther, Chapter 3, The Bible) Haman persuades the King to issue a decree to destroy all the Jewish people. Queen Esther finds herself in the right place at the right time to stand up against this death threat to her own people, but by speaking out, her own life will be in danger. While agonising over the decision
 to stand up or not, Esther receives a message from her uncle. “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape... ...And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Book of Esther, Chapter 4, The Bible)

Esther, tells her uncle to gather all the Jews who are in Susa to fast and pray for 3 days and nights. Then, this brave young girl declares, "When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish." Esther puts on her royal robes, approaches the throne and finds favour with the King. Her selfless act saved the Jewish people of Susa and the surrounding regions.

As is often the case with Israel's history, it is clear that the amazing twists of fate and incredible events in this story are the divine hand of God, guiding and placing his people in strategic positions to fulfil his purposes. Esther, a young woman from a minority refugee community, finds herself in the royal household of the King of an Empire. As her uncle wisely put it:   "And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

Esther is the timeless, universal symbol of the small voice that stands up against a large evil. She summons all of us to stand firm and not be afraid to speak out against the atrocities of our own time. Purim is a time to celebrate the victory of good over evil, yes, but also a time to look around and see if we have been placed in the family, city, country, workplace we find ourselves in - for such a time as this!

Hag Same'ach!  Happy Purim!

'One Night with the King' is a beautiful movie based on the story of Esther. Enjoy this preview!

You can read the full story in The Bible - Click here: Esther