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I think I need some help here. I'm trying to think what to wear to a fancy dressparty on Thursday. I'll tell you about it.
In year 5 we have recently been learning about space. We have learned about theway the Earth travels around the Sun in a journey that takes 365 1/4 days. Of
course, we call that length of time a year. We learned that as the Earth travelsaround the Sun the light and warmth of the Sun strikes us in different ways andbecause of this we experience seasons. In our country the seasons are Summer,Autumn, Winter and Spring. Each season has its own special features and, for manypeople, its own special times. For Christian people, for example, Winter bringsChristmas, Spring brings Easter.
Well, as many of you know, I am Jewish and for me the turning cycle of the seasonshas a different rhythm. Winter to me means, not Christmas, but Chanukah, andspring brings me, not Easter, but the festival of Passover. and this week, just when
we are caught between the cold, dark winter and the new life of Spring, togetherwith Jews everywhere, I shall celebrate Purim.
At Purim Jews really do celebrate. It's a time for eating and drinking and for fancydress. On Thursday evening my family and I will go to the synagogue for the Purimservice and all the children, and not a few of the adults will be in fancy dress. Likereligious services in almost any religion there will be prayers, and then we shall readthe megillah. The megillah is the story of Purim, the story I'm going to tell you now.
It's the story of a rather foolish king, an evil prime minister and a brave woman andyou can read all about it in the bible, in the Book of Esther.
The King was called Ahasuerus and he lived in Persia (what we now call Iran) about2500 years ago. He had a Vizier (these days we would call him a prime minister)called Haman who was a very nasty piece of work indeed and he is the villain of thestory. When his name is mentioned in the story every one in the synagogue willmake as much noise as they can for a few moments so that we don't hear the name.
Children often bring rattles and other noisy things or boo and stamp when Haman'sname is mentioned. Maybe you'd like to do the same. You could boo whenever youhear Haman's name.
Well, at the beginning of the story Ahasuerus had decided to have a huge party andinvited all the top men in the kingdom. The first few days of the party were greatfun but after a week the King started to get bored. To liven things up he sent for hisQueen, who was called Vashti, to come and show all his friends how beatiful shewas, but she said, "No".
Ahasuerus was so mad that he sent the queen away and told her never to comeback. She was probably lucky to escape with her life. He was sorry afterwards, ofcourse, but once he had made a rule he was not allowed to change it, so he decided
to find a new queen. His advisors suggested having a competition to find the mostbeautiful young woman in the country - a sort of beauty competition. The winner
Now Esther was a Jewish girl who lived in the capital city of Shushan. Her parents
had died and she lived in the house of her cousin, Mordechai, who treated her as ifshe was his own daughter. Of course Esther is the Heroine of the story so you can
cheer when you hear Esther's name just as you boo for the villain, Haman (). And ofcourse Esther () was beautiful and she won the competition and became the newqueen.
But her cousin, Mordechai had advised her that it would probably be better if shedidn't mention that she was Jewish, so she didn't.
Mordechai often came to the palace to get news of how his cousin, Esther(), wasgetting on and one day, while he was hanging around at the palace gates heoverheard a couple of the palace guards plotting to kill the King. Mordechai told
Esther (), and she told Ahasuerus, who had the men arrested. This event, like manyothers was written down in the king's book of records, but Ahasuerus didn't get
round to thanking Mordechai (I told you he wasn't too bright).
Now Haman () was a very stuck up and boastful sort of a person. He had first come
to the palace as the court hairdresser but had managed to work his way right to thetop, and he decided that since he was the second most important man in thekingdom everyone should bow down as he passed and he issued an order tellingeveryone to do just that. And everyone did . everyone, that is, but Mordechai. Herefused, saying that he was a Jew and Jews only bowed to God, not to people.
Was Haman () angry? I'll say he was. He was FURIOUS!!So, what did he do? He went to the king and he said, "Your Majesty. There are agroup of people living in this land who are dangerous. They don't obey your laws,but obey only the rules they set themselves. Surely they should be dealt with?
Ahasuerus asked Haman () what he suggested for dealing with this menace tosociety.
"Well, King," said Haman () "You should make a law saying that on a day of mychoosing the loyal people of the kingdom should take up swords and spears andattack the Jews and kill them all, men women and children - the lot. Why don't yougive me your ring and I will sort it all out for you."He needed the ring because the king used it to sign laws. The laws wer written, noton paper (which hadn't been invented yet) but on clay, and the ring had the kingsmark on it so that he could press it into the clay to sign the laws. It was called theroyal seal.
The king agreed to Haman's () suggestion, especially when Haman () promised topay ten thousand talents of silver into the king's treasury. So he handed over thering and Haman () set about his evil plan.
First he chose a day by drawing out a calendar on the ground and throwing stones
on it to see which day they landed on. The day chosen was the 13th day of the
twelfth month which in the Jewish calendar is called Adar. At that time the word fora stone was pur and more than one stone were purim. And then he sent out the
laws telling everyone to rise up on that day, kill all the Jews and take all their moneyand possessions.
Of course the Jews in Persia were horrified but they were unable to run away.
Mordechai spoke to Esther () and told her what was going on. Living in the palaceshe had not heard the bad news.
"What can I do?", she asked her cousin.
"You could ask the king to dump this rotten law, of course," said Modechai.
"If only I could," replied Esther (), "but nobody, not even me, can go to see the kingunless he sends for them, and he hasn't sent for me for the last 30 days. If anyone
goes in to his room without being sent for they are put to death immediately, andthat would not help any of us!" She thought for a moment.
"There is just a slim chance," she said, "If someone goes to the king uninvited andhe decides to let them in he will point his golden sceptre at them and then they're
safe. But he never does." She was silent for a moment more. "It's a million to onechance, she said but it might just work. But you'll have to help me," and sheexplained to Mordechai that she needed some moral support. She said that shewould fast for three days and asked that all the Jews in the country should do thesame and then on the third day she would risk going to the king.
So that's what happened. After going without food for three days Esther () dressedherself in her very best royal robes and went to knock on the king's door. You canbet she must have been pretty nervous. But she is the Heroine of our story,although she didn't know it at the time, and the king was actually pleased to see her
and held out his golden sceptre so she was allowed to live.
"What is it, my queen?" said Ahasuerus. "Just ask and it shall be yours, even if it's
half the kingdom." (He really must have been pleased to see her!)"No," she said, I would just like you and Haman () to come to a banquet which I ampreparing tommorrow."
"Great!", said the king, "A party. Of course we'll come."
Haman () was really chuffed. He ran home to tell his wife that the queen had invitedhim to a banquet, but he couldn't really enjoy himself while that Mordechai, whomhe hated more than anything, was still around. So he decided to build an enormousgallows 50 cubits high and have Mordechai hanged on it. He ordered the gallows tobe built and set off to ask the king's permission to hang Mordechai.
That night the king couldn't sleep. "Read me a story", he commanded his servantand the servant read to him from the king's book of records. Now as luck wouldhave it he read the bit about Mordechai saving the king's life.
"Has Mordechai been rewarded?" asked the king.
"Not as far as I know", said the servant.
So Ahasuerus sent for an advisor and who should be outside but Haman (). "Ah,
Haman () Just the chap" said the king, "What should be done to the man whom theking delights to honour?" asked the king.
"He must mean me", thought Haman () and he said, "Have him dressed in clotheswhich the king has worn and set upon a horse which the king has ridden with a royalcrown on his head, and let one of the kings greatest nobles lead him through thestreets announcing "Thus shall be done to the man whom the king delights tohonour."
"Great idea," said the king, "See that you do that for Mordechai. Oh, and you be theone to lead him." And Haman () had to do as he was told.
Now the next day at the banquet when food had been eaten and wine had beendrunk and the king was in a good mood, Esther () said to him, "My king, please
The king was puzzled and asked her what she was talking about. So she told him, "I
and my people have been sold to be exterminated, slain and destroyed."The King was angry to hear this. "Who has done this?" he roared.
"Haman", she replied. The king was speechless with anger and rushed out of theroom. Our villain, though, realising he was in deep trouble, stayed behind. He threwhimself at the queen's feet to plead for mercy. Unfortunately for him he landed onher lap! Just then the king came back and seeing Haman () apparently attacking the
queen he ordered his immediate execution. Haman was hanged on the gallows thathe had prepared for Mordechai.
Mordechai became Vizier and although the king couldn't change Haman's () evil lawhe allowed to Esther () and Mordechai to make a new law commanding the Jews todefend themselves, which they did successfully. When the 13th of Adar was overmost of the Jews had survived and most of their enemies hadn't. Mordechai andEsther () commanded that on the 14th day of Adar each year Jews should celebratethe feast of Purim and 2 1/2 thousand years later we still do. .
So Haman failed, but he wasn't the first person to try to exterminate the Jews andhe wasn't the last. And Jews are not the only people who have been attacked
because of their religion or their race. There are still places in the world today whereevil people are trying to destroy people because they are different.
But what is it that Jews celebrate at Purim? It's not the deaths of our enemies, forno death is a matter for celebration. What we celebrate is freedom, the right ofpeople, of whatever faith or race, to live free from the fear of attack and as wecelebrate we remember that not everyone in the world yet has that freedom.
I'd like you to just close your eyes for a few moments and think . We don't know if
the story of Esther is really true but we do know that there have been many Hamans
in the history of the world and many Esthers who have opposed them.
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