3 basic Purim questions answered

Hi Rabbi,

I have three questions regarding Purim:

1. I know that we have a mitzvah to make a feast on Purim because we survived the attempt of physical bodily destruction. What I don’t understand is why our celebration needs to be a drinking party.Is it perhaps a resemblance to King Ahasuerus’ party, at which, for their participation, the Jews were decreed complete annihilation?

2. Why did Mordechai encourage Esther to commit adultery with Ahasuerus, a violation of one of the Ten Commandments? Perhaps this was because Mordecai felt her role was to save the entirety of the Jewish people? Does that make this OK?

3. Why was a special decree needed for the Jews to fight back against their enemies? They were still under attack. Couldn’t they defend themselves without a decree allowing them so? I would have considered it a much greater accomplishment for Mordechai and Esther if they could have gotten the decree of annihilation rescinded rather than keeping it in place and just having a counter-decree to fight back!



Dear Judah,

Three great questions! 

You may have heard of the famous summary of all Jewish holidays: They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!

You are correct that on Purim we have a mitzvah to eat a joyous meal which is our way of celebrating the miraculous rescue from the first attempt at the “final solution,” first suggested by Haman, a member of Amalek (the progenitors of the Germans/Nazis). 

We celebrate our physical rescue in a physical way, as opposed to Hanukkah when we celebrate in a spiritual way (lighting candles), as that was a spiritual, ideological battle. 

The drinking a bit more than one is accustomed to, is to fulfill the Talmudic injunction to “eat and drink until one doesn’t know the difference between the curses of Haman and the blessings of Mordechai.” On one level, this is to come to the realization that even when things seem to be going badly, ultimately it is for the good. Even when God seems to have forsaken us completely, He is always still there behind the scenes to protect us from complete annihilation. God’s love for us, although at times is hidden, is always present. There are even deeper meanings of this, which we can’t get into here.

You are correct about the permissibility of Mordechai sending Esther to be married to the king despite her being married to Mordechai (according to one opinion in the Talmud). The commentaries explain, as you surmise, that although relations with a married woman is something that one needs to forfeit his or her life for rather than transgress (as this is one of the three cardinal sins), nevertheless when it involves the rescue of a multitude of Jews, and certainly the entire Jewish people, it is allowed.

The Megillah states that, when asked to rescind his decree, King Ahasuerus replied that “a royal decree stamped with the royal seal cannot be retracted.” (Esther 8:8)

Mordechai and Esther felt that if the decree was still in full force without a counter-decree to defend themselves, the Jews would despair and give up rather than attempt to fight an enemy who were attacking them with the full license of the king. So, they sought to, at the very least, have royal permission granted to fight back to give the Jews the confidence that they could destroy their enemies, the Amalekites, without worrying about retribution from the king.

This confidence, coupled with their renewed trust in God, gave the Jews the resolve and determination to overcome their enemies. 

May we continue to renew that trust in God and overcome the hardships of exile and all our enemies that seek to destroy us today. 

A joyous Purim to you and all the readers! L’chaim!

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