The Megilla opens with King Ahashverosh hosting a tremendous feast for all of his ministers and rulers of the provinces. No measure of opulence was overlooked. At the same time, Queen Vashti did the same for the women of the kingdom.
After King Ahashverosh had a little too much to drink, he called for his queen to come and show off her beauty to all of the guests. This she refused to do. Faced with her disobedience, King Ahashverosh sought the advice of his ministers. They counseled that he establish a new law demanding complete obedience of a wife to her husband. Furthermore, Vashti must be removed from her post and replaced by somebody more submissive.
King Ahashverosh set himself to the task of finding a new queen. His method was typical of the time, and the man. Simply put, he had all of the eligible bachelorettes spend a night with him. One of these bachelorettes was none other than Esther, the niece of Mordechai. Mordechai was the leader of the Jewish community, and one of the scholars of the generation. He had adopted her after her parents had left the scene.
When the time came for Esther to be taken to the king, she did something unusual. All of the other girls were painted and perfumed for months in order to gain the king's acceptance. Esther requested none of that. Nonetheless, she found favor in everybody's eyes, including the king. Esther was to be the new queen. Before she ascended the throne, Mordechai admonished her not to reveal her Jewish identity.
Soon, a new political force came on the scene. His name was Haman, a descendent of the Amalekites. He bore absolutely no goodwill whatsoever towards the Jewish people, especially Mordechai. Haman had made a new law requiring people to bow down to him. Mordechai the Jew would not bow down to any human being. This created tension. At the same time, however, Mordechai uncovered a plot to kill the king. His good fortune in overhearing the two plotters, Bigtan and Theresh, enabled him to save the king and create a debt that would help save the Jewish people.
A bolt out of a blue sky, Haman got permission from King Ahashverosh to annihilate the Jewish people. This was nothing short of an ancient " final solution." The date was set at the 13th of Adar. On that date, the entire country was urged to participate in a massive pogrom. As this decree was publicized throughout the country, there was puzzlement and consternation. The Jews, needless to say, were terrified. They turned for leadership to Mordechai.
Mordechai immediately sprang into action. He sent an urgent message to his niece, Queen Esther, that she must go and speak to the king at once. But there was a problem, the king had not called her for quite some time. Royal palace procedures, and Ahashverosh's paranoia, dictated that any uninvited visitor to the throne room could be put to death unless the king extended his royal scepter. There was a good chance, said Esther, that should she entered the king's chamber, she might be killed. Mordechai's response was strong and unwavering in faith. " Do not think that you shall escape the decree against the Jews by staying in the palace. If you do nothing, you and your lineage will be uprooted, and salvation will come to the Jewish people from other quarters."
Esther went. Mordechai organized the people to fast for her. Thankfully, the king extended his scepter and offered to grant Esther any wish of up to half the kingdom. Esther's request was modest. She was hosting a luncheon tomorrow, and wished for the king and his Prime Minister, Haman, to attend. The request was granted. At the luncheon, the king repeated his offer to grant Esther anything up to half the kingdom. She responded with the same request, another luncheon with the king and Haman tomorrow.
A remarkable incident occurred overnight. King Ahashverosh was stricken with insomnia. In an effort to help him fall asleep, his advisers read to him from the royal chronicles. It just so happened that they read about how Mordechai had saved the king by foiling the assassination plot. Right as the king asked his advisers if proper reward had been granted to Mordechai for this, someone entered the royal courtyard. It was Haman, and he had come to request that the self same Mordechai be hanged. He felt that Mordechai was disloyal for not bowing down to him. He was in for a surprise.
Ahashverosh sensed that someone had come, and had his advisers bring him into his presence. He asked Haman a great leading question. " How do you think the king should reward someone to whom he wishes to show favor?" Haman assumed he was the one to receive this honor. His answer was perfect. " Let him ride on the king's horse, wear the king's clothing, and have a runner proclaim publicly that he is the desired honoree of the king!" Ahashverosh thought this was a splendid idea. " Go and do all that you have said ... for Mordechai, the Jew." Who is laughing now?
Haman had by now set himself up to be exposed as the power hungry villain he was. At the meal, the king again asked Esther what it was she wanted. Her request was simple, she wanted to live. She and her people. She wanted that the man who sought their destruction be denied. " Who is this man?" , thundered the king. Esther's answer was straight to the point. " This evil Haman," she pointed at him. At that, King Ahashverosh stormed into the garden in a fury. Haman fell on Esther's couch to beg for his life. When the king returned, he saw Haman as if he were trying to lay his hands on Esther. That sealed it!
The aftermath of all of this was that Mordechai was appointed to replace Haman. New decrees went out urging the Jews to defend themselves against their oppressors. Ultimately, they fought back on the 13th (and 14th in the capital city Shushan) of Adar successfully. Haman, his wife and 10 sons, were all put to death. So, too, were those who sought the Jews destruction. The Jews celebrated their victories on the 14th of Adar, and on the 15th in the city of Shushan. Esther wrote all of the details of this epic in the book of Esther, the Megilla. Thus, the central feature of the Purim holiday is the reading of the Megilla.
One other feature of this holiday was the unity of the Jewish people in their own defense. As a result, religious practice dictates that we must share our food with those less fortunate, and trade meals with our friends and neighbors. We must come together in greater friendship, for that is the true secret of Jewish survival. Happy Purim!