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Learn Hebrew: Purim

February 17, 2010 | by Shira Cohen-Regev

Celebrating our deliverance from the clutches of evil.

On Purim, we read the Scroll of Esther (מְגִלַּת אֶסְתֵּר), the fascinating biblical story describing the miraculous salvation of the Jewish people. Let's meet the "stars":

• Achashverosh (אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ) - the king of 127 countries, who held a six-month-long feast to “celebrate” the destruction of the Jewish Temple.

• Vashti (וַשְתִּי), the queen who disobeyed Achashverosh and refused to attend the feast wearing “only her crown” (a crime for which she was executed).

• Haman (הָמָן), the villain advisor of King Achashverosh, who made a “Pur” (פּוּר, lottery) to choose the day to kill the Jews. The chosen date was the 13th day of the month of Adar (י"ג אֲדָר).

• Mordechai (), an esteemed member of the Sanhedrin (Jewish high court) who lived in Shushan after being expelled from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. Mordechai overheard the king's servants plotting to kill him; the servants were hanged and Mordechai’s name was recorded in the king's private diary.

• Esther (אֶסְתֵּר), an orphan Jewish girl, raised by her cousin Mordechai, also known by her Hebrew name, Hadassah (הֲדַסָּה). She became the queen, and risked her life to convince the king to save the Jewish people.

As the key turning point of the story unfolds: Haman enters the palace to ask the King's permission to hang Mordechai. At that moment, Achashverosh was pondering how to reward Mordechai for uncovering the guards’ assassination plot. Haman, thinking that the King wants to reward him, suggests that one of the King's highest officers should dress the man with royal robes and lead him on horseback through the city, calling out: "This is what is done for the man whom the King wants to honor" - כָּכָה יֵעָשֶׂה לָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הַמֶּלֶךְ חָפֵץ בִּיקָרוֹ. Much to Haman’s surprise, the king orders Haman to dress Mordechai in royal robes and lead him on a horse through the city.

The following day, at Esther's (second) party, Esther reveals her Jewish identity and points to Haman as engineering the plan to destroy her people. The furious king orders Haman hung on the gallows that he’d prepared for Mordechai. The Jews are permitted to defend themselves, and on the day that the Jews were to be destroyed, they instead celebrate a victory over their enemies.

Mordechai sets the next day – the 14th of Adar – as a holiday called "Purim" (from the word פּוּר) to be celebrated every year. (In Jerusalem, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of Adar.)

Today, we celebrate with costumes, noisemakers, and a feast that includes wine and Hamantashen, special filled cookies that resemble Haman's ears. We give gifts of food to our friends, and money to the poor. We read the Megillat Esther twice (once in the evening, and once in the morning) and use a special noisemaker () every time Haman’s name is mentioned.

Many people start celebrating even before Purim, with the beginning of the Hebrew month of Adar. As the expression goes, - “When Adar arrives, we increase our joy.”

Related Vocabulary Words

Translation: feast, banquet
Transliteration: mishteh
Part of speech: noun, masculine

Translation: Hamantashen cookies (lit: Haman’s ears)
Transliteration: ozney haman
Part of speech: noun, masculine, plural

מִשְׁלוֹחַ מָנוֹת
Translation: gifts of food on Purim (lit: sending portions)
Transliteration: mishlo'ach manot
Part of speech: noun, masculine

מֶלֶךְ (ז) מַלְכָּה (נ)
Translation: king, queen
Transliteration: melech (m), malka (f)

Translation: noisemaker, gragger
Transliteration: ra'ashan
Part of speech: noun, masculine


Related Hebrew Names

Hadassah הֲדַסָּה

A girl’s name, meaning “myrtle.” It is used in the Book of Esther (2:7) as a substitute name for Queen Esther.

Mordechai -

A boy’s name, related to the myrrh ingredient used in the Temple incense (Exodus 30:23).

Hebrew Crossword

See if you can translate the words into Hebrew and place them into the puzzle:



Right-to-Left Up-‘n-Down
2. Hebrew month of Purim 1. Purim gift
4. king 2. Persian name of Hadassah
5. queen 3. queen who refused to come to the king's feast
7. King of Persia 5. feast, banquet
8. Esther's cousin 6. villain advisor of Achashverosh
9. lottery  




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