The events commemorated by Purim took place in the
ancient Persian Empire, in the fifth century BCE, under the reign of
King Achashverosh. Mordechai, a Jew, refused to bow down and prostrate
himself before Haman, the vizier to the King. Haman immediately set out
"to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of
Achashverosh" (Esther 3,6). In order to effect his vicious racist plan,
Haman decided to enlist the aid of the unsuspecting King
Achashverosh. Since Haman was a very superstitious person, he had lots
cast to determine on which day he
should carry out his design. The word for lots is "Purim", and from it
we get the name for the holiday. The chosen date was the thirteenth of
The king, who trusted Haman, agreed to his plan to murder the Jews. For Haman had told him that the Jews were "scattered abroad in all the provinces," and that "their laws are different from those of every people" (Esther 3,8).
Letters, written by Haman and signed by the king, were sent out throughout all the provinces, commanding all persons "to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish all the Jews" (Esther 3,13). The Jews would have been massacred, had it not been for Esther, Mordechai's cousin, who had been chosen queen a few years earlier. Queen Esther was able to intercede and save the Jewish community from genocide. Haman was hanged on the gallows which he himself had prepared for Mordechai. The Jews of Persia were spared and judgments were executed on their enemies.
Mordechai thereupon sent letters to all the Jews,calling upon them to observe the fourteenth and the fifteenth of Adar, "the days wherein the Jews had rest from their enemies, and the month which was turned for them from sorrow to gladness, and from mourning into a good day; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions (mishloach manot) one to another and gifts to the poor (matanot la'evyonim)" (Esther 9,22).