Kenneth Cohen

Backdrop of Purim

The two well known rabbinic holidays in the Jewish calendar are Chanukah and Purim. It is not necessarily common knowledge that the Purim story took place hundreds of years before the Chanukah story.

The events connected with Purim happened when the Jewish people were in exile. It was between the period of the first and second Temple. The Chanukah story took place during the Second Temple period in Israel.

It is important to understand the backdrop of Purim. The Jewish people were scattered all over the kingdom of Achashveirosh. The destruction of the glorious Temple of Solomon led to great devastation for the Jewish people. There is even an opinion that one million Jews were slaughtered in Jerusalem alone.

The great hope was that the prophecy of Jeremiah would come true. This exile was only meant to last for seventy years. This hope for the Jews struck fear in the hearts of the leaders of the time. Both Belshazar, the previous head of Persia, as well as Achashveirosh, were very concerned that the Jewish nation would rise again.

They both made feasts celebrating what they thought was the non-fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy. They were both mistaken, as they miscalculated when the seventy years began.

It is important to understand the state of the Jewish people when Haman rose to power. His plan to annihilate all of the Jews, was exceptionally frightening, when many Jews had witnessed the horrors of the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians. The ultimate victory over Haman, and the celebrations that followed, made the miracle of Purim that much greater.

The mood in Israel prior to the Six Day War, was equally tense. After only twenty-two years after the Holocaust, there were cries of driving Israel into the sea. The miraculous victory in six days, with Hashem’s help, was remarkable. History repeats itself, which is why we have every reason to be optimistic of Hashem’s salvation, where the sadness and mourning will turn to joy and celebration.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at
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