Purim is one of the most joyous holidays on the Jewish calendar. It commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination through the wisdom and godliness of a beautiful woman called Esther.
The book of Esther tells the story. At the time, the Jewish people were in exile in the land of Persia. Esther was a Jewish orphan raised by her cousin Mordecai, who raised her as if she were his daughter. The king of Persia, Xerxes, was looking for a new wife. Because Esther was very beautiful, she was taken to Xerxes to become part of his harem along with other pretty girls. After a year's training the girls were introduced to the king and he loved Esther more than any of the other girls. She became the new queen. During all this time Mordecai was in contact with Esther, giving her advice and instructions. Following Mordecai's instructions she did not reveal her Jewish origin.
Soon thereafter King Xerxes appointed Haman, an arrogant man, as his first advisor. Everyone bowed to Haman, but Mordecai refused. Haman was infuriated and plotted to kill not only Mordecai, but to exterminate all the Jews in Persia. He cast the pur (that is, the lot) and selected Adar 13th to carry out his plot. Haman told the king, "There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king's laws; it is not in the king's best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury for the men who carry out this business." (Esther 3:8-9). The king gave permission to Haman to do as he pleased to them.
When the terrible decree was issued Mordecai asked Esther to speak to the king on behalf of the Jewish people. This was a dangerous thing for Esther to do, because anyone who approached the king without being summoned could be put to death, and she had not been called. Esther sent words to Mordecai and asked all the Jews to fast and pray for her for three days. She and her maids did the same. Then Esther went to see the king. The king welcomed her and asked what she wanted. She asked the king to make a banquet and invite Haman, who was much pleased with the queen's attention. During the banquet, the king again asked Esther what her request was. She asked the king and Haman to come again for another banquet the next day and she will reveal her request.
The next day during the banquet Esther revealed her Jewish origin and told the king about Haman's evil plot to kill her people. The king was furious and left the banquet room. Haman threw himself at the queen's feet pleading her to have mercy on him. When the king returned, he thought that Haman was attacking his queen, and ordered his death immediately. Haman was hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. Thus the Jewish people of Persia was saved and their enemy punished. The 13th of Adar turned from grief and mourning to a day of victory. This event is celebrated by Jews as Purim holiday, on the 14th and 15th of Adar.
The Jewish Calendar - Presents an overview of the Jewish Calendar and Festivals. Also provides links to online tools.