Reading the Megillat Esther is a vital part of celebrating Purim. With a fascinating and hopeful story, the scroll continues to inspire people.
The Megillat Esther, translated as the “Scroll of Esther,” recounts the biblical story of Esther and how her efforts, as well as the efforts of the Jewish people, contributed to a seemingly supernatural miracle. In the 4th century B.C.E., the prime minister of Persia threatened to wipe out the entire Jewish population within the empire. With resiliency and strong faith in God, the Jews successfully defended themselves from evil. This miracle is the reason Jews celebrate Purim today. To learn more about Purim and its connections with the Megillat Esther, keep reading!
This article gives explanations to the following questions:
- * What is a Megillat
- * Why is the Megillat Esther significant
- * How is Purim connected with the Megillat Esther
- * What are the stories recorded in the Megillat Esther
- * How do Jews read the Megillat Esther in the synagogue
What Is a Megillat
Other common spellings of Megillat include Megillah or Megilla. In Hebrew, the word “megillat” means “scroll.” So, Megillats are various stories from the Hebrew bible recorded on scrolls. Additionally, there are five books in the Megillat- located in the Ketuvim.
The Ketuvim is the third section of the Hebrew bible. Some refer to the Hebrew Bible as the Torah. The Ketuvim has four sections- one of them being the Megillat. Altogether, the Ketuvim contains the stories from the Megillat as well as poems, histories, and prophecies.
As mentioned before, the Megillat has five distinct books. Each one has a specific holiday or festival in which Jews should read in the synagogue. The intended holiday for the Megillat Esther is Purim.
Why Is the Megillat Esther Significant
The preservation of the Megillat Esther is crucial in Judaism. The book contains the foundational story of the celebration of Purim. It includes a hopeful tale that stresses the triumph of the Jewish people in Persia. As a part of Purim, Jews today read the Megillat Esther each year on this cheerful holiday.
How Is Purim Connected with the Megillat Esther
The Megillat Esther is significant around the time of Purim. This holiday is an upbeat and joyous occasion when Jews celebrate their ancestors’ victory over Persian rulers and their plot to wipe out the Jewish population. According to the Hebrew calendar, Purim takes place on the 14th day of the month of Adar. The Hebrew calendar does not correspond perfectly with the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, there is no definite date for Purim. It changes year after year. This means that the holiday occurs typically around the end of February and the beginning of March.
Purim and the Megillat Esther seem to accompany each other. This combination is because the Megillat Esther tells the ancient story of the Jews’ victory over Persian prejudice- the story that established Purim.
What Are the Stories Recorded in the Megillat Esther
The Megillat Esther contains one principle story: how Esther, her cousin, and the Jewish population of Persia overcame discrimination and prejudice. It is an exciting story of faith that Jewish people read year after year to strengthen their faith.
The book of Esther begins about 2,700 years ago in Persia. The king of the Persian empire, Ahasuerus, executed his wife for disobedience. Soon after, he sets his desires on another woman: Esther. Although Esther is a Jewish woman, she keeps her identity a secret from the king. Eventually, she and the king marry each other.
Meanwhile, the prime minister of Persia, Haman, devises a plan to wipe out all the Jews in the Persian empire. He takes his idea to the king, who then approves the proposal to be completed on the 13th day of Adar.
Esther’s cousin Mordecai- the leader of the Jews in Persia- refuses to bow to the corrupt Haman. Due to Haman’s role in power, Mordecai puts himself in danger to maintain his pride. As Haman threatened to kill Mordecai- and the rest of the Jews- the king realizes that Mordecai saved his life at one point. Along with this, Esther reveals that she is Jewish.
After coming to terms with all these new realizations, the king felt inclined to combat the evil that Haman produced. He orders all the Jews to defend themselves against anyone who may try to kill them on the 13th of Adar. Additionally, Mordecai commands Jews- including Esther- to fast and pray for their protection.
To end the story, the Megillat Esther explains the death of Haman and that Mordecai replaced him as prime minister. The 13th day of Adar was the day when the Jews fought for their lives. The 14th day was when they rested. As a result, Jews celebrate Purim on the 14th of Adar.
How Do Jews Read the Megillat Esther In the Synagogue
As with most other Jewish holidays, there are religious rituals that Jews must participate in and complete. For Purim, it is reading the Megillat Esther, and this usually takes place in the synagogue.
On the night before Purim, Jews gather in the synagogue to hear and recite the reading of the Megillat Esther. They return the next day, on Purim, to hear and recite the story again. It is customary to chant the book using a distinct rhythm used only for this Megillat. If no one in the synagogue knows this particular tempo, then participants can speak the story. However, they should always speak the story in its original Hebrew language.
Some important rules for reading the Megillat Esther include standing and reading it directly from the scroll. This means that Jews cannot sit while doing traditional chants. This also means that Jews cannot recite the scripture from memory, but rather, read straight from it. Usually, the scrolls in synagogues have the passages handwritten with a goose quill. Although sometimes, some have a simple book with printed text.
All in all, the Megillat Esther, no matter its format, is a crucial part of the celebration of Purim and to the Jewish faith. The book recounts a story of hope and heroism that many still remember to this day.