At the end of a 180-day feast, the Persian-Medean King Achashverosh executed his wife, Vashti, for refusing to appear at his banquet. Achashverosh staged an elaborate beauty contest to find a new queen.
Esther lived with her uncle, Mordechai, in Shushan, the capital city. She was chosen for the contest because she was particularly beautiful, and was selected to be queen. Mordechai instructed her not to reveal her Jewish identity.
Achashverosh’s new Prime Minister, Haman, asked for and received permission to destroy the Jews. A royal edict was issued saying that on the 13th of Adar, the Jews in all 127 provinces were to be killed and their property kept as plunder.
Mordechai told Esther of the plot and asked her to seek mercy from the king. Esther agreed, but requested that all the Jews fast for three days and repent for their sins while praying for the heavenly decree against them to be reversed.
Esther, welcomed by Achashverosh, simply requested that Achashverosh and Haman join her for a private feast--at which she requested that the three of them return for a second feast on the next day.
After the first feast, Haman went home and built a gallows on which to hang Mordechai.
That night, reminded of how Mordechai had revealed an assassination plot, Achashverosh instructed Haman to reward Mordechai by immediately leading him through town, dressed in royal robes, on the royal steed.
At her second feast, Esther explained to the king that Haman’s evil plan for the Jews included her.
Haman and his 10 sons were hanged and Mordechai became Prime Minister.
The Jews celebrated with great feasts, and Mordechai codified all the practices of Purim for future generations: the reading of the Megillah, the festive meal, gifts of food and charity to the poor.
For a more detailed synopsis of the Book of Esther, please visit NJOP’s Purim pages.