Friday, March 18, 2016

Light and Happiness

What is the connection between the holiday of Purim and Havdalah, the ceremonial conclusion of Shabbat? The simple answer is the single verse from the Book of Esther that is recited by the officiant during Havdalah: “La’yehudeem hayetah orah v’simcha v’sason v’yikar; And for the Jews there was light, happiness, joy and honor” (Esther 8:16). Not only is this verse recited as part of Havdalah, but, both on Purim and on Saturday night, it is customary for the verse to be recited both by the reader/reciter and by the people listening. 

In fact, Esther 8:16 is one of four verses that are traditionally recited by both the reader and the congregation during Megillah reading on Purim. The other three verses are:
 "There was a certain Jew in Shushan the castle, whose name was Mordecai the son of Jair the son of Shimei the son of Kish, a Benjamite"(2:5).

"And Mordecai went forth from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white, and with a great crown of gold, and with a robe of fine linen and purple; and the city of Shushan shouted and was glad" (8:15).

"For Mordecai the Jew was next unto king Achashverosh, and great among the Jews, and accepted of the multitude of his brethren; seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all his seed"(10:3).

These verses are frequently referred to as “verses of redemption.” The custom for them to be recited by the public as well as the reader appears to be sourced back to the Geonic period (c. 600 - 1000 C.E.).* It has been suggested that these verses mark positive turning points in the fate of the Jews. (There is a separate custom  for congregations to read aloud the names of the 10 sons of Haman, preferably in one breath.)

The origin of the custom for pausing during the Havdalah ceremony to allow all present to recite this line from the Book of Esther is unclear. However, it is likely that this custom was a cross-over from the custom of reciting it aloud during the reading of the Megillah.


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