What is Shushan Purim?

Rabbi Jeffrey Goldwasser

Shushan Purim is a unique day in the cycle of Jewish holidays. Purim is the only holiday whose date depends on where you happen to celebrate it. For most of the world, Purim occurs on the 14th of Adar. However, if you happen to reside in Jerusalem or the city of Shushan (where the story of Purim took place), or any walled city, Purim is on the 15th of Adar. Therefore, the observance is called "Shushan Purim."

This oddity is the result of a minor detail of the story of Purim in the Book of Esther. According to the story, Haman connived to have the Jews of Persia destroyed on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar. However, after his plot was revealed by Mordechai and Esther, the king ordered the execution of Haman and issued a new decree allowing the Jews to defend themselves on that day. Not surprisingly, the Jews succeeded in overcoming their enemies. (How many people are going to join a fight against the Jews when their chief enemy and his ten sons have just been hanged in the capital?)

Queen Esther then instituted the holiday of Purim for the day after the Jews were permitted to defend themselves. It is an important distinction for the holiday. Purim does not celebrate a military triumph. It celebrates the day of "rejoicing and feasting" that followed. That is why Purim is on the fourteenth day of Adar, not the thirteenth. 

However, the text tells us that in the capital city of Shushan, the King permitted the Jews to defend themselves for an additional day. They fought against their enemies on both the thirteenth and fourteenth of Adar. The book of Esther is careful to explain, therefore, that Purim could not be celebrated in Shushan until the fifteenth day. On that day, the Jews of the capital would follow the Jews of the "unwalled towns" of the kingdom by "sending gifts to each other"  (Esther 9:12-19). 

This is the reason that Purim still is celebrated a day late in Shushan and in Jerusalem, whose walls were standing back in the days of Joshua. Today is the day that Jews in Jerusalem read the Megillah with its blessings and deliver mishloach manot, gifts of food, to their friends.

For people today who are concerned with reviving and reinvigorating the joy of Judaism, Shushan Purim has an important lesson. We must be careful to be clear about why we are celebrating. We change the date of a holiday to avoid even the appearance that we are celebrating the downfall of our foes. 

Real joy is not about triumphalism. We do not rejoice over the death of Haman. Rather, our best celebrations are always about gratitude. We wait a day after our temporal victory and rejoice. We celebrate by laying down our weapons and taking a bag of cookies over to our neighbors' homes. 

That is something to be joyful about.

Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser is the rabbi of Temple Beit HaYam in in Stuart, FL. 

Originally posted at Reb Jeff