Can you retell the story of Purim? If this holiday has been a part of your life for a few years, you probably can. It's a dramatic story with clear winners and loser, and reciting it is a major part of the Purim celebration.
But, as you likely know if you have ever tried to tell someone else about something that actually happened to you, there are lots of different ways to tell a story. The basic characters might stay the same - in this case, King Achashverosh, Queen Esther, Mordechai, and Haman - but everyone has their own perspective on what actually happened. It seems like the narrator of the Book of Esther is just giving us a birds-eye view of what's happening, but you can be sure that if any one of those characters were to retell the story, it would sound different.
Here's a Purim experiment to help you think about the perspectives we all bring to our own stories.
Part I: The Talmudic Experiment
When the Talmud discusses the laws of Megillah reading, it asks: How much of the Book of Esther should a person have to read on Purim in order to check that off their to-do list? After all, it is a pretty long book...here's what they have to say:
ומהיכן קורא אדם את המגילה ויוצא בה י"ח ר"מ אומר כולה ר' יהודה אומר מאיש יהודי רבי יוסי אומר מאחר הדברים האלה:
Beginning from where must a person read the Megilla in order to fulfill his obligation? Rabbi Meir says: He must read all of it. Rabbi Yehuda says: He need read only from “There was a certain Jew” (Esther 2:5). Rabbi Yosei says: From “After these things” (Esther 3:1).
Rabbi Meir isn't willing to compromise; he says we have to read the whole Megillah - all ten chapters. Rabbi Yehuda gives us the option of reading from close to the beginning of the second chapter, and Rabbi Yosei says that starting from the third chapter would work just as well.
Take a look at these different starting points. For each of the three opinions, ask yourself these questions:
1) If I read the book from this starting point, who is the hero?
2) Who is the most important character?
3) What is the message of the book?
Since you already know the basic story, you don't have to read every word, just skim the chapters to get a sense of the different perspectives that these three opinions might represent. You can find the full text here.
Part II: Build Your Own Story
Think back to the beginning of Part I, when we asked if you can retell the story of Purim. What parts stand out most in your mind? Now, think about what you know about the themes of the holiday - joy, defeating our enemies, communal celebrations - whatever stands out most to you. How might you restructure or retell the story so that it clearly delivers the messages that you think we learn (or should learn) from this holiday? Remember, it's all in the perspective of the narrator, so you have the ultimate power.
1) Create a Sefaria sheet, Google doc, or Jamboard. Decide if you want to work on this independently, or with others.
2) Look back at the text of the Book of Esther (you can find it here). For the purposes of this experiment, you will need to use at least one verse from each chapter to construct your retold story, but you are free to use much more. Copy and paste or import the pieces that you want to whatever platform you have decided to use.
3) Now, fill in the gaps. As you craft your story, think about all of the questions we have explored so far: Who is the hero of your story? Who is the villain? Who is important? What messages do you want people to take from the story? What kind of holiday will this story help shape?