Why is there a custom to eat seeds on Purim?
(Excerpted from “Inside Purim“)
1. We eat seeds on Purim in commemoration of a miracle that took place shortly before the Purim story. The first perek of Sefer Daniel describes how Nevuchadnetzar, the Babylonian king who destroyed the First Beis HaMikdash, was looking to hire the wisest men in the world to be his advisors. A group of candidates were called, including Daniel and several other Jews. However, before they could come before Nevuchadnetzar, they were required to be fattened up so that they would be physically fit for the king’s service. Daniel and the other Jews requested of the officer in charge that they be fed only seeds, so that they would not have to eat the nonkosher food being served.
Understanding the officer’s fear of execution for failure to properly nourish them, Daniel proposed that they be fed seeds for ten days as a trial. Miraculously, at the conclusion of the ten-day period, not only were Daniel and the other Jews looking healthy, but they appeared more robust than the other candidates who ate the nonkosher food. Shortly thereafter, they were chosen to be advisors to the king.
This was a question of mine… where was Daniel during this whole event? Wasn’t he also a member of the Sanhedrin that was exiled to Babylon with Mordechai?
This miracle relates to Purim because Daniel actually played an important role in the Purim story. When Mordechai donned sackcloth and ashes in mourning over Haman’s decree, he was unable to enter the palace gates by Persian law (see Esther 4:2), and consequently his contact with Esther was cut off. However, it was necessary for Esther and Mordechai to communicate regarding their plans for her to seek mercy for the Jews from Achashveirosh. Therefore, Esther asked Hasach, a servant of the king who is identified by the Gemara (Megillah 15a) as Daniel, to carry messages between her and Mordechai.
With Haman in power, Daniel was risking his life by acting as messenger, and was in fact killed al kiddush Hashem carrying out these duties. The Midrash (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 50) explains that Haman killed Daniel when he noticed Daniel carrying the messages, because he suspected Mordechai of attempting to get word to the king to annul the extermination decree.
We eat seeds on Purim in remembrance of this great tzaddik and his mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, for klal Yisrael. In addition, it was through the miracle of the seeds that Daniel was first put in the royal employ that continued with all subsequent kings. Daniel was thus in a position at the palace in which he was able to act as messenger between Mordechai and Esther, whose correspondence through him resulted in the salvation of the Jews. (Rama, Orach Chaim 695:2; A.P.S.)
2. We eat seeds in commemoration of Esther’s resolve to only eat kosher food when she was taken to the palace. She requested from Heigai, the steward in charge, that she only be fed seeds, and her request was granted. (Mishnah Berurah 695:2:12, citing Megillah 13a)