All about one of the wackiest, most joyful Jewish holidays: Purim.
“When Adar arrives, our joy is increased” - somewhere in the Talmud
That’s right, it’s the new Hebrew month of Adar! This is a joyful month; one of Judaism’s happiest holidays, Purim, begins Monday night so I hope you have your costumes ready!
I have a bunch of non-Jewish subscribers so I thought I would dedicate this week’s drop to one of my favorite activities: describing Purim to a non-Jewish person. In short, it’s a festive holiday that celebrates the survival of the Jewish people in 5th century BCE when the Jews in Persia were to be killed.
The story basically went like this: Haman was a wicked man who convinced King Ahasuerus to allow the Jews to be slaughtered. Esther was crowned Queen, keeping her Jewish identity a secret. Esther and her cousin Mordechai plotted to save their people by convincing the king to rescind his decree. Esther rose to the occasion and revealed her true, proud Jewish identity. Haman was condemned to the gallows that he built for the Jews, and he died. It was too late for the king to rescind the decree to kill the Jews, but the Jews were allowed to defend themselves, and won.
“Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”
- Mordechai to Esther (Esther 4:13-14)
Now for some fun Purim tidbits and how to celebrate it:
There’s four mitzvot (“commandments” or good deeds) of Purim. One is to hear the story of Purim be read in what’s called the Megillah, or the Book of Esther.
During the reading, you’re supposed to shout “BOOOO!” really loudly every time Haman’s name is mentioned, which is 54 times! It’s a lot of fun, especially for kids or quiet adults like myself who need to yell every now and then. You can also wave a grogger, or noisemaker. Some synagogues encourage people to bring boxes of pasta as noisemakers and then donate them for a food drive. How innovative!
Dress up in costume! I used to call Purim “the Jewish Halloween,” but as you can see, that’s inaccurate because the holiday is more meaningful than that. We dress up on Purim because it’s fun and it’s a nod to everyday miracles and G-d’s intervention hiding in plain sight, since G-d isn’t mentioned once in the Megillah. I am terribly excited for my costume this year, but you’re going to have to follow me on Instagram (@theshabbatdrop) to see what it will be!
It’s another mitzvah to give at least two food gifts called mishloach manot to two fellow Jews, little goodie bags of candy and juice and cookies. I’ve seen people get real creative with themed ones, like movie theater buckets of candy and popcorn. Alright, overachievers…
You eat delicious cookies on this holiday called hamantaschen, which are three-cornered pockets filled traditionally with poppyseeds, but you can make chocolate, cannoli creme, pizza, anything you like! One year I made a brie-onion jam batch, but this year I’m making lemon. Some say they’re shaped like the hat Haman wore, or for his ears. Either way, we’re celebrating the downfall of our enemy by eating dessert. I’ll take it.
Another mitzvah is to give to the poor, because even on festive days, we are not to forget the poor.
It’s also tradition to give a spiel, or a Purim skit, which is a fun retelling of the story of Purim or any kind of sketch comedy (which ironically, I hate - my three least favorite letters in the English alphabet are S, N, and L). However, last year I was asked to write and perform a 15-minute spiel for my shul and I completely roasted the rabbi and staff while incorporating audience participation, and it’s still one of my proudest achievements. Here’s a short clip.
Get so drunk you can’t tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman. Now THAT’S a decree I can get behind.
I hope everyone has a fun and safe Purim. What are you dressing up as? Wishing you a most joyful Shabbat Shalom to you and your loved ones.