Change Grief to Joy and Darkness to Light - March 3, 2023

Purim begins on Monday evening. Here is short video explaining the holiday. Moreover, here is an incredible listing of all the Purim happenings (spiels, parties, activities, and so much more) in our Jewish community.


The Purim holiday remembers how the Jews of Persia, facing annihilation, were saved. In celebrating our triumph over our enemies, the Jewish people are expressing faith and hope in the future even in moments of darkness. A rabbi used to say to me, "Purim is a celebration of how we can defeat hatred with humor."


We mock Haman, dress up in costumes, and make Purim the craziest day of the year in terms of Jewish observances. It is our way of extracting the pain out of the suffering that antisemitism has caused us time and again over the years, including now.


Jews, sadly, have lived for centuries in countries around the world knowing that we always were vulnerable to an outbreak of hatred. Yet, we did not take the view of ignoring or forgetting those stories, like what happened in Shushan some 2,400 years ago or other vengeful incidents against Jews. They are ingrained in our communal memory.


When Shabbat concludes and we make Havdalah, we recite the following words from the Book of Esther -- La-y’hudim hayitah orah v’simhah v’sasson vikar, that we “should enjoy light and gladness, joy, and honor.” Ugliness still exists in our world. And yet we respond to those moments, as Esther did, by standing up, keeping our wits and sense of humor, and most of all, by giving of ourselves to change grief to joy and darkness to light. 


Traditionally, there are four mitzvot associated with Purim:


  • Hear the Megillah read. No different than the Passover Seder, as Mordechai told Esther, one must see oneself as a participant in the story of our people.


  • Gifts to the poor (matanot la’evyonim). According to Jewish law, you must give to at least two people at least enough for a minimal meal, even if you yourself have limited resources. Why? It reminds us that whatever our worries may be, our worries are the kind most people would love to have. We are all very, very lucky, we should never forget our good fortune, and we should always give to those to whom fate has not been as kind. 


  • Mishloach Manot, or in Yiddish, Shaloch Manos. Everyone is obligated to send a gift of food – usually a tasty, high-calorie treat – to another person as a gesture of kindness, friendship, and community building. The verse in the Book of Esther about mishloach manot stipulates that we should send gifts to one another, not just give gifts to one another. As a result, it is better to send your packages of goodies to a friend via a messenger, than to just give them outright.


  • Enjoy a festive meal (seudah). Like the mishloach manot, the festive meal is a reminder of the importance of community and maybe, too, of keeping good humor in times of uncertainty. 


Let us also not forget we dress in costumes, enjoy clever spiels, eat hamantaschen, and drink. Purim is one of Judaism’s most boisterous holidays. shared some things you may not know about Purim:


  • Esther was a vegetarian (or at least a flexitarian). According to midrash, while Queen Esther lived in the court of King Ahasuerus, she followed a vegetarian diet consisting largely of legumes so that she could keep kosher. For this reason, there is a tradition of eating beans and peas on Purim.


  • The Book of Esther is one of just two biblical books that do not include God’s name. The other is Song of Songs. The Book of Esther also makes no reference to the Temple, to prayer, or to Jewish practices such as keeping kosher


  • In 1945, a group of American GI’s held belated Purim services inside Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels’ confiscated castle. According to press coverage at the time, the Jewish chaplain “carefully arranged the candles over a swastika-bedecked bookcase in Goebbels’ main dining room,” and Jewish soldiers explained to their Christian comrades in attendance “about Haman and why it was so fitting that Purim services should be held in a castle belonging to Goebbels.”


  • The Book of Esther, which some scholars theorize is fictional, may be an adaptation of a Babylonian story. Some scholars argue that the Book of Esther adapted stories about pagan gods — Marduk becoming Mordecai and Ishtar transformed to Esther — to reflect the realities of its own Jewish authors in exile.


  • The Jewish calendar has a regular leap year with two months of Adar (but only one Purim, which falls during the second Adar). To ensure that the holidays remain in their mandated seasons, the Jewish calendar was adjusted to accommodate the 11-day difference between the lunar and solar years. In the 4th century C.E., Hillel scheduled an extra month at the end of the biblical year, as necessary. The biblical year begins in spring with Nissan and ends with Adar. Hillel, in conjunction with the Sanhedrin (Jewish supreme court) chose to repeat Adar (Adar I and Adar II) every 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, and 19th year over a 19-year period.


  • Purim is celebrated one day later inside walled cities than it is everywhere else. The Book of Esther differentiates between Jews who lived and fought their enemies for two days within the walled, capital city of Shushan and those who lived in unwalled towns, where only one day was needed to subdue the enemy. The Rabbis determined we should make that same distinction when memorializing the event. Accordingly, if a person lives in a city that has been walled since the days of Joshua (circa 1250 B.C.E.), as Shushan was, Purim is celebrated on the fifteenth of the month of Adar, a day referred to as “Shushan Purim.”


Shabbat shalom and have a wonderful festive Purim holiday.


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