Join Us for Purim

by Arliene Botnick, February 28, 2023

On the 14th of the Adar, we will be celebrating the holiday of Purim. If it were a leap year, it would be celebrated in Adar 11. This is one of my most favourite holidays. And the rabbis suggest that, even in the world to come, in the Olam Habah, when all other holidays cease to be to be celebrated, Purim will still continue to be celebrated as a joyous festival. We are commanded, as soon as the month of Adar begins, to increase our joy. And yet, if we really think about it, it’s strange that we are commanded to celebrate joyfully what began as a death edict, a plan for our utter destruction, the annihilation of the Jewish people. The story, as written in Megillat Esther, details how, through the evil plans of the wicked Haman (boo), and the continuous drunken stupor of king Achashverosh, we were all to be slaughtered. Our deaths meant so little to them that the day of our destruction was chosen by the mere casting of lots (purim). Our fate was sealed, we were all to be annihilated. Achashverosh had sent out his decree to the 123 provinces over which he ruled. Of course, we survived! And the Rabbis compare Purim, this minor festival, to Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, when it is called Yom Ha Kippurim which can mean ‘’a day like Purim”. On Yom Kippur, we deny ourselves food and enjoyment and all physical pleasures, while on Purim, it is the opposite. We reach a state of ultimate joy and transcendence by eating, drinking, and rejoicing to excess!

Purim is the quintessential survival story from which we learn many lessons, the first being we can survive and will survive. No matter how dire the circumstances and dire they were when Achashverosh sent out his decree to his 123 provinces. The odds were overwhelming; we were outnumbered and poorly equipped to defend ourselves, yet we survived. It’s similar to the story we read from the book of Maccabees that tells us about the celebration of Hanukah (where we were outnumbered and out armed). It is the story that we will be celebrating again during Passover as we conduct our seders, when, after being slaves for 430 years, and then escaping , we were pursued by the well-armed Egyptian army, and we survived. It’s the story that unfortunately was repeated in the 1930s and 40s when, as a mere 1-2% of the population of most European countries, 6 million of us perished but a supposedly unstoppable Hitler was finally stopped. Hitler, like Haman, failed.

Other lessons learned from Purim are the four Mitzvot that we are to fulfill on this holiday. We are commanded to publicly read the Book of Esther (K’riat Megillah) so that we do not forget this holiday and why it is to be celebrated. We are commanded to send gifts of food and special items to our friends (Mishloach Manot), to remind us that we are a community and we survive and celebrate not just as individuals but as community. We are commanded to give charity to the poor (Matanot La ‘Evyonim) because we must remember those in our community who are still in need. And finally, we are to have a Seudat Mitzvah, we eat a festive meal. What better way to enjoy and rejoice.

Megillat Esther has some unique features. During the reading of the Megillah, Haman’s name, our arch enemy, is repeated 54 times. Each time we hear his name , we are commanded to blot out his name. We boo, we shake our gregors, we stomp our feet. The enemy may always be there but we have to remember that we can blot him out, just the way we are told to blot out the memory of Amalek, who is an ancestor of Haman. Amalek had pursued the Israelites fleeing persecution and slavery in Egypt, attacking the rear columns where the most vulnerable of us were. We are commanded to blot out his name. The book of Esther does not overtly mention God’ s name (most unusual for the Tanach) and it takes place completely outside the land of the Israel. We will live and do live in other places, and we who live here in Canada know that, even as Diaspora Jews, we are still dedicated Jews. We must not forget who we are. Esther began by hiding her identity (we all wear masks) but when danger was so near, she took off her mask and saved us. W remember we are Jews, and we celebrate! The word ‘mishteh’ which means banquet, occurs some 20 times in the book of Esther, and only 24 times in the whole rest of the Tanach. The celebration, the meal is very important! When we eat hamentashen, perhaps from ‘oznei Haman‘ (Haman’s ears) we are celebrating the destruction of every part of our enemy. And one of the strangest customs of the holiday is drinking so much that we can no longer tell the difference between Cursed be Haman and Blessed be Mordechai. Perhaps that’s part of our challenge today. Who is the enemy and who was the knight in shining armour? Many people disguise their true identity by wearing masks and sometimes it’s hard to tell the ‘good’ guys from the ‘bad’ guys, the truth from the lies, fact from fiction. In the book of Esther, God’s name isn’t mentioned because perhaps the lesson is that survival is our responsibility. We must figure it out. We must be God’s partners in our survival. Our responsibility is to continue these beautiful holidays, in particular, the celebration of Purim. Survival is part of it. It’s survival as Jews that we are obligated to make a reality . We have to take care of one another. We have to feed the poor and the hungry; we have to speak up in the face of hatred and discrimination. We have to face and unmask those who seek to harm any other human being!

On March 6 at 6:30. I hope you’ll join us at Solel with your family, with your friends, with our community, as we celebrate and regale in this beautiful holiday, as we boo Haman and as we eat hamantaschen and as we thank God for the gift of life.

Chag Purim Sameach!

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