Sunday, March 4, 2007

Chag Purim! Happy, Hilarious Holiday

Isn't this fun! Last night, after Shabbat, my daughter, MLC, and I got a pedicure and had fun flowers painted on our toes. It was the beginning of our celebration of Purim--the Feast of Esther. We decided to pamper ourselves a little just as Esther was pampered before she was made Queen of Shushan.


by N.

Purim is the Feast of Lots. The word pur means "lots" in Hebrew. The holiday is called Purim because the evil Haman (Booo! Hiss!) cast lots to determine the day he would kill Mordechai, and all the Jews of Shushan. That day was the 14th of Adar. But Haman (Boooo! Hisss!) did not know that Queen Esther, the wife of King Ahashverus, was the neice of Mordechai and that she was a Jew. (Her name, Esther, comes from the Hebrew root for "hidden" and Esther was a hidden Jew in the court of Shushan). When Esther found out that Haman (BOOOOO! Hissssss!) had plotted to kill the Jews, she risked her life by coming to the king unsumoned, and she saved our people. The king then declared that on 14 Adar, Haman (BOOOOOO! HISSSSSSS!) would be hung from the gallows that he made to hang Mordechai on. And the Jews were allowed to fight back against those who had come to kill them.

This was all written in the Megillat Esther, the book of Esther, that we read on Purim. The Megillah ends with: "LaYehudim hayesa orah, v'simcha, v'sasson vi'ykar. And for the Jews there was light and joy, gladness and honor."

So on Purim, we celebrate that we won--for once! And we read the Megillah and drown out Haman's name. We sing and we eat Hammentashen--cookies shaped like Haman's hat!


(Back to you, Mom).

MOM's Part

Chag Purim is indeed a happy holiday! Tonight we will be going to hear the Megillah, the scroll of Esther. Purim is a hilarious holiday that comes at the tag-end of winter. It comes one lunar month before Pesach, Passover, and the preparation for Passover begins in earnest just after Purim.

Yesterday was Shabbat Zachor--the Sabbath just before Purim, which is called the Sabbath Remember! Yesterday the Torah portion that describes how Amalek attacked Israel from the rear as they were crossing desert lands in a mixed multitude. It is an act of great cowardice to attack the rear, where the women and children and stragglers are, rather than the fighting men at the front. We are told:

Remember what Amalek did to you on the road as you came out of Egypt- how he met you on the road and with no reverence for G-d, attacked all your stragglers in the rear, those who were famished and weary. Therefore, when the Lord our G-d grants you safety from your enemies, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. Do Not Forget! (Deuteronomy 25:17-19; Exodus 17:8-16)

It is said that Haman (may his name be blotted out!) is a descendant of Amalek and so when we hear the Megillah on Purim, we blot out his name. And we celebrate with hilarity because Purim commemorates and unexpected deliverance, for in the book of Esther, G-d is not mentioned. Esther is the hidden Jew and G-d is the hidden power for redemption.

The Megillah is read with it's own tune (trop) but it does not sound as joyous or hilarious as might be expected. Rather, there are echoes of the trop for Eicha, the scroll of Lammentations. This is because the Megillah is a story of galut, exile, in which G-d is hidden and Jews are vulnerable. That is why the deliverance is unexpected. We are reminded by the trop that although we were delivered that day, it was accomplished through desperate and courageous acts by Jews, without the presence of G-d made manifest. And we are reminded of the great cost of deliverance effected this way, and of the times when there was no deliverance because G-d is hidden.

So many Hamans, only one Purim.

But still we rejoice in our deliverance. But that rejoicing has a hard edge because since those days we have had to fight and struggle for our existance. That is why the holiday is hilarious rather than joyous.

Tonight, we will eat and drink and send out misloach manot, gift baskets to friends and to the poor among us.

Those of us not driving will drink enough wine or schnapps so that we cannot tell the difference between "Curse Haman" and "Bless Mordechai!"

We will defiantly sing: "Utsu-aytsah v'tufar! Dabru Davar v'lo yakum! Ki emanu-El!

"They have devised schemes but they have been foiled, they have made declarations [against us], but they will not be fulfilled, because God is with us! (Isaiah 8:10). "

But we will also sing the "Al-Hanissim" (For the Miracles) which is sung at Purim and Channukah:

Al hanisim, ve'al hapurkan, ve'al hagevurot, ve'al hateshuot, ve'al hamilchamot she'asisa la'avoteinu, ba'yamim hahem, ba'zeman hazeh.

"(And) for the miracles, and for the redemption, and for the mighty acts, and for the consolations, and for the battles that You performed for our ancestors, in those days, at this time."

For in these days at this season the people of Israel lives because of the mighty acts performed for us, by the courage given to many.


Megan Bayliss said...

You two should be teachers of faith and faith history. Amazing story. I loved your bit in there N.

What groovy feet - what a wonderful idea with the basket of goodies for the poor.

I really like all your celebrations and your excellent commentry. I have learnt heaps from you both.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Thanks, Megan!

I love the word groovy!
Do you know the Simon and Garfunkle song, "Feeling Groovy?"

That's how we felt with our feet in the nice, warm water!

About the goodies baskets--for Purim, one of the Mitzvot is to seek out at least two people who are in need and give them food and wine and fun gifts.
That's how joy is spread during Adar, the last month of winter.

Megan Bayliss said...

Yes, I know the song well.

You Jews have such beautiful and marvelous traditions. I am angry at myself for never having learnt about this stuff. Thank goodness I have come across you E.

Swylv said...

Not sure if you'll see this in time....but tomorrow night we are attending a Purim event and I know the little girls are dressing up like Esther ... but is it ok for DS to dress up like a cartoon character or should we go to every store looking for a robe and crown tomorrow?