|Purim dressed down to the basics|
Purim is on the 14th of Adar, though in walled cities, such as Jerusalem it is held on 15th Adar. Many also observe the Ta’anit Esther, or Fast of Esther, on the 13th of Adar. This fast, unlike most others on the calendar, begins at sunrise rather than sunset of the evening before. It is a chance to reflect a bit and perhaps further accentuate the joy of the festival itself.
The name Purim is derived from the Persian word for “lots” or the lottery tickets drawn by Haman to select the date for his planned destruction of the Jewish people.
The joy described is not limited to celebrating Purim itself, throughout the month of Adar we are reminded to increase our joy and happiness.
The holiday centers on the reading of Megillat Esther, which interestingly never mentions the name of Hashem. It is one of four megillot or scrolls read throughout the year.
The scroll details the story of the defeat of the villainous Haman and the victory of the Jewish people. Esther, literally a beauty queen, becomes perhaps one of the most unlikely heroes. She stands up to her husband, the king, and places her own life in jeopardy in order to save the lives of all the Jewish people.
The story takes place in the kingdom of King Ahashveros. The king’s advisor, Haman, uses his control to coerce the king to create an edict ordering the communities to attack and destroy the Jewish people. One Jew, the Queen’s Uncle Mordechai, stands out in particular for refusing to bow to Haman.
The king was unaware that his own beloved wife, Esther, was in fact a Jew herself. She courageously reveals her secret and pleads on behalf of her people. While it was too late for the king to cancel his edict, a new edict was issued ordering Jews to fight to defend themselves.
The evil Haman and his sons were hanged on the gallows he himself had ordered to be erected. Esther’s Uncle Mordechai was honoured for his instrumental role in saving the king’s life and exposing Haman for his wickedness.
The day the Jews defended themselves against their foe became a day of celebration and merriment. All wrong was made right. It is the story of the triumph of good over evil.
During the reading of the Megillah, participants yell out and use “greggers” or noise makers to blot out Haman’s name.
Participants are constantly reminded to control their enthusiasm so the scroll can be read in its entirety. Civility and courtesy seemingly disappear as the sheer joy of the congregation interrupts the reader.
The Megillah is read twice, first on Purim evening and then again during the morning service on Purim day.
The festival is also celebrated by mitzvah of mishloach manot or sending of gifts of food to friends. The requirement is to send at least one friend a parcel containing a minimum of two types of ready-made food or drinks. Often these parcels include hamantaschen or special triangular shaped cookies with a variety of tasty fillings. Many associate this distinctive cookie with the supposed shape of Haman’s ridiculous hat.
Matanot l’evyonim is also observed, practiced by the giving of gifts to the poor on Purim day. There is a requirement that gifts be given to a minimum of two poor people.
Last but not least, there is the much anticipated Purim Seuda, or the festive meal. People eat and drink wine. One is meant to drink enough wine so that they can no longer differentiate between the names of Mordechai and Haman.
Spiels have also become the custom. These humourous skits demonstrate a lightheartedness and jovial spirit. Purim parades give the opportunity to show-off and display the wild costumes and attire that is worn to celebrate. Some dress as the characters from the story itself while others simply take the opportunity to let their creative impulses soar.
Of course there is a message behind the silliness, the drunkenness, and the wild costumes.
The anti-Semitism that existed in the world of Esther and Mordechai and still exists today, can not be hidden behind a mask. In our darkest period in history, Hitler even stated that should the Nazi’s be defeated, the Jewish people would be given a second Purim to celebrate.
Purim is finally here - a chance to lose some inhibitions, dress wildly, joke around and enjoy one of the most colourful festivals of the year. We again can demonstrate our people’s ability to not merely survive but to live life to the fullest and take pride in our rich traditions.