We also celebrate Purim by
poking fun at ourselves and our Jewish institutions, throwing
synagogue decorum out the window and dressing in costumes. The
entire month of Adar, and not just Purim itself,
is a time for silliness and humor - "....Mishenichnat
Adar Marbim Besimcha" - "....When Adar arrives,
we increase our happiness." (Ta'anit 29a). Purim,
a wild and crazy holiday, is the holiday that proves Judaism has
a sense of humor. Cross-dressing, prohibited in the Torah,
is practiced by some on Purim. Many will be borrowing their
spouse's clothes on Purim.
Purim is an important holiday.
Jews throughout the world, surrounded by anti-semitism, take great
joy in a holiday that reminds them, that even though throughout
the course of Jewish History there have been too many real-life
"Hamans," in the end Hashem never lets the anti-semites
The events that led to the holiday
of Purim can be found in Megillat Esther.
Megillat Esther is the only
book in the Scriptures that never mentions Hashem's name
even once. The miracle of Purim is a hidden one, (with
the hand of Hashem only revealed through the incredible
events). But when you 'read between the lines' you see the Hand
of Hashem. There are no coincidences in the story.
the wav sound file of the gragger
right now, and it will be ready for you to play each time your
mouse goes over Haman's name in the story.
The story relates the downfall of
the vicious anti-semite Haman,
a descendent of Amalek, the traditional enemy of the Jews. As
Prime Minister of ancient Persia, around 2300 years ago, he sought
to murder all the Jews of that land.
Events happen such that Haman
himself plays a crucial role in the coronation of Queen Esther,
after the beheading of former Queen Vashti. No one realizes that
Esther is Jewish.
who has become a powerful man in the kingdom, is upset that Mordechai
does not bow down to him. He succeeds in getting the King to authorize
a royal decree to annihilate an unspecified nation he claims is
an enemy of the King. Initially, he does not identify the nation
so that the King can later claim that he did not know that the
decree was against the Jews.
casts lots (called PUR)
to determine the day this was to happen. Mordechai and Esther
lead the Jews in a return to Hashem, through Prayer and
Esther invites the King and Haman
to join her for dinner, and in response to the king's offer of
"half my kingdom for your wishes," all she asks is they come again
tomorrow to another dinner "and I'll tell you then." (she'll reveal
the reason for her invitation). We then find Haman
working through the night to construct a gallows upon which to
hang Mordechai. At daybreak, he will appear before the King to
Unknown to Haman,
the King had not slept the night before, suspecting a coup led
In desperation to get some sleep, he had asked his servants to
read from the Royal Chronicles. The Book opens to a long forgotten
story of how Mordechai discovered an assassination plot by two
royal servants against the King.
At the exact moment the King is inquiring
whether Mordechai was rewarded for his loyalty, who should appear,
Before getting a chance to make his request to hang Mordechai,
is ordered by the King to parade Mordechai through the capital
city in royal garments on a royal horse while proclaiming "This
is what is done to the man the King wishes to honor."
Immediately afterwards, a crestfallen
is whisked to the second Royal dinner, hosted by Esther. At the
dinner she reveals to the King that she is Jewish and that Haman
is an enemy of the King because he seeks to destroy the Jewish
The embarrassed and angry King storms
out of the room. Haman
pleads to Esther for his life. He "somehow" loses his balance
and falls on the couch where Esther is reclining. (The Malach
(Angel) Gavriel pushed him.) The King comes back at just this
moment. He is very upset and blows up.
On the spot, Charvona, a royal minister
tells the King about the gallows Haman
constructed for Mordechai, who saved the King's life. The King
to be hanged on the gallows intended for Mordechai.
The King elevates Mordechai to Haman's
recently vacated position. Mordechai issues orders, with the King's
pemission, allowing the Jews to fight against their enemies. On
the thirteenth and fourteenth days of Adar the Jews won
tremendous victories and were saved from the threat of total annihilation.
The service for Purim is most
unusual. Dressing in silly costumes is encouraged. At no time
of the Jewish year is the synagogue as "wild" as during the Megillah
Interrupting the reading with noise-making
devices at the mention of Haman's name is encouraged. Fifty-four
times Haman's name is read in the Megillah, and fifty-four
times the congregation erupts in a deafening chorus of "graggers,"
clanging pots, cap-guns and sirens.
Some write Haman's name on the soles
of their shoes; the congregants then stamp their feet at every
mention of Haman. Others write his name in wax and melt it!
(Yiddish for rattle), is more widely used than the custom of feet
stamping. (The Hebrew word for this noisemaker is ra'ashan,
from the word ra'ash, meaning noise.) The custom of the
Purim "gragger," was obviously introduced to amuse the
children, and so keep up their interest in the reading, as children
(over 6) are also required to hear the Megillah.
So that Haman's ten sons should not
feel left out, the congregation again interrupts the Megillah
reading with resounding noise, when the ten names are read.
Decorum is out, inanity is in. During
the service, (once on Purim evening and a second time at
the morning service on the day following), the entire Megillat
Esther is read from a handwritten scroll called a "megillah."
(Could this be where the expression "the whole
megillah" comes from?)
"The Megillah," is read in
a special tune to suit the narration of the Purim story.
When the verse on the hanging of Haman's ten sons is recited,
the passage is read in one breath, "because," the Talmud
says, "their ghosts were given up all together." It has also been
suggested that the custom is due to the desire of avoiding the
appearance of gloating over their deserved fate - a characteristic
expression of Judaism's attitude to the fall of an enemy.
The scroll is unrolled completely
and the Megillah is so folded as to give it the form of
a letter or dispatch. The reading of the Megillah is considered
by our sages of such importance that even women are obligated
to hear it, especially as they played an important part in the
miraculous delivery. Women must also perform the other Purim
mitzvot, - sending food to friends, giving gifts to the poor,
and eating the Purim meal…(besides preparing it. - My
wife made me add this..ed.). As mentioned above, children
(over 6) are also required to hear the Megillah. A whole
tractate of the Talmud, called Megillah, (what
else?) is devoted to the laws of Purim.
SENDING FOODS TO FRIENDS
The tradition of sending gifts consisting
of two types of food to our friends on Purim is called
Mishloach Manot and is prescribed in Megillat Esther
(9:22). On Purim day, (and only during the day), men and
women, young people and children, many "in disguise,"
scurry thru the streets, bearing plates, baskets and trays filled
with the choicest Purim goodies such as fruits, wine and baked
The obligation is to send
a friend at least one food parcel containing two kinds of food
or drink which are ready to eat without further preparation. Anything
beyond that is extra-credit (or extra-expense, depending on how
you look at it). It is customary,
however, to encourage joy and friendship by sending parcels to
many friends. Nevertheless,
it is of greater merit to distribute gifts generously to the poor
than to distribute food to friends.
It is also customary to send Mishloach
Manot through a third person messenger, since the word Mishloach
is related to the word for messenger, Sh'liach.
GIVING GIFTS TO THE POOR
The practice of men and women giving
gifts to the poor on Purim - Matanot L'evyonim
is also prescribed in Megillat Esther (ibid). The gifts
must be given to the poor on Purim day, usually after the
reading of the Megillah. The minimum requirement is to
give two gifts, which may be food, to at least two poor persons.
(One gift to each). Even a poor
person who gets charity is required to perform this mitzvah.
Of course, Judaism demands doing tzedakah
[charity] year-round, but we make a particular point of doing
so on Purim with the special mitzvah of Matanot
L'evyonim, which should NOT be included in the amount of money
a person sets aside for charity during the rest of the year.
Rambam (Maimonides) said in
relation to Purim: "It is better for a man to increase
gifts to the poor than to enlarge his feast and to increase gifts
to his friends. For there is no greater and more wonderful joy
than to make happy the hearts of the poor..." (Hilchot Megillah
Chap. 2). By the way, the money collected and distributed on Purim
to the poor is often used to fund Passover, a VERY expensive
holiday, which is right around the corner.
ENJOYING A PURIM SEUDA (Meal).
There is an old joke about summing
up a Jewish Holiday: "They tried to kill us, we won, let's eat."
Like all Jewish Holidays, (except
Yom Kippur of course), it is
a mitzvah to have a great big meal on Purim, including
meat and wine. The Purim feast must be held during the
day, usually after Mincha (Afternoon prayers).
If the meal extends into the evening, as it usually does, Al
Hanisim, a special prayer recounting the
miracle of the day, is still added to the Birchat Hamazon,
the "Grace after meals."
This Purim meal is different,
in that not only do we eat, and eat and eat… But we also drink
and drink and drink ...(and drunk?).
Because the miracle of Purim
came thru wine, - Vashti's downfall and Haman's downfall came
as a result of a wine feast, the Rabbis of the Talmud,
usually a quite sober group, said:
"On Purim, one should drink - Ahd D'lo Yoda Bain Arur
Haman L'Boruch Mordechai" - "Until he can no longer tell
the difference between 'Cursed be Haman' and 'Blessed be Mordechai.'
" (Tractate Megilah 7b).
What they were trying to suggest is a high level of inane behavior
on Purim. As long as it is not abusive or destructive,
Purim is a time when almost anything is permitted.
A person who can't or won't drink
may fulfill the "Ahd D'lo Yoda " requirement
by sleeping, because one who sleeps also doesn't know the differencebetween a curse and a blessing.
On Purim night, it is customary
to give Machatzit Hashekel, (half a shekel) - three
half-dollar coins (or their equivalent in local currency), as
charity to the poor, before the reading of the Megillah.
This symbolizes the half-shekel which every Jew used to
give as dues to the Bait Hamikdash in Yerushalayim
(Shmot Parshat Ki Sisa 30:11-16). The reason we give three
half-shekels is because the term terumah (contribution)
is mentioned three times in the account of the mitzvah
of the half-shekel.
But why does the Torah specify
a half-shekel instead of a whole? The half shekel
is a reminder to all of us (you and me) that "kol Yisroel areivim
zeh lazeh" - "All of Bnei Yisroel are responsible
for one another." No one person is a whole. Each of us is like
half a body, which is completed when we take responsibility for
the actions of one another.
There are two other days of note before
and after Purim. TA'ANIT ESTHER and
TA'ANIT (the fast of)
Ta'anit Esther (the Fast of
Esther) precedes Purim, usually
on the 13th of Adar.
This year, (5777 - 2017), the 13th of Adar is a Shabbat,
we don't fast that day, in honor of the Shabbat. We also
don't fast on Friday, since this would adversely affect Shabbat
preparations. Rather, we observe the fast on Thursday, the 11th
of Adar [Mar. 9, 2017]).
The Megillah (4:16), relates
how Queen Esther agrees to approach King Achashverosh uninvited
on behalf of the Jewish people. She asks the Jewish People to
fast for three days beforehand. Queen Esther, Mordechai, and the
Jewish people, fast and pray, asking Hashem to be merciful
and save them from Haman and the King's decree.
The 13th of Adar is also the
anniversary of the day the fighting against the anti-semitic forces
occurred; Purim is the day the victorious Jews rested and
celebrated. The 13th of Adar was then established as an
annual fast day for every generation, known as "The Fast of Esther."
The Fast of Esther gives us a different
perspective on fasting. Sure, it commemorates a terrible day in
Jewish history, but it is not a sad day in of itself. In fact,
it is a day that leads up to the happiest holiday of the year!
In this case, the fast adds to the joy of Purim and makes
us even more aware of Hashem's hand in the destruction
All the general regulations and customs
associated with public fast
days are observed, including the recitation of special selichot
on the particular theme of the day.
- Ta'anit Esther only starts
from the break of dawn and ends at nightfall. One may eat breakfast
if one arises before sunrise for the specific purpose of doing
so. (Consult a reliable Jewish calendar for the times in your
- It is customary to extend the fast
until after the Megillah is read. (Except of course, in
walled cities, where the Megillah is read on the night
of the 15th.)
- One who is ill need not fast at
all. Pregnant and nursing mothers can observe the fast with lenience.
One should consult with a Rabbi whether they are permitted to
- Children below the age of bar
or bat mitzva - 13 for boys and 12 for girls, do not fast.
(In some communities, it is customary for children to begin fasting
a short time before they become bar/bat mitzva.)
- Those permitted to eat should still
refrain from eating meat, luxurious food and drink.
- Special additions to the prayers,
(Selichot and Aneinu), and Torah readings
(the Passages of Vayechal - Shmot 32: 11-14 and 34: 1-10),
are added during the day.
The day after Purim, the 15th
day of Adar, is "Shushan Purim." This year 5777 (2017), Monday, Mar. 13th. According to Megillat
Esther, the fight against the anti-semites in the walled capital
city of Shushan, the city in which King Achashverosh lived, took
a day longer than in the rural areas. The Jews in Shushan didn't
get to rest and celebrate until the day after those in rural areas.
In commemoration of this, Megillat
Esther says that Purim is celebrated a day later in cities,
on the day now known as "Shushan Purim." Our Sages decided
that a "city" in this case means a city that had walls (whether
they are still standing or not) at the time of Yehoshua (Joshua
- Moses' successor). Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) celebrates
Purim on Shushan Purim.
5768 (2008),Yerushalayim had what is known
as a Purim Meshulash. Purim was celebrated on three
consecutive days, with different Purim laws and customs
observed on each day.
Since the 15th of Adar fell
on Shabbat, the Megillah was read on Friday, the
14th, Al Hanissim was recited on Shabbat, the 15th,
and the Purim Seudah was eaten on Sunday, the 16th, since
the Shabbat meals must not be mixed with the Purim Seudah. The next occurance of Purim Meshulash will be in 2021.
No discourse on Purim could
be considered complete without mentioning THE Purim delicacy,
the hamantash or hamantaschen. The hamantash
is a triangular cookie, with a poppy seed or fruit filling. At
some point, someone got the idea of altering the German name of
these cookies, "mohn taschen" ["poppy-seed pockets"],
to "haman taschen," and invented the story that it represents
Haman's hat. (Of course, three-pointed hats were all the rage
in ancient Persia.) Another view is that Hamantaschen
means that Haman's force was exhausted ("tash Cocho") when
he came to harm the Jews, and it is inferred that this will be
the fate of all those who try to do us harm.
With regard to the source of the name
Here is an email I received in Feb.
It is that time of the
year again, when every kosher bakery and Jewish home is filled
with that great Purim delicacy called the h----tasch. As I pointed
out last year, it is so absurd that we name a Purim gastronomic
centerpiece after the arch villain who wanted to destroy the Jews,
and for whom the obligation "timheh et zekher Amalek..." (obliterate
the memory of Amalek) surely applies.
We got to this via an
unfortunate error. A tasch is a pocket. The Purim pocket symbolized
the essence of the Purim miracle as being of the camouflaged variety.
It was a miracle cased in an unusual, intriguing, but nevertheless
non-miraculous story. In Purim, what you get is much more than
what you see.
In the tasch, you likewise
get more than what you see. Since seeds, or "mann," were involved
in the fateful meal, filling the pockets with "mann" was not an
unusual way to celebrate on Purim. These pockets were called mantaschen.
In Hebrew, when referring to "the mantasch," the word used would
From this derived the
mistaken reference to all taschen as hamantashen. It is a serious
error, because every time we refer to this delicacy, we give undeserved,
even if unintended honor to an evil person.
There is no precedent
for us doing this with any other villain in Jewish history. It
is a mistake that we would be well served to correct. Our bakery
in Ottawa does not sell h----taschen. But they do sell prune-taschen,
man-taschen, blueberry-taschen, etc.
Admittedly, Judaism will
not rise or fall on this issue, and there are obviously more pressing
items on the Jewish agenda. But it strikes at the very core of
all that we represent that we reject evil, that we give it no
quarter, no honor, and certainly no posterity, as we do every
time we wrongly refer to that great delicacy.
So, please do your bit
to correct this error, in your local bakeries, congregations,
homes, and consciousness.
A very happy and taschen-laden
Purim to you all.
Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka,
Congregation Machzikei Hadas,Ottawa,
Now that we've discussed those triangle
H___tashen filled with _____ (you fill in your
favorite filling), there are some other goodies that
also have a connection to Purim:
Kreplach is ground meat wrapped
in dough, also folded into a triangle. (What's
this obsession with triangular food?)
"Kreplach" is Yiddish and
is derived from the Hebrew names of holidays on which this food
is eaten: Yom Kippur (K), (not on,
silly, but before and after, of course), Hoshana
Raba (R), and Purim (P). These three holidays are also
connected to each other because they involve some sort of beating
Yom Kippur - we beat our heart
Hoshana Raba - we strike the
Aravot (willow branches); and
Purim - we beat (and blast
and cream and clobber) Haman during the reading of the Megillah.
Another reason (and this is not PURIM
TORAH), is based on the verse in the book of Devarim, Parshat
Re'eh (13:16): "Hakeh takeh et yoshvei ha-ir" (you
will surely smite the inhabitants of that city"), again we're
beating and striking:
HAKEH - The letters "Hay,
Kaf, Hay" in the first word represent Hoshana Rabba,
Kippur, Haman -
TAKEH - The second set of letters
"Taf, Kaf, Hay" represent "Tochlu Kreplach
Harbeh" (You will eat a lot of Kreplach!!!).
- A special, very large challah with raisins is baked for
the Purim meal. Cakes are also baked, that have been kneaded
with oil and butter, smeared with egg yolk and decorated with
chocolate and sweets.
Purim fish -
Fish are not prepared on Purim in the same way as for the
other festivals. They are usually cooked in vinegar, raisins and
Seeds, Beans, Legumes - Some
have the custom of eating different kinds of seeds -- pumpkin,
sunflower, nuts, etc. This is in memory of Esther, who ate no
forbidden foods while she lived in king Achashverosh's palace.
All she ate was seeds. Others eat beans, legumes or cereals for
the same reason. Esther adopted this vegetarian lifestyle while
she was queen in order to ensure her observance of the kashrut
laws. This is also another source of the custom of filling the
H____tashen with poppy seeds. Additionally, beans symbolize sadness,
as they are traditionally eaten after a funeral. We eat them on
Purim, amongst all the merriment, to remind us that we
are still in Golut (exile).
Turkey - It is customary to
eat turkey ("tarnegol hodu" or "Indian chicken")
on Purim. This is in "honor" of Achashverosh
who ruled from India ("Hodu") to Ethiopia. How is this an honor?
Well, it is well-known that turkey is considered a symbol of foolishness
among the peoples of Europe, and especially among the Jews. So
we remember Achashverosh as the "stupid" king (as mentioned in
Midrash Megilla XII).
-Megillat Esther is the only
book in the scriptures which does not mention Hashem's
-Megillat Esther is unique
in that it contains words which appear nowhere else in the Bible.
Tevet: the tenth Hebrew month. Kasher: fit. Patshegen: a copy of the (written) text Ahashdarpenim: Persian word for the King's officers Pur:
Persian word meaning "lot." Karpas: Persian word for cotton.
- All the letters of the Hebrew alphabet
are found in Megillat Esther, ch. 3, v. 13.
- The Hebrew word Mishteh,
meaning banquet, occurs 20 times in Megillat Esther (which
is equal to the total of ALL the other times it is found in the
rest of the Bible).
- The longest verse in the Bible appears
in Megillat Esther. It has 43 words in Hebrew (and approximately
90 words in the English translation). It appears in ch. 8, v.
"Then were the king's scribes called
at that time, in the third month, that is the month Sivan,
on the three and twentieth day thereof; and it was written according
to all that Mordechai commanded unto the Jews, and to the lieutenants,
and the deputies and rulers of the provinces, which are from India
unto Ethiopia, a hundred and twenty seven provinces, unto every
province according to the writing thereof, and unto every people
after their language, and to the Jews according to their writing
and according to their language."
- The Talmud instructs that on Purim
one should drink until he knows not the difference between "Blessed
be Mordecai" and "Cursed be Haman." Interestingly, the numerical
value of the Hebrew letters in each of the phrases (
amounts in each case to a total of 502.
- In Missouri and Louisiana there
are towns called Esther.
- There is a "Queen Esther"
Street in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv, Israel.
- On January 30th, 1944, Hitler said:
If the Nazis are vanquished, the Jews will be able to celebrate
a special Purim.
- "Hadassah" was founded on Purim,
in 1912. Hadassah is Esther's Hebrew name.
In the weeks surrounding Purim,
Our Sages instituted four different Shabbatot with four
special messages. Special Maftir's (additional Torah
readings) are read in the Synagogue after the regular Torah
readings replacing the regular Shabbat Maftir readings.
1. PARSHAT SHEKALIM
The Shabbat preceding Rosh
Chodesh Adar (or Adar II in a leap year) is Parshat
Shekalim. If Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbat itself,
then that Shabbat is Parshat Shekalim. The Maftir,
(additional reading), from Shmot, Parshat Ki Sisa, (30:11-16),
describes the census or counting of every Jew and the obligation
to give a Half-Shekelterumah (contribution)
during the month of Adar to pay for the public Korbanot
(sacrifices) in the Bait Hamikdash in Yerushalayim.
2. PARSHAT ZACHOR
The Shabbat immediately before
Purim is called Shabbat Zachor. The Maftir,
from Devarim, Parshat Ki-Teitze, (25:17-19), deals with
the commandment to "Remember what Amalek did to you on the
way, upon your departure from Mitzrayim (Egypt).... ...
how they perpetrated a cowardly and unprovoked attack... You shall
erase the memory of Amalek from the heavens, you shall not forget."
This commandment, to remember Amalek,
is one of the 613 commandments. It is incumbent, therefore, upon
every person to attend services on Shabbat Zachor in order
to hear this special reading and remember its message.
What is the connection between erasing
the memory of Amalek and Purim? The wicked Haman, who intended
to destroy all the Jews in one day and claim their spoils, was
the descendant of Agag who was the king of Amalek in the time
of King Shaul. Thus we know that Haman was an Amalekite. This
is why our sages ordained carrying out the commandment of remembering
to erase the memory of Amalek before Purim. Zachor
means remember - "Remember... do not forget!"
3. PARSHAT PARAH
The Shabbat immediately following
Purim is designated as Shabbat Parshat Parah. The
Maftir, from Bamidbar, Parshat Chukat, (19:1-22),
describes the preparation of the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer),
whose ashes were used in the spiritual purification process during
the time of the Bait Hamikdash. This purification was carried
out at this time of the year to ensure that everyone would be
able to partake in the Korban
Pesach (Pascal Lamb) to be offered on the 14th day of Nisan.
4. SHABBAT HACHODESH
Finally, the Shabbat preceding
Rosh Chodesh Nisan is called Shabbat HaChodesh.
The Maftir, from Shmot, Parshat Bo, (12:1-20), starts
with the first Mitzva given to the Bnei Yisroel,
while they were still in Mitzrayim, even before the Mitzvot
of the Yom Tov Pesach (Passover festival) - the Mitzva
of Kiddush Hachodesh (the sanctification of the new moon).
The reading begins with the declaration that the Hebrew month
of Nisan, and not Tishrei, is to be considered the
first month of the year. The passage then continues with some
of the mitzvot of Pesach
/ Passover, which are certainly appropriate to be read
and studied as the holiday approaches.