פורים

PURIM

פּוּרִים (Purim) is one of the most joyous and fun holidays on the Jewish calendar. It remembers a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from the evil plot of Haman. The primary commandment related to פּוּרִים (Purim) is to hear the reading of the book of Esther. The book of Esther is commonly known as the מְגִילָה (Megillah), which means scroll. Although there are five books of Jewish scripture that are properly referred to as megillot (the plural of megilllah) (Esther, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Lamentations), this is the one people usually mean when they speak of the מְגִילָה (Megillah). It is customary to boo, hiss, stamp feet and rattle gragers (noisemakers) whenever the name of Haman is mentioned in the service. The purpose of this custom is to "blot out the name of Haman." We are also commanded to eat, drink and be merry.

Story

The story of פּוּרִים (Purim) is found in the Book of Esther, one of the books in the Ketuvim (Writings) section of the Bible. It is set in the land of Persia (current day Iran) at the time when Ahashverosh was king. King Ahashverosh held a banquet in the capital city of Shushan and ordered his queen, Vashti, to come and dance before his guests. She refused to appear and lost her royal position.

Acting on advice from his counselors, Ahashverosh held a pageant to choose a new queen. Mordechai, a Jewish man living in Shushan, encouraged his cousin, Esther, to enter the competition. Esther won but, following the advice of her cousin, did not reveal her Jewish identity to the king.

Mordechai often sat near the gate of the king's palace. One day he overheard two men, Bigthan and Teresh, plotting to kill the king. Mordechai reported what he had heard to Esther. She then reported the information to the king. The matter was investigated and found to be true, and Bigthan and Teresh came to an unfortunate end. Mordechai's deed was recorded in the king’s diary.

Meanwhile, the king's evil adviser, Haman, paraded through the streets, demanding that all bow down to him.  Because Jews do not bow to anyone but God, Mordechai refused to bow down to Haman. Upon learning that Mordechai was Jewish, Haman decided to kill all the Jews in the Persian empire. He plotted to kill them—convincing King Ahashverosh to go along with the plan—and cast פּוּרִים (Purim) ("lots," plural of pur), a kind of lottery, to determine the day on which he would carry out his evil deed: the 13th of Adar.

However, Mordechai alerted Esther to Haman's evil plot, and Esther, in turn, revealed her Jewish identity to the King, convincing him to save the Jews and foiling Haman's plot.  Haman was hanged, Mordechai received his estates and the position of royal vizier, and the Jews of Persia celebrated their narrow escape on the 14th of Adar, the day after they were supposed to be destroyed.

Thus, the fate Haman had planned for the Jews became his own. The holiday of פּוּרִים (Purim) celebrates the bravery of Esther and Mordechai and the deliverance of the Jewish people from the cruelty of oppression. (Adapted from from: www.reformjudaism.org)

Season

פּוּרִים (Purim) is observed in most places on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar (and on Adar II in Hebrew leap years that take place every 2 to 3 years). מְגִילָת אֶסְתֵר (Megillat Esther) explains:

 

"on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month - that is the month of Adar - when the king's command and decree were to be executed, the very day on which the enemies of the Jews intended to have rule over them, the opposite happened, and the Jews prevailed over their adversaries."

 

The Jews fought and won on the 13th of Adar and celebrated the following day. However, in the walled city of Shushan the Jews did not defeat their enemies until the 14th of Adar. Therefore, cities that were enclosed during the time of Joshua do not celebrate until the 15th of Adar, which has been named Shushan Purim. That's why in Jerusalem, פּוּרִים  (Purim) is celebrated on the 15th of Adar.

Key Words

Grogger - רעשן
Purim Gifts - מִשְׁלוֹחַ מָנוֹת
Hamantaschen - אוֹזְנֵי הָמָן/המן טאשן

Lots - פּוּרִים
Scroll - מְגִילָה
Scroll of Esther - מְגִילָת אֶסְתֵר

Prayers

While there aren't special blessings to say on פּוּרִים (Purim), there is a special prayer that we add to the עֲמִידָה (amidah), the standing private prayer. It's called עַל הַנִיסִים (Al Hanisim), which means, "for the miracles."

Rituals

In the Book of Esther, we read that פּוּרִים (Purim) is a time for "feasting and merrymaking," as well as for "sending gifts to one another and presents to the poor" (Esther 9:22). In addition to reading the Megillah (Book of Esther), celebrants dress in costumes, have festive parties, perform "Purim-shpiels," silly theatrical adaptations of the story of the Megillah, send baskets of food (mishloach manot) to friends, and give gifts to the poor (matanot l'evyonim).

 

מִשְׁלוֹחַ מָנוֹת (Mishloach manot)

מִשְׁלוֹחַ מָנוֹת (Mishloach manot) are gifts of food that friends (and prospective new friends!) exchange on פּוּרִים (Purim). Often presented in baskets, most מִשְׁלוֹחַ מָנוֹת (Mishloach manot) include hamantaschen, the traditional three-sided pastry eaten on Purim, but may also include a wide variety of foods and treats. These gifts are frequently referred to by their Yiddish name, shalach manos.

Jewish families make מִשְׁלוֹחַ מָנוֹת (mishloach manot) baskets at home and distribute them to friends. Many families also make hamantaschen to include in these baskets and to enjoy at home.

 

מַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיֹנִים (Matanot l'evyonim)

מַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיֹנִים (Matanot l'evyonim) (gifts to the poor) are gifts given at this season to those in need so that they, too, can celebrate פּוּרִים (Purim) with a special meal. Many families have committed to participating in this important social justice aspect of the holiday.

 

Costumes

As part of the carnival-like atmosphere of פּוּרִים (Purim), many children and adults wear costumes. Some attribute this tradition to the fact that Esther initially “masked” her Jewish identity. Now a vibrant and widely practiced custom, some choose to dress as characters from the פּוּרִים (Purim) story, while others select Jewish heroes from throughout Jewish history.

 

Hamantaschen

Hamantaschen (Yiddish for Haman's pockets) are three-cornered pastries filled with poppy seeds (mohn in Yiddish), fruit preserves, chocolate, or other ingredients that are traditionally eaten on פּוּרִים (Purim).  In Israel during the weeks leading up to פּוּרִים (Purim), the aroma of freshly baked hamantaschen can be smelled on every block. Their triangular shape is thought to be reminiscent of Haman's hat or ears. 

© 2016 by Rabbi David Paskin

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