Sunday, January 25, 2009

Restoring Purim

Purim Torah Portion

Purim is celebrated every year on the 14 th day of Adar, which this year on the secular calendar is March 9 - beginning at sunset to March 10 - ending at sunset.

The Fast of Esther, observed before Purim, on the 13th of Adar, is an original part of the Purim celebration, referred to in Esther 9:30-32: " 30 And Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews in the 127 provinces of the kingdom of Xerxes—words of goodwill and assurance- 31 to establish these days of Purim at their designated times, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had decreed for them, and as they had established for themselves and their descendants in regard to their times of fasting and lamentation. 32 Esther's decree confirmed these regulations about Purim, and it was written down in the records."

The first who mentions the Fast of Esther is Rabbi Achai Gaon (Acha of Shabcha) (8th century CE) in She'iltot 4; the reason there given for its institution is based on an interpretation of Esther 9:18: "18 The Jews in Susa, however, had assembled on the thirteenth and fourteenth, and then on the fifteenth they rested and made it a day of feasting and joy. 19 That is why rural Jews—those living in villages—observe the fourteenth of the month of Adar as a day of joy and feasting, a day for giving presents to each other. "

Esther 9:31: " 31 to establish these days of Purim at their designated times, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had decreed for them, and as they had established for themselves and their descendants in regard to their times of fasting and lamentation."

and Talmud Megillah 2a: "The 13th was the time of gathering", which gathering is explained to have had also the purpose of public prayer and fasting. Some, however, used to fast three days in commemoration of the fasting of Esther; but as fasting was prohibited during the month of Nisan, the first and second Mondays and the Thursday following Purim were chosen. The fast of the 13th is still commonly observed; but when that date falls on a Sabbath, the fast is pushed forward to the preceding Thursday, Friday being needed to prepare for the Sabbath and the following Purim festival.

The celebration begins with the public reading of the Book of Esther by men over the age of 13.
According to the Mishnah (Megillah 30b), Exodus 17:8-16, the story of the attack on the Jews by Amalek, the progenitor of Haman, is also to be read:
"The Amalekites Defeated
8 The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. 9 Moses said to Joshua, "Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands." 10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.14 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven." 15 Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. 16 He said, "For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The [c] LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation."
When the reader of the Megillah mentions Haman (54 occurrences), there is boisterous hissing, stamping, and rattling. Haman's name is to be written on the bottom of each persons shoe. Everytime his name is mentioned, the feet should be stomped on the ground so that by the end of the reading his name is no longer legible on the sole of the shoe, for it is written, "Thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek" (Deuteronomy 25:19)

The reader is to pronounce the names of the ten sons of Haman (Esther 9:7-10) in one breath, to indicate their simultaneous death:

"5 The Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and they did what they pleased to those who hated them. 6 In the citadel of Susa, the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men. 7 They also killed Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha, 8 Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha, 9 Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai and Vaizatha, 10 the ten sons of Haman son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews. But they did not lay their hands on the plunder"

The congregation is to recite aloud with the reader the verses 2:5:
"5 Now ther e was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, 6 who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachin [a] king of Judah."

"15 Mordecai left the king's presence wearing royal garments of blue and white, a large crown of gold and a purple robe of fine linen. And the city of Susa held a joyous celebration. 16 For the Jews it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honor."

and 10:3, whi ch relate the origin of Mordechai and his triumph:
"3 Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfar e of all the Jews."

The Boo k of Esther prescribes "the sending of portions one man to another, and gifts to the poor" (9:22). Over ti me, this mitzvah has become one of the most prominent features of the celebration of Purim.
According to the halakha, each Jew over the age of bar or bat mitzvah must send two different, ready-to-eat foods to one friend, and two charitable donations (either money or food) to two poor people, to fulfill these two mitzvot. The gifts to friends are called mishloach manot ("sen ding of portions"), and often include wine and pastries; alternately, sweets, snacks, salads or any foodstuff qualifies.

Dressing up in masks and costumes is one of the most entertaining customs of the Purim holiday.
Children in particular enjoy dressing up as the protagonists in the Book of Esther, including Queen Esther and Mordecai; other Biblical personalities such as King David and the Kohen Gadol ("High Priest"), and modern-day costumes from flower girls to indigenous peoples of the Americas to a nimals to policemen.

Costumes and masks are worn to disguise the wearers' identities. Mistaken identity plays an important role in The Book of Esther, as Esther hid her cultural origins from the king, Mordecai hid his knowledge of all the world's languages (which allowed Bigthan and Teresh to discuss their plot openly in his presence), and Haman was mistaken for Mordechai when he led Mordechai through the streets of the capital city of Shushan. According to the Talmud, Haman's daughter, thinking that it must be Mordechai leading her father around, dumped a chamber pot on her father's head as he passed by, and, realizing her error, committed suicide.

The one who is truly hidden behind all the events of the Megillah is God. The Jewish Sages referred to His role as הסתר פנים (hester panim, or "hiding of the Face", which is also hinted at in a word play (Megilat Hester ) regarding the Hebrew name for the Book of Esther, Megillat Esther—literally, "revelation of [that which is] hidden"). Although Jews believe that everything turned out in the end for the best as a direct result of Divine intervention (that is, a series of miracles), the Book of Esther lacks any mention of God's name and appears to have been nothing more than a result of natural occurrences. On the other hand, Jewish philosophy and scriptural commentators believe that the reason for the omission of God's name is in order to emphasize the very point that God remained hidden throughout this series of events, but was nonetheless present and played a large role in the outcome of the story. Furthermore, this lesson can be taken into consideration on a much larger scale: Throughout Jewish history, and especially in the present Jewish diaspora, God's presence has been felt more at certain times than at others. Megillat Esther (and the omission of God's name in it) serves to show that alt hough God may not be conspicuously present at times, He nevertheless plays (and has played) an important role in everyone's lives and in the future of the Jewish nation. In remembrance of how God remained hidden throughout the Purim miracle, Jews dress up on Purim and many hide their faces.

It is also written that one should drink on Purim until he can no longer distinguish between (ad delo yada) the phrases, arur Haman ("Cursed is Haman") and baruch Mordechai ("Blessed is Mordecai"). In Hebrew these phrases have the same gematria ("numerical value"), and some authorities, including the Be'er Hagolah and Rabbi Avraham Gombiner known as the Magen Avraham, have ruled that one should drink wine until he is unable to calculate these numerical values.

Traditional foods:

Homemade Hamantaschen

During Purim it is traditional to serve triangular pastries, called Hamantaschen ("Haman's pockets") in Yiddish and Oznei Haman ("Haman's ears") in modern Hebrew. A sweet cookie dough is rolled out, cut into circles, and traditionally filled with a sweet
poppyseed filling, then wrapped up into a triangular shape with the filling either hidden or showing.

Seeds and nuts are customarily eaten on Purim, as the Talmud tells us that Queen Esther ate only these foodstuffs in the palace of Ahasuerus, since she had no access to kosher foods. More recently, prunes, dates, apricots, and chocolate fillings have been introduced. This pastry belongs to the Ashkenazi cuisine, its Sephardi equivalent is a thin dough called Fazuelos.

Kreplach shaped in the form of hamantaschen float in a bowl of chicken soup made for the Purim seudah.

Kreplach, a kind of dumpling filled with cooked meat, chicken or liver and served in soup, are also traditionally served by Ashkenazi Jews on Purim

No comments:

Post a Comment