The Jewish holiday of Purim began at sundown last night and continues until sundown this evening.
Having grown up in New York with many Jewish friends, I have a reasonably good familiarity with the major Jewish holidays, such as Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana. For others, my knowledge is pretty much limited to the cultural and culinary accompaniments to the feast.
Thus, when I hear Purim, I know there will be hamentashen, the traditional pastry of this holiday that is shaped like a triangle and filled with fruit and other good things. Indeed, our Jewish Law Students Association had announced that they would be selling hamentashen during the day this past Thursday (as a way to both raise funds and educate non-Jews about the holiday), but, to my disappointment, when I arrived they had only cookies and muffins…having decided that the hamentashen were too hard to make on the eve of Spring Break.
Despite the absence of hamentashen, what I learned from the handout sheet distributed by the students is that the Megilla of Esther lists four mitzvot as the proper way to celebrate Purim.
First, the people are to hear the story of Esther, a tale that “reveals the complex power relationships between men and women.”
Second, they are to have a “festive meal with an abundance of wine.”
Third, the mitzvah of mishloach manot, which means literally “sending portions” involves wrapping up hamentashen, raisins, fruit and other goodies into a basket and delivering them to family and friends.
Finally, one is to deliver matanot la’evyonim, “gifts to the poor.”
I loved the combination of the requirements of the day. The holiday is one of celebration – celbrating the fact that the villain Hamen didn’t succeed in destroying the Jews of Persia. And what does it mean to celebrate? Not only having a big party for ourselves, and not only giving gifts to our families and friends. Rather, the celebration includes taking care of the least among us.
As the final line of the description the students distributed reads, “Together, these four mitzvot make Purim a time to listen not only to the Megillah, but also to the voices of those in need in our community.”
Amen. A nice model for how we celebrate all of our holidays.