Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What's The Real Point of Purim?

Is Purim just an excuse for Jews to get drunk, pig out on unhealthy food, make noise and act like fools?

About 45 years ago, a young rabbi spoke to my Great Neck public high school class explaining that Chanukah was the holiday of civil rights, religious freedom. That was during the peak of the Black Civil Rights movement, when many Jews were more concerned with the rights of negros, as they were called then, than Jews.

How would you explain Purim in today's terms?

Blogger's spellcheck isn't working, sorry for typos.


Anonymous said...

Two words: "Hastarat Pannim" - G-d's hiding his "face" in response to our not looking for Him.

Hadassa DeYoung said...

Shy Guy covered the religious aspect. On the social level people today can easily relate to an averted genocide. Mordechai not bowing down to Haman is an example of ethnic pride - defining ethnicity imprecisely. Judaism is a religion, not a race. And on the most personal level, we shouldn't forget the heroine. All Jews, not just women, can take pride in Esther, a captured woman who used her wits, and with advice from her wise husband, saved her people.
Purim Sameah!
Hadassa DeYoung, K'far Darom/Elon Moreh

Batya said...

Shy, I didn't think of the cause of "Hastarat Pannim" as a response. Very interesting. But if that's the case "our not looking for Him," maybe He wasn't hiding at all. I think of that concept as the sun on a cloudy, stormy day. The sun is in the sky, where it would be on a bright shiny day, but there are clouds blocking it. Or in a house, you can put up dark curtains and think that the sun hasn't risen. All you have to do is move the curtains, and you'll see the sun.

Hadassa, interesting. You made me think of the Holocaust, when most Jews kept trying to cooperate with the Nazis, "for the good of the people. We don't wand to make things even worse." Were there any "Mordechai's" there?

Anonymous said...

Chazal say: Esther min HaTorah minayin? Shehne'emar "Va'anochi ahster ahsteer panai bayam ha'hu."

Batya, you need to start attending daf Yomi shiur. :)

Batya said...

Shy, you may be right, but I would never understand it. I have no background.

Hadassa DeYoung said...

Off the top of my head I can think of four instances of "Mordechai" from the Holocaust: The Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the escape from Sobivor, a woman, who while on a death march broke from the line, grabbed a rifle from a guard and shot him in the stomach and Rav Teichtel, ztz"l hy"d, the author of "Eim HaBanim Semeiha. There are more, I'm sure.
I've heard the passage from Chazal Shy Guy quoted several times, by rabbis and female teachers, in Megillat Esther classes for women. I guess some teachers are kind enough to realize that we don't have time for a daf yomi class.

Batya said...

Hadassa, you're right. I forgot those, since there were so few. I was going to ask, how it helped, but then I found the answer in my own mind. The vibrant Judaism of today and the dedicated pioneers fighting for Eretz Yisrael are the results. I think of those kids, the teenage girls who went to jail protesting Disengagement as "Mordechai's."

Anonymous said...

Hadassa and Batya, one of the major differences between the story of the Megilla and the holocaust is in that the former, a heavenly decree to annihilate the Jewish people was canceled. And there was such a decree.

I didn't literally mean you should go to a Daf Yomi class. Just keep on digging. The more we know, the better equipped we are to understand what's happening around us.

Hadassa DeYoung said...

I didn't intend to imply the Holocaust when I mentioned genocide, or even to equate Purim with any other event. Batya asked for ways to explain Purim "in today's terms". There have been numerous attempted genocides during the past 100 years (and the preceding millenia). Obviously a complete explanation of Purim would involve explaining the miracle, which occurred "b'hester panim": G-d's name isn't mentioned even once during the entire Megilla, only alluded to by the difference between "melech" and "hamelech". (Esther also wore "malchut" and not "bigdei malchut".)
As you can imagine, I've read more commentaries on Megillat Esther than many other parts of Tanach. I also wrote a hidon which received very positive reviews from my neighbors.
Hadassa (hee Esther)

Batya said...

Shy, were you jesting about me learning Daf Yomi? Now I'm insulted. It could be my next intellectual/spiritual challenge... one never knows...

And Shy, how do you know that there wasn't such a decree 70 years ago? It's too soon for us to comprehend it all. FDR and the rest of the major world leaders weren't at all troubled by the anti-semitism of the Nazis.

Maybe things turned in our favor, because the Lechi/Stern Gang was willing to fight the British for Jewish independence during the war. That puts a new slant on Eldad's Pesach Hagaddah, which was just published.

Hadassa, what do you think?

Anonymous said...

"And Shy, how do you know that there wasn't such a decree 70 years ago?"

On the contrary! There was such a decree. It took place. When I said "and there was such a decree", I didn't mean there wasn't one 70 years ago. I meant to point out to any readers that there was. It is discussed at great length in the Talmud and Medrash.

The Torah teaches us that nothing is happenstance, certainly not the extermination of half of our people, in communities some of which spanned back 1000 years.

Suggested reading:

Purim, the Holiday in Hiding>


Holocaust: Issues

(No, I am not plugging Aish HaTorah. I just find their site easy to search and comprehensive).

Hadassa DeYoung said...

One doesn't joke about daf yomi classes, or the capability of women to learn. (There's a huge makloket about what women should learn, but this isn't right post for discussing it.)
Shy Guy already clarified the decree issue. I've heard, and I'm sorry that I can't remember the sources, that there's no point in trying to explain the Holocaust because it occurred according to divine decree. In other words, explaining the Holocaust in purely human terms is impossible.
Lechi was definitely a kiddush HaShem.
We had two choices for how we began returning to Israel after a 2,000+ year exile. If more of us had come back completely of our own free will we would have avoided the Holocaust, after which the in-gathering of the exiles occurred at a much greater rate than during the preceding century.
I think that there's a similarity between the Exodus from Egypt and the end of the Holocaust: HaShem saved us when we were extremely close to destruction, even though we-didn't-really-deserve-it. The difference is, of course, that in Egypt the threat was to Jewry as a whole, and the Holocaust threatened a large segment.
I haven't looked at Eldad's Hagadda yet. Does it have hascamot, and if so whose?
I've also used Aish's site. Using an organization's site does not require complete agreement with it.
Just in cast I don't comment again, Shabbat Shalom!

Batya said...

shy, thanks for the clarification. I don't have too much time before Shabbat...

Hadassa, I agree.
Yehuda Etzion, of Ofra, edtited the Hagaddah. Eldad also wrote a perush on the Chumash.