It was one year ago, almost to the day, at a Purim celebration, where everybody was jokingly ‘shaking hands’ using their elbows. It seemed humorous at the time and only added to the joyous atmosphere of the Purim party. Little did we know then the impact that Covid-19 would have globally, or how rapid the spread of infection would be. A year later, we are very fortunate and blessed to be able to once again celebrate Purim at school and within our community. Purim has many traditions but only four commandments, some would argue five, that we are obligated to perform. These include: the reading of the megillah (story of Purim), the giving of mishloach manot (packages of food items) and matanot le’evyonim (charity to the poor), and participating in a joyous Purim se’udah (festive meal). These are not just random commandments; they are bound together by a central theme, which serves to teach us some important lessons relevant to us today just as much as they were 2000 years ago.
The book of Esther is unique in that it is the only book in the Tanach (Bible) that does not mention G-d’s name explicitly. Our Sages also see a connection between this and the name Esther (related to the Hebrew word Hester meaning hidden). The meaning of Esther’s name, combined with the absence of G-d’s name, suggests that the story of Purim is about that which is hidden. We have always understood the story to be one in which G-d acts in hidden, subtle ways. It is as if God is a stagehand, dressed in black, working behind the scenes to make sure that everything goes as it should.
Esther herself is also hidden – she hides her identity as a Jew from the king. It is only because of this that she is able to get Haman and Ahasuerus to attend the feasts she has prepared, and to ultimately overturn Haman’s evil plan to wipe out the Jewish people. It is both because she hid her identity and because she ultimately revealed it that she was able to save her people.
Purim is all about experiencing G-d’s hidden existence and the way G-d acts behind the scenes. The blessings we recite, both before and after reading the megillah, explicitly bless G-d for being the one who saves us. How important is it for us this year to make sure we reveal G-d’s hidden presence by offering our blessings.
The Act of giving
On Purim, we send two types of ready-to-eat food to at least two friends symbolising the spirit of friendship, which can help prevent the appearance of a future Haman. We also give tzedakah (charity) to at least two poor people or organisations that support those less fortunate. Purim, like all Jewish festivals focuses on inclusion. All of us are included in the celebration of Purim regardless of socio-economic differences.
Like the hiddenness of G-d and Esther’s identity in the megillah, the poor or disadvantaged are often marginalised and ignored to the extent that we don’t see them. On Purim, we counteract this by giving as directly as possible. We are even encouraged to go out of our way to encounter people to whom we can give.
It is for this reason that we have introduced our Adar Chesed drive, encouraging students to donate household items which will be distributed via Jewish House to families in need. Year 7 students are asked to bring in soap, shampoo and bath/shower gel. Year 8 students are asked to bring toothbrushes, toothpaste and deodorant. Year 9 students are asked to bring canned food. Year 10 students; dry goods such as pasta and rice. Year 11 students; biscuits, crackers and chips. And Year 12 students; socks for men and women.
We are accepting donations until Friday this week (26 February 2021), so please encourage your children to donate, thereby fulfilling the important mitzvah of matanot la’evyonim (gifts to the poor).
The Purim se’udah (festive meal)
The fourth mitzvah is the Purim se’udah – meal enjoyed with family and friends in a very joyous and jovial atmosphere. However, like the mitzvot of giving mentioned earlier, the se’udah is also an opportunity not just to include others, but also to make them happy, an additional mitzvah associated with Purim. Inviting others to share in our joy is as important as being happy ourselves, and very often, it is the act of giving and sharing that ultimately brings us joy and happiness. The se’udah is also an opportunity for us to acknowledge and be grateful for our own fortune and the fact that we can celebrate together either at school, at shul, or at home.
We are privileged that at Moriah, all students will have the opportunity to fulfil these mitzvot on Purim. We have planned a very exciting day and we ask you to encourage your children to get dressed up in fancy dress and to get into the spirit of the day. We look forward to welcoming wizards, princesses, clowns and monsters. Our staff will also be in fancy dress and prizes will be awarded to the best dressed and most creative costumes (yes, for staff as well).
In the Megillah, Mordechai tells the Jewish People to mark “the month in which circumstances switched from sorrow to joy and from mourning to celebration” (9:22). One of the messages of Purim, perhaps the main message, is to ensure that no one remains hidden within our community, and within our school. In this way, we hope to reveal the real miracle of Purim, to infuse the world with true happiness through feasting, the giving of mishloach manot and matanot la’evyonim and the retelling the story of Purim, knowing that the story ends on a happy note.
Our Sages teach us that “as we enter the month of Adar, we increase our joy” (Ta’anit 29a). I hope this short clip brings some joy to you and your family.
Wishing you a Purim filled with blessings and simcha.
About the author
Ronnen Grauman is the Acting Head of Jewish Life and Learning at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.