More To Purim Than Cookies
I have an interesting relationship with Purim. As a young boy, I was a great lover of the holiday, with its attendant delicacies. Purim fairs at my temple were always fun, as was the packaging of mishloach manot bags for members of the congregation.
As I grew up, I began to see Purim more for the lessons it offers us in our world today and less as an opportunity to gorge myself on jelly- or fruit-filled hamentaschen. The story of Esther and Mordechai was an early lesson in politics, to be sure, but it also offered a powerful meditation on gender roles and women’s issues.
In high school and early on in college, I saw another lesson, one born of a study of history and international relations. Rereading the Megillah at age 19, I saw a tale of heroism in the face of genocide, with implications for how countries should conduct their foreign affairs—perhaps even a lesson in interventionist foreign policy (for my mind addled with “Introduction to International Relations” schoolwork).
This year, though, I read the story in a different light altogether. This year, I set out to learn about the traditions surrounding Purim that do not involve either cookies or carnivals. This year, I learned of mahatzit haShekel, a tradition that teaches us to donate one-half of one unit of local currency, which plays into a larger tradition of giving funds during the holiday to fight poverty—a tradition known as matanot l’evyonim.
In these trying economic and geopolitical times, when the economic recovery moves forward as if on eggshells, Syria burns, and Iran, America, and Israel joust over the former’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, we may all find ourselves hoping for a deftly capable savior, an Esther, if you will. Such turmoil, though, prompts me to wonder about the turmoil that many of the most vulnerable among us face on a daily basis and what we can do to better support them.
No matter what threats or opportunities the next day may present, Purim teaches us powerful lessons in thinking of others and of the greater good, no matter the other events of the day. As these stories continue to play out on the national and international scene, I urge all of us to do the same and not lose sight of those in our midst who can use our help.
Image courtesty Temple Beth Emeth of Ann Arbor, MI