This Wednesday night, or Thursday if you live in Jerusalem, will begin the festive Jewish holiday of Purim. Everyone goes to hear Megillat Esther with a grogger in hand, people hand out gift baskets full of food before attending a lavish meal, people eat triangle shaped cookies called Hamentashen, and of course, everyone is in costume. If you have seen any of these fun traditions take place, you might wonder why, and we have an explanation for you.
Purim is sometimes called the “Jewish Halloween”, but to be fair, Purim came first and so did the costumes. There are many different views on why we dress up, but there are two popular opinions that relate directly to the story of Purim. One reason is to remember that the Purim miracle was done in disguise, so we too are in disguise. In other Jewish stories, it is often mentioned that G-d partook in the miracle somehow, but in Megillat Esther, His name is never written. The other reason is in relation to the part of the story where King Achashverosh honors Mordechai for saving his life, and orders that Mordechai is paraded around town wearing the king’s clothing.
A noisemaker, or grogger as it is called in Yiddush, is used during the reading of Megillat Esther, and is a way to help participants follow along. The grogger is traditionally a ratchet instrument made from wood, but can be a variety of things such as a tambourine or a bottle filled with beans, as long as it makes noise. So, when do we use it? During the reading of Megillat Esther, one is supposed to drown out the name of the evil Haman who plotted to kill the Jews by making as much noise as they possibly can.
Hamentashen are definitely a favorite part of Purim! Just as Chanukah has jelly donuts and latkes, Purim has tasty triangle shaped cookies traditionally filled with jelly, chocolate, or poppy seeds. Hamentashen originate from Europe but are enjoyed everywhere today. It is rumored that Haman wore a triangular shaped hat, which is why Hamentashen are that shape but again, there are many different explanations to the triangle shape. In Hebrew, these cookies are called Oznei Haman meaning, Haman’s ears, possibly referring to the shape of his ears and possibly something else. No matter what the real meaning is, no Purim is complete without Hamentashen! Want to make your own? Try out this recipe from Chabad.org.
Megillat Esther, or the Scroll of Esther, is read twice on Purim; once at night when the Jewish day begins and once in the morning. The reason for reading it twice is because the Jewish people called out for help during the night and the day when they were being threatened, and to show our thanks for being saved, we read Megillat Esther once at night and once during the day. The scroll tells the story of how Esther, a Jewish girl from Persia, married the king, Achashverosh and learns of the evil plot to kill the Jews made by Haman, the king’s advisor. With the help of her uncle Mordechai, Esther manages to save the Jewish people and the story as a whole is proof of a miracle in disguise.
Mishloach Manot (Shaloch Manot)
Mishloach Manot literally translates to “sending portions” but it is really just a food gift basket sent to friends, family, and the poor over Purim. The rules of Mishloach Manot are relatively simple; one must give to two people, the food inside must be already prepared (ideally to be eaten at the Purim meal), must be given during the day and must have foods that belong to two different blessings. This is a way to ensure that everyone has something to eat at the festive Purim meal that happens during the day. When it comes to giving to the poor, many choose to donate money on Purim itself.
Purim is a day full of fun, but it also has a serious and meaningful aspect to it that should not be forgotten. This holiday is also a time to show companionship, as we share food, attend the Purim meal with those we love, and spend the day remembering how we were saved together as a nation. Wishing you and your family a Purim Sameach (Happy Purim)!