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The Power of Purim

Purim is visceral. We yell, stamp our feet and wave noisemakers like crazy to drown out the name of the villain, Haman, who sought to kill every Jewish man, woman and child. If only it were that easy to make the real bad guys, the Osama bin Laden’s of the world, disappear.

There is something cathartic about drowning out the name of the bad guy and of coming to the end of the story knowing that the good guys win in the end. It sublimates our sense of fear and vulnerability in the face of the unknown into a sense of hope. Who needs the Left Behind series when we have Purim?

But, I would suggest, the real power of Purim doesn’t come from the sense of relief, and release, it generates. Just as Esther hid her true identity in the palace, so too the true power of Purim is hidden in the small parcels of candy, pastries (the three cornered hamenstashen) and charity coins we are to give to friends and families (mishloach manot) and to the poor (matanot evyonim). These gifts are among the most ancient observances of the holiday, included in the Book of Esther (9:22). These gifts transform the anger and potential for violence, that might otherwise be a natural by product of the discrimination and injustice outlined in the Book of Esther, into acts of compassion, in caring for friends and neighbors and, especially, in giving food and funds to the poor. There are times when we have to defend ourselves, as Chapter 9 of the Book of Esther also relates.


However, the age-old power of Purim comes from the lesson, still relevant today, that memories of injustices suffered can transform the world for good if they fuel acts of kindness to others.

Perhaps, as the Israeli children’s song states, it would be nice if Purim could come every week and not just once a year. As it is, we will just have to do our best to charge ourselves up with the power of Purim so it can last us throughout the year.

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posted March 9, 2006 at 4:25 pm

I just love this commentary. I’m going to keep it and also forward it to my kids. Articles like this make the meaning of the holiday so much more real…

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posted March 10, 2006 at 10:27 pm

It seems to me, after reading the story, it would make one understand how even one person can make a big difference in changing what was meant for bad, into good. By Esther doing that which was not easy, and in fact very brave, she not only saved herself but all of her people…even until this generation. Some may read the story and think that what she did was not good, but those would not be hearing and understanding the underlying voice/hand of God, in a nation who he was in covenant with regardless of their situation at the moment. God is always faithful, even when we are not. One with God, is a majority.

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sam hammer

posted March 11, 2006 at 10:50 pm

a beautiful and subtle reading that points to the complexity of the end of the ESTHER. yes, we have to defend outselves, but what about the slaughter that goes on for “extra days”? Where is the line between self-defense and revenge, between retribution and a perpetuation of violence by the former victims? ESTHER asks hard questions for us to ponder that are extremely relevant, unfortunately, to our situation as Jews and as Americans today.

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posted March 13, 2006 at 6:07 pm

Sam hammer asks very good questions. I feel this is one of the reasons we don’t take the Torah stories only as a literal history, but as moral lessons for today to be dissected and discussed, to glean the lessons to be learned and applied to daily life. Use the metaphor and allegory to make its lessons applicable to other aspects of our life.

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posted March 25, 2006 at 8:29 am

I know people that have come back from Iraq.Even from the first of the war ,there was ,andis ,evidence of chemical weapons.And So many of our service members have come back with problems/ailments that they were generaly not predisposed (suggesting evidence of C.W. )to. I remember one instance where one of the TV news casts even reported that chemical weapons were found ,then they were ‘shut-up’ by somebody. Even at that ,The mass graves of the people that Saddam had killed should have been enough.

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