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.