Saturday, March 19, 2016

Why Purim is one of the most important holidays of all

We Jews define ourselves in many different ways.  Some Jews are gastronomical Jews.  They express their Jewish identity by eating Jewish food like a good corned beef sandwich. Some Jews are two-day a year Jews.  They are in and out synagogue just two days a year, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  Some Jews are Passover Jews who just love the whole holiday with its rituals, foods, and family centered meal.  I am willing to wager that most children are Hanukkah Jews for the obvious reason.  I am a Purim Jew.  I love the holiday of Purim.

If you ask Jews what are the most important holidays, Purim wouldn’t break the top 10 list. Nevertheless, Purim probably is the most important holiday of all!  Allow me to give you a traditional reason as well as a modern reason.

In the Talmud Megillah 15b the Sages teach that when the Messiah comes, all the books of the prophets will be annulled except the Scroll of Esther!  The Rabbis in the Talmud Shabbat explain why this verse in the Megillah is so important. “…the Jews undertook and irrevocably obligated themselves and their descendants, and all who might join them, to observe these two days in the manner prescribed and at the proper time each year.” (9:27)

“And they stood under the mountain” (Exodus 19:17) Rabbi Avdimi ben Hama ben Hasa said: “This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, overturned the mountain and suspended it upon them like a barrel and said to them: 'If you accept the Torah, well and good, but if not- there shall be your burial!' Rabbi Aha ben Ya'akov observed: “This furnishes a strong protest against the Torah” (i.e., a blanket excuse for nonobservance of a covenant ratified under duress). Said Rava: “Yet even so, they accepted it again in the days of Ahaverosh, for it is written: 'undertook and irrevocably obligated themselves and their descendants, and all who might join them'; they ratified (with the institution of Purim) what they took upon them long before (at Sinai). (Shabbat 88a)

Our acceptance of the Torah on the holiday of Shavuot is in doubt.  Since we accepted the Torah under duress, perhaps it isn’t binding.  A modern analogy is the selling of art owned by Jews during the Holocaust.  The descendants of the art owners are now claiming ownership of those works of art because they were sold under duress.  The original Jewish owners really had no choice but to sell them and at under the market value.  Maybe the Torah and Mitzvot are no longer enjoined upon us. When the Jews accepted upon themselves the holiday of Purim, they happily and freely accepted the covenant of the Torah binding us to God and His commandments.

The Torah has preserved us and has made us who we are today.  Without Purim, perhaps we would have forsaken it and who knows whether we still would be around as Jews today!

We modern Jews have much to be thankful for the post Torah holiday of Purim.  Purim shares many of the same qualities of the pilgrimage holidays in the Torah.  Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, and Purim celebrate historical events.  On Passover we celebrate the Exodus from Egypt, and our freedom from slavery.  On Shavuot we received the Torah on Mt. Sinai.  On Sukkot we commemorate living in sukkot, booths, during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.  On Purim we celebrate our victory of Haman and his allies who sought to destroy us. 

There is one major and important difference.  The three Pilgrimage holidays are God ordained. Mordechai and Esther enjoined the Jewish people to add Purim to the calendar as it is written: “Mordechai recorded these events. And he sent dispatches to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Ahaverosh, near and far, charging them to observe the 14th and 15th of Adar, every year. (9:20-21).

Purim is the first post-Torah holiday.  Nothing like it ever happened before.  Mordechai and Esther had the chutzpah to start a brand new holiday that wasn’t sanctioned by God.  They set an important precedent. Without Purim, we might not have been able to add Hanukkah, Yom Hashoa, and Israel Independence Day on the calendar.  Purim teaches us that we too have the power to sanctify and make holy. 

For both the traditional reason and the modern reason we need to acknowledge the importance of Purim and not relegate it simply to a child’s holiday.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

I can help the Palestinians

I sent this letter to the editor of the New York Times.  I don't expect it to be published so I am publishing it here.

Palestinian teachers are striking. The Palestinian Authority claims they can't pay their teachers the promised raise because of the drop in the foreign aid (New York Times, March 7). I can find them the money. The Palestinian Authority pays large bounties to the attackers and their families. An attacker can go out to commit murder assured that if he is arrested he will receive a monthly salary; if he is killed, his family will receive a monthly pension; and if his family home is destroyed, the family will receive a very generous award to rebuild their home. An Israeli government 2014 memorandum, citing official PA budgetary reports, noted that $75.5 million had been paid out in stipends to convicted terrorists and their families in 201. I wonder will the family of the terrorist, who murdered the American graduate student Taylor Force (New York Times, March 8), also be rewarded for his act of murder. Instead of inciting violence against Israelis, that money would be better spent providing a better future for the children.