Purim: A Chance to Let Loose

February 23, 2017| by Rabbi Linda Goldberg

Purim comes not a moment too soon, March 11-12, this year. While I always look forward to its approach as a sign that winter is nearly past, this year observing Purim seems especially relevant. It offers a fine occasion to remember our heritage, to do some good for people close to us, to do good also for those in need, and to have full-on fun. What could be more welcome in these crazy times.

Four key mitzvot (commandments) associated with Purim are well crafted to enhance the joy both for the community and for the individual.

First mitzvah is to hear the story, found in Megillat (Book of) Esther in the Bible. For sure, the meaning of the holiday is missing if we do not know or recall the story. What happened was deadly anti-Jewish forces in ancient Persia, led by a wicked advisor to a foolish king, threatened to eliminate us. But thanks to brave action from heroes (including Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai) and well-timed help from circumstance and/or providence, we prevailed. It is a sequence that has occurred with significant variations over the years, so it resonates. And because we know that it did not always end so well for us, we rejoice thoroughly in this case when it did.

The other mitzvot are found in Esther 9:22, and they include giving gifts (generally of food) to people who are close to us, showing them that they are important to us. Also, we make sure that our elderly or sick friends, family and shut-in neighbors are not neglected and do not miss out on the rejoicing.

Next mitzvah is to give presents for the poor, so even people whom we do not know personally have their needs met as we celebrate our good fortune. My preference is to give to our local food bank, the remarkable Food Bank for Westchester. My colleague, Rabbi/Cantor Diane Rose, also posted a great suggestion to make up packets of necessary items to pass along to the homeless.

The fourth mitzvah is to rejoice, feast, and generally have a great time. In our synagogue we traditionally enjoy hotdogs and beer at our Purim celebration; and this year we will have a klezmer band playing. We also dress in costume or at least wear silly headgear.

This year to go along with the klezmer theme, my husband and I are dressing as Chasidic rebbes and are planning to dance until we drop.

In the past, I have been Vashti (Esther’s predecessor queen) as a biker chick – per the photo, being carried away by my handsome gorilla, King Kong. I’ve also been Rosie the Riveter and a personal hero, Bruce Springsteen. When dressed as Bruce, I try to chant my chapter of the Megillah as I imagine he would; otherwise I try to chant in the voice of the character whose dialog I’m reading.

While I have heard explanations for wearing costumes ranging from the metaphysical (God was hidden, so we are hidden) to the literary (dressing up is a recurrent theme in the story), I think it’s just fun to hide your everyday self in a costume and have a good time.

I hope you are inspired to enjoy a wonderful holiday this year, showing gratitude for our blessings by being joyful and making others happy too. Please include your favorite customs and practices in your comments and show us your photos.
Chag Purim sameach! Happy holiday of Purim!