View current news articles, commentary, videos and more that have an impact on Jewish culture, politics and religion at Rabbi Silverman's Sites to See
Purim will soon be upon us, beginning February 28th, when we will read from the Megilla. We will also read early Thursday morning, and all are invited on Thursday, following the service, to join Rabbi at Bagel Boss in enjoying a bagel breakfast.
Purim, of course, is the redemptive story of Esther and Mordecai overcoming the plot of Haman to destroy the Jewish people. The central symbols of the Purim season make certain that every sense is involved in experiencing the holiday. Aside from the sight of so many in costume and the mitzvah of hearing the Megillah, word for word (ear and eye), the raashan, or grogger, allows us to feel the noise and vibration of drowning out Haman's name. The hamantaschen also involve our senses of taste and smell, but these symbols can teach us even more.
The grogger makes a loud noise from above, but it is propelled from below. The Purim story stresses that miracles are not just in the domain of heaven–God is not mentioned even once in the entire story! The heavens, mystics teach, are stirred from below. Miracles are often driven by our resolution to help ourselves and act in the moment to change the reality on the ground.
The hamantaschen has something to each about appearances. The outside of each pastry looks the same. But the inner filling is what is "paramount" in determining the quality. So it is with the Jewish people. On the outside, we can assume some of the customs, fashions and manner of the environment in which we dwell. But the inner core is what is key. Esther did not find her greatness until she let her inner identity breathe outward. May all of us assume the roles we must, to get by in modern American life. But may we never neglect the sweet core within our inner spiritual life as part of a greater Jewish people.
Come celebrate an important victory of good over evil; the victory of the Jewish people over those who hate! Happy Purim!
Drinking on Purim: do so with caution and moderation
It is well known that there is a statement in the Talmud that encourages Jewish folks to celebrate Purim not only with festive meal, but also with drinking, even to the point of intoxication. The way the Talmud puts it, Chayav Adam levasame, “A person is obligated to become inebriated to the point of not knowing (adsheloyada) the difference between “Cursed it is Haman and blessed Mordecai.” Some in the sources and codes through the ages have taken this at face value.
However, a closer look at sources shows this to be foolhardy and dangerous behavior. One sees, in the Esther story of the Megillah, the dangers of drinking. It is because Ahashverush is a partier and a lush that he cedes actual governing control to others, which almost dooms an entire population.
The story that follows Rabba’s suggestion in the Talmud to “party hearty” is what is most telling. Rabbah travels to celebrate Purim with Rabbi Zeira. In an inebriated state he slaughters Rabbi Zeira, presumably mistaking him for a cow! In the morning, when he realizes what he had done, he prays for Zeira's resuscitation, which miraculously happens. The next year Rabbah invites Rabbi Zeira over again. Rabbi Zeira, however, declines, saying “miracles don’t always happen.” Maybe this means that Rabbah almost killed his guest with strong drink, or it means he actually attacked him in a drunken state. Either way, we learn that drinking may well get you to the point where Haman wanted you–dead. The meaning of this follow up story is to drink, not recklessly, but in moderation. Either one can die of binge drinking or end up killing somebody.
What are the four mitzvot of Purim?
One, is to hear the Book of Esther read twice — night and morning. While listening to the Purim story, it is traditional to shake a grogger, gregger, noisemaker or in Hebrew, Ra’ashan, at every mention of Haman’s name, to drown it out. In some minhagim customs, the listeners are quiet at the mention of Haman’s name and cheer at the mention of Mordechai and Esther — makes good sense. Another commandment/mitzvah is to give gifts of food (mishlochey manot) or, as slurred together in Yiddish, Shlachmonos, to friends and family. The third is to give charity (tzedakah) to the poor.
The last mitzvah is to eat a festive meal. It is customary to prepare and enjoy a festive meal on Purim day (Seudat Purim), complete with wine, challah, and dessert. The feast of Purim comes from the story of Purim itself. In fact, the story begins with a six-month-long party for the palace staff, thrown by the king, followed by a weeklong party for the whole kingdom of Shushan.
Wine is a part of every Jewish celebration, but Purim is the only holiday in which drinking more than usual is acceptable. Even on Pesach, when we are required to drink four cups of wine, we are warned to be careful not to become intoxicated. But on Purim, in fact, the Talmud actually says “drink until you can’t tell the difference between ‘Cursed is Haman; blessed is Mordechai.’” Why would this be included? It is thought that drinking lowers inhibitions and allows the joy hidden within to be revealed. This parallels God being hidden in the story and the miracles revealed when Esther discloses her Jewish identity to the king. Later, the plans of the evil Haman are thwarted by Queen Esther at the second of two feasts she hosts for the king and Haman. To celebrate the victory of the Jewish people over the plans to destroy them, the end of the Book of Esther includes directions to eat a festive meal. The rabbis of the Talmud reiterate this as one of the four mitzvot (commandments) of Purim.
The traditional pastry of Purim is called “hamantaschen” in Yiddish, or “oznei Haman” (Haman’s ears) in Hebrew. Hamentashen are also of German origin. Originally, they were called mohn-tashen, mohn meaning poppy seed and tashen meaning pockets. The people related the cake to the Book of Esther and changed the mohn to Haman [due to its similarity]. In time the interpretation arose that the three-cornered cakes are eaten because Haman wore a three-cornered hat when he became prime minister to Ahasuerus. The three corners were also interpreted as a symbolic sign of the three patriarchs whose merit aided the Jews against Haman. Read More
It is a new year, a time of new beginnings! I hope that everyone had a lovely Chanukkah. As everyone knows, Cantor Nussbaum is now retired. He and Avrille are making arrangements to move closer to their family in New Jersey. He is extremely appreciative of the love and support he has received.
A lot has been happening over the last couple of months, so I would like to give an update of where we stand. We have hired Eliza Zipper as Religious School principal. She is a graduate of the Davidson School at Jewish Theological Seminary and has many years of experience as a Jewish educator and youth leader. She brings a great deal of energy and excitement about Jewish education. We look forward to working with her.
Also in the Religious School, we have hired Rabbi David Shain as the Hay Prayer and Hebrew Skills teacher. Those of you who have spent time at Gurwin may be familiar with Rabbi Shain, who has served there as a mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) and their Shabbat Rabbi. Rabbi Shain is very personable and knowledgeable. I am confident that our Hay students are in good hands.
Turning our attention to B’nai Mitzvah preparation, we have hired Dr. Paul Kaplan, a former long-term congregant, to tutor our B’nai Mitzvah students. Dr. Kaplan is a retired college professor with decades of teaching experience. In addition, in his own words, he has prepared “a thousand students” for their Bar and Bat mitzvah including at least one member of our Board of Directors. We are lucky to have him on board.
Finally, the Cantor Search committee has been meeting regularly since mid-November. With input from the Board and committees, a job description for our Cantor position has been developed. We have submitted our job posting to the Cantor Assembly Placement Office and we have begun to receive applications. It is still very early in the process, but we are on course and schedule. Look for future updates as things develop.
Shalom, chaverim! See you in shul! Read More