The Jewish Holiday of Purim: A sparkling collection of intriguing insights on this Jewish Holiday & the megillah with fascinating questions & profound answers on the incredible story of Purim that unmask the beauty of this Jewish Holiday.
1. Like the era of Purim, the era of the Chanukah story saw great miracles. However, unlike the time of Purim, the struggle against the Syrian-Greeks at the time of Chanukah was long and hard, and many Jews lost their lives in those battles, including most of the Maccabee brothers. Since the victory came with the cost of many Jewish lives, and many Jews found themselves mourning for their loved ones following the victory, the Sages decided not to institute an obligatory seudah to celebrate.
In contrast, the Jews at the time of Purim saw great miraculous victories without a single Jewish casualty. Not one Jew died in the battles! Since there was not a single house of mourning among the Jews at Purim, and every home shared the tremendous simchah in total completeness and unity, the Sages instituted that a festive seudah be a part of the Purim celebration each year. (Tallelei Oros, Esther 9:16–17, citing Yosef Lekach) 2. During the time of Chanukah, the Syrian-Greeks and Hellenists were not looking to destroy the Jewish people physically. They only sought to eradicate every vestige of Torah, and turn the Jews into idolaters. As a result, the salvation Hashem wrought at that time was a spiritual one, and Chazal therefore instituted that Chanukah be celebrated with the spiritual commemorations of lighting candles, reciting Hallel, and singing songs of praise. Conversely, Haman did not seek to stamp out our spiritual observance, but to completely and totally annihilate the Jewish people on the physical level. Therefore, since the salvation of Purim was wholly physical, Chazal instituted that it be celebrated with the physical observance of a seudah, with eating and drinking. (Mishnah Berurah 670:2:6)
1. We eat seeds on Purim in commemoration of a miracle that took place shortly before the Purim story. The first perek of Sefer Daniel describes how Nevuchadnetzar, the Babylonian king who destroyed the First Beis HaMikdash, was looking to hire the wisest men in the world to be his advisors. A group of candidates were called, including Daniel and several other Jews. However, before they could come before Nevuchadnetzar, they were required to be fattened up so that they would be physically fit for the king’s service. Daniel and the other Jews requested of the officer in charge that they be fed only seeds, so that they would not have to eat the nonkosher food being served.
Understanding the officer’s fear of execution for failure to properly nourish them, Daniel proposed that they be fed seeds for ten days as a trial. Miraculously, at the conclusion of the ten-day period, not only were Daniel and the other Jews looking healthy, but they appeared more robust than the other candidates who ate the nonkosher food. Shortly thereafter, they were chosen to be advisors to the king.
This miracle relates to Purim because Daniel actually played an important role in the Purim story. When Mordechai donned sackcloth and ashes in mourning over Haman’s decree, he was unable to enter the palace gates by Persian law (see Esther 4:2), and consequently his contact with Esther was cut off. However, it was necessary for Esther and Mordechai to communicate regarding their plans for her to seek mercy for the Jews from Achashveirosh. Therefore, Esther asked Hasach, a servant of the king who is identified by the Gemara (Megillah 15a) as Daniel, to carry messages between her and Mordechai.
With Haman in power, Daniel was risking his life by acting as messenger, and was in fact killed al kiddush Hashem carrying out these duties. The Midrash (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 50) explains that Haman killed Daniel when he noticed Daniel carrying the messages, because he suspected Mordechai of attempting to get word to the king to annul the extermination decree.
We eat seeds on Purim in remembrance of this great tzaddik and his mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, for klal Yisrael. In addition, it was through the miracle of the seeds that Daniel was first put in the royal employ that continued with all subsequent kings. Daniel was thus in a position at the palace in which he was able to act as messenger between Mordechai and Esther, whose correspondence through him resulted in the salvation of the Jews. (Rama, Orach Chaim 695:2; A.P.S.)
2. We eat seeds in commemoration of Esther’s resolve to only eat kosher food when she was taken to the palace. She requested from Heigai, the steward in charge, that she only be fed seeds, and her request was granted. (Mishnah Berurah 695:2:12, citing Megillah 13a)
1.22. Why are hamantaschen eaten on Purim, and how did this pastry acquire its name?
1. Hamantaschen are eaten in remembrance of the great hidden miracle of Purim. A hamantasch is essentially a cookie whose filling is hidden inside the dough, just as the miracle of Purim was hidden under the guise of nature. Until the destruction of the First Beis HaMikdash, which occurred shortly before the time of Purim, the Jews regularly saw open, supernatural miracles. However, with the destruction began a period that lasts until today, where Hashem operates in a behind-the-scenes fashion, and His hand is not so apparent in daily events. The Purim story was the first time the Jews realized that the absence of overt miracles did not mean that Hashem had abandoned them. Instead, they realized that Hashem had a new modus operandi, as they understood how the Purim miracle was concealed and hidden within nature. Although an observer at the time might misinterpret the events as normal and natural political happenings, every step of the Purim story was directed by the hand of Hashem. (Sefer Menuchah V’Kedushah 2:20)
2. One of the main themes of Purim is that of “v’nahafoch hu,” the turnabout. The story represents not only salvation from our enemies, but a complete reversal and interchanging of situations for the parties involved. The Jews switched from being completely dominated by their enemies to completely dominating them. There are many avenues through which Hashem could have caused His plan to come about. On Purim, Hashem used Haman, the very person who desired to destroy Hashem’s people, to actually bring about their salvation. Haman’s decree to annihilate the Jews caused a massive teshuvah movement and recommitment to the Torah, culminating in the hanging of Haman on the same gallows he had built to execute Mordechai. We eat hamantaschen on Purim, a sweet cookie named after the bitter Haman, to symbolize the v’nahafoch hu of how Haman and his evil actions turned into the source of sweetness and nourishment for Jewish survival. (Rabbi David Aaron, Endless Light, pp. 81–82)
3. Nowadays, hamantaschen are filled with all types of jellies, jams, and even chocolate. However, originally they were filled with either sesame or poppy seeds, designed as another method of fulfilling the minhag of eating seeds on Purim (see 1:21). Therefore, hamentaschen are effectively pocket pastries filled with poppy seeds. In Yiddish, poppy seeds are called “mohn,” and pockets are called “taschen,” revealing the source of the name mohn-taschen. Beginning with the minhag of eating seeds, this pastry became a Purim mainstay because of the similarity of the word mohn (ïäÈî) to Haman (ïÈîÈä), both in pronunciation and in spelling. For this reason, the name mohn-taschen eventually evolved into hamantaschen. (Sefer Matamim, Purim 2)
4. The word tash in Hebrew means to “weaken.” On Purim, we specifically eat the pastry hamantaschen because it means “Haman became weakened.” This commemorates Hashem saving us by weakening Haman during the time of Purim, and in addition expresses the wish that Hashem should always save us by weakening the Hamans of every generation. (Otzar Kol Minhagei Yeshurun, 50:11, p. 126)
5. On Purim, we eat hamantaschen, a food that carries the name of Haman, because as eating destroys the food being eaten, we symbolically fulfill the mitzvah of destroying Amalek by eating Haman. (Sefer HaMoadim, vol. 6, p. 153; Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky, BeMechitzas Rabbeinu HaGaon Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky, p. 142)
6. Haman offered ten thousand kikar, talents, of silver to Achashveirosh for permission to exterminate the Jews. We eat hamantaschen specifically filled with poppy seeds because the countless number of poppy seeds in the “Haman-taschen” (“Haman-pockets”) commemorates the ten thousand kikar of silver Haman had in his pocket to offer to Achashveirosh. (Sefer HaMoadim, vol. 6, p. 154) 7. The Alshich explains that at first, the Jews did not believe that they were going to be completely wiped out. In an effort to convince them of the seriousness of the situation, Mordechai sent numerous letters to the Jews describing the true brutal natures of Haman and Achashveirosh. However, because Mordechai feared that the king might intercept these messages that painted him in an unfavorable light, Mordechai hid them in pastries, which he then sent to the Jews. These pastries saved the Jews, because when they found Mordechai’s letters hidden within the dough, they became convinced of the direness of the situation and were stirred to repentance. On Purim, we eat hamantaschen, a pastry that contains hidden filling, to commemorate how the hidden filling of Mordechai’s pastries brought about our salvation. (Sefer Menuchah V’Kedushah 2:20)
1. “Oznei Haman” literally means “Haman’s ears.” There are many reasons given for the minhag of eating hamantaschen on Purim, which all basically revolve around commemorating Haman’s downfall (see 1.22). The name “oznei Haman” similarly commemorates Haman’s hanging, as there is a mesorah, tradition, that Haman’s ears were cut off before he was hanged, a pre-execution custom that was practiced through the Middle Ages. (Sefer HaMoadim, vol. 6, p. 153)
2. There is a midrash that describes how Haman bent over in shame when he entered the king’s treasury to retrieve the royal robes and horse for Mordechai, just before he was to parade Mordechai through the streets. In describing Haman’s shame, the Midrash says that he was bent over with “oznayim mekutafos,” meaning “clipped ears.” From this description, many communities labeled these pastries prepared in remembrance of Haman’s downfall “Haman oyern,” meaning “Haman’s ears” in Yiddish, to draw his shame into the commemoration.
Apparently, each Jewish community that used this name translated it into the language of its host country. In Italy, for example, they were called “orrechi d’Aman,” and eventually, the name was translated into the Hebrew “oznei Haman.” (Purim V’Chodesh Adar 10:36; Sefer HaMoadim, vol. 6, p. 153; see also Targum Sheini, Esther 6:11)
1. The three-sided shape represents the three avos, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, whose merit helped saved the Jews on Purim, by causing Haman to become “tash,” weakened. (Sefer Matamim, Purim 2)
2. Traditionally it is thought that the three corners of the hamantaschen are reminiscent of the three-cornered hats worn by Haman and those in the Persian court. These hats may have resembled the tricornered hats worn by Napoleon or George Washington. Hamantaschen were fashioned and baked into the shape of Haman’s hat to further the symbolism commemorating his downfall. (Sefer HaMoadim, vol. 6, p. 154)
3. There are several opinions discussed in the Gemara (Megillah 19a) regarding the exact point in the text of the Megillah from which one must begin reading to fulfill the mitzvah of Megillah reading. None of the opinions feel that the reading should begin later than the words, “On that night, the king’s sleep was disturbed,” in 6:1. However, there are three opinions that hold that the reading should begin even earlier than that. One opinion is that one should begin reading from Haman’s rise to power in 3:1; another is that the reading should at least begin with the Megillah’s first mention of Mordechai in 2:5; and the third is that the entire Megillah must be read from the beginning. Because the Gemara cannot reach a conclusion as to which opinion to follow, it rules strictly, incorporating all three opinions. Thus, the resulting halachah is that one must read the entire Megillah to fulfill the mitzvah. Hamantaschen are made with three sides in commemoration of this halachic ruling that incorporated all three opinions. (Sefer Menuchah V’Kedushah 2:20)
Kreplach, dumplings, which are made of meat wrapped in dough and then cooked or fried, are traditionally eaten on Purim, Hoshana Rabbah, and Erev Yom Kippur. On these three days there are no restrictions of work as there are on yom tov. Nevertheless, there exists an element of yom tov on each of these days because we sit down to festive meals. We eat meat on yom tov because the Torah commands, “You shall rejoice on your festival” (Devarim 16:14), and Chazal explain, “There is no rejoicing without meat” (Pesachim 109a). Since Purim, Hoshana Rabbah, and Erev Yom Kippur are partial or “covered” yom tovim, we eat foods that contain meat, but are “covered.” (Rabbi Shmuel Gelbard, Rite and Reason [Otzar Taamei HaMinhagim], p. 456)