On a cloudless, heavenly morning, well before the Almighty turned the dust of the earth into man, he announced the holy days to the assembled Heavenly Hosts. The angels listened solemnly, especially to Yom Kippur. After a few moments of meditation, they burst into a perfectly sublime harmonious hallelujah. The holy days were fashioned; a string of pearls to decorate creation.
There was Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for the pious and meditative; Tu b’Shevat for the nature lovers. Simchas Torah for the joyous Chassids; Chanukah for the chauvinists. Passover pleased several groups; the bright-eyed lovers of matzoh balls, and the historically minded.
Yes, all the angels and cherubim and sages yet to be, thundered a mighty “Amen” as the Almighty announced the holiday lineup. All except one, that is. One of the younger angels, his wings still fluffy with down.
“What about the children?” he blurted out. “What about a holiday for the children? It should be a happy day of games and, of course, some special delectable food. And, most of all, noise! It should be the one day in the year when kids may shout to their heart’s content without a giant, adult hand muffling their mouth.”
The Holy One listened with compassionate attention. Then He pronounced, “Yes, I shall invent a happy day just for the children. I shall create an historical situation that seems destined for tragedy, but at the last minute dissolves into deliverance.” (“Just like the Red Sea and the Exodus,” whispered the excited Heavenly Hosts in unison.) “There shall be the essence of evil in the form of a tyrant.” (“Good,” thought the angels, even children must know about evil.) “And the young shall eat triangular cakes and shout as loud as they like at the evil name.” (“If they’re going to be loud and noisy, they may as well holler at evil,” said the Hallelujah Chorus.)
So, on the festival Megillah – the great scroll of the holidays – He who made time itself, inscribed Purim, a holiday for children.
My friend, Herb, a childlike celebrant who’d swap two Passovers and a Chanukah for one Purim, says that if Purim occurred daily, he’d attend shul all year round, as faithfully as the Ner Tamid, the eternal light that shines on the bima. Purim’s got it all, says Herb. “A love story like Ruth, but spiced with suspense. And all the joy of Simchas Torah, with a plot line.”
Herb may be right. Esther is one of the great triumvirates of Jewish heroines. Her two sister heroines are, who else? The militant Yael and Judith. The latter two, you’ll recall, dispatch two of Israel’s enemies to that special Gehenna where Amalekites sing Hatikvah on our holidays. This daring, dynamic duo were simple straight shooters like Annie Oakley. But Esther – ah, there’s a woman of subtlety as well as valor. You won’t find Hadassah ruining her manicure with tent pegs or swords. She’s behind the scenes orchestrating, directing. Totally invisible to her antagonists, she’s the ghostess with the mostest, you might say.
Once Cousin Mordechai alerts her to the peril facing her people, she swings into action. Two lavish banquets – not one, but two – she throws for the king, and Haman of all people. It’s the first Purim Oneg. And, although the Megillah does not spell out the menu, I’m sure Esther laid out a nice kosher spread with plenty of Persian slivovitz and followed by platters of those crisp, little, layered honey cakes.
Esther’s eyes caress the king, those succulent cakes melt in his mouth. They’re eating high on the challah, so to speak.
Haman, the quintessential Amalekite, sits in a corner daydreaming of the gibbet for the Jew, Mordechai. Esther, the supplicant who fantasizes a special Gehenna for Haman, in which he eternally grates potatoes for all the Chanukahs yet to come, pleads with the king for her people, Israel. She gazes tearfully at the king like he’s a titanic honey cake. In the background, we can almost hear a silvery “Taps” – with a klezmer lilt – for Haman the Agegite.
My good friend, Herb, loves to hear this Megillah. As I say, he’s a Purim regular. There he is, every year, with his own grogger, just like the Minyan Club members have their own tallis and tefillin. And he’s carrying one of those neat, silver hip flasks just to make sure he obeys the talmudic injunction to be sufficiently zonked so you can’t tell Haman from Mordechai. Over the whole year – 613 mitzvah opportunities available to him – this is Herb’s finest moment of observance.
Well, I love Purim as much as Herb. On what other holiday can you make obnoxious noises and even talk more than the rabbi without being shushed. I guess, like Herb, I’m a Purim Jew.
Ted Roberts is a freelance writer and humorist living in Huntsville, Ala.