Just as soon as Tu B’shvat (the anniversary of the trees) is over, Hamantashen (those triangular delicacies with jam and date spread inside) begin to appear in the stores.
I have also started seeing displays of baskets, wrapping paper, and other assorted goodies for making our Purim baskets. Traditionally, we are supposed to make at least two Purim baskets, though many of us make many more!
The costumes are also on display in malls, looking rather "Halloweenish " in my opinion. Gone are the days of dressing up to be Queen Esther. Today, there are Disney princesses, vampires, cowboys, Indians, doctors, etc.
The Purim party at school is scheduled and we have already begun preparing. Some teachers are putting together a ‘50s theme, and we are changing some of the words to songs from that era. We anticipate a raucous and happy time. However, I am sorry that the holiday has taken on such a secular emphasis. It seems that we spend our time baking, designing costumes, and writing skits and songs (Purim Shpiels). Sometimes the bigger picture is lost amid all the noise.
It is a lot of fun as we gather in our communities and read the story of Esther. We cheer when the name of Mordechai is said, and boo when the name of Haman is mentioned. We rejoice in the irony of Haman being hung on the gallows that he built for Mordechai and feel comforted by the good guys winning.
I asked my students to talk and write about Purim using the PaRDeS manner of interpretation and I was thrilled with some if their responses!
PaRDeS is a method of interpreting biblical texts, and I have adapted it to be used for any literature we discuss. The insights that are generated are noteworthy.
PaRDeS, in Hebrew, means an orchard and, as we know, there are many trees in an orchard, each one with their own unique nature, fragrance, and taste.
The P stands for the "pachut" or the simple and literal meaning of the text. In other words, who, what, when, and where.
The R stands for "remez" or any clues we may find within the text to give us a hint as to what might occur.
D is for "drash" or some of the lessons we may take with us. Every year, though I have been reading the text forever, I learn a new facet and a different angle. Some of the lessons the students came up with are,
- "No is also an answer" referring to Vashti’s refusal to dance before the king.
- "There is a time and a place to reveal everything."
- "The darkest hour is just before dawn" because the Jews were to be destroyed.
- "We never know how much strength we have until we are put to the test" because Esther most assuredly did not want to go to the king.
S is for "sod" or the secret that is conveyed. What is the "hidden meaning" behind the story? When dealing with secular kids, it is sometimes hard to impart this but some come to it on their own. For example, even though the name of God is not mentioned in the entire book of Esther, He is obviously moving people and events around to accomplish His will.
Another is that even in the Diaspora, under the rule of a pagan king, God’s people can have influence and responsibility.
Every Israeli child and young adult knows the simple story. A young, orphan girl follows the advice of her uncle and becomes the queen of a land. In addition, she keeps her identity hidden, until, in order to save her people, she reveals who she is and thwarts Haman’s nefarious intentions.
Ah, but what are the hints? How do we interpret this? One student said that Haman was a descendant of Amalek, and if we know that, we know that his intention would be to destroy the Jews. Another bright one said, "Everything that is hidden eventually comes out so we know that Esther won't be able to hide the fact that she is a Jew forever.” “Esther is going to the palace," said a third. "Obviously, she has some reason to be there, and we can anticipate a conflict with Haman." They are all, obviously, correct!
Perhaps the most important lesson is that God is. As a result, we can have hope and joy and gladness, as it happened at the end of the story.
So, this year, when I see the little kids walking back and forth to their Kindergartens with their costumes and Purim baskets, or I see my older students behaving raucously and singing and dancing, I will remember that, though they may not know Him or understand now, there is a plan for each and every one of their lives. I will remember that they live at this moment and attend this school and have me as their teacher and that it is not an accident.
I will remember to look at each and every one as people of great worth and potential influence. They, too, have been brought to this point in history, "For such a time as this."
And so have you.