According to a survey of American Jews, Passover is the most celebrated Jewish holiday, and Yom Kippur is the most important1. Despite numerous searches, I could not find a survey of the favorite Jewish holiday. But the answer seems obvious to me – Purim!
Purim is on the 14th of Adar, or Adar II in leap years, as it is this year. According to the Talmud, “When Adar comes, joy is increased.” (Ta’anit 29a) And Purim is filled with joy! We dress up in costume and eat hamantaschen. We interact with the reading of Megillat Esther (the Purim story), rowdily shaking our groggers at the name of Haman. (The practice is considered a commandment, taken from Deuteronomy 25:19, “Thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek.”) Many congregations offer alcohol during the reading, because according to the Talmud a person is required to drink until one does not know the difference between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai. (Megillah 7b) We send gifts of food, mishloach manot, to our friends and the poor. One of my greatest synagogue memories is the Purim carnival. It’s a holiday for all ages, overflowing with joy!
With all of the joy and festivity, however, one thing appears to be missing from Purim. Not once in Megillat Esther is G-d mentioned. There is fasting and penitence, but there is no G-d. With such a seemingly critical element missing, how important and meaningful can Purim really be? According to Maimonides (Rambam), in his Laws of Purim:
In the Messianic era, all of the Biblical books of the Prophets and Writings will be nullified, with the exception of the Book of Esther. It will continue to exist, as will the five books of the Torah, along with the halachot of the Oral Law, which will never be nullified.
Although all memories of the difficulties endured by our people will be nullified, as Isaiah 65:16 states, “For the former difficulties will be forgotten and for they will be hidden from My eye,” the celebration of the days of Purim will not be nullified, as Esther 9:28 states, “And these days of Purim will not pass from among the Jews, nor will their remembrance cease from their seed.”
(Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Megillah, 2:18)
Only the Book of Esther and the Torah remain relevant in the Messianic era! It would appear that Purim is a very important and meaningful text and holiday.
Megillat Esther is the only text besides the Torah that must be handwritten on parchment scroll by a scribe. And we are commanded to read it, like the Torah, in public, reciting special blessings before and after the reading.
But despite these halachic commonalities, the Torah is the story of our interaction with G-d, and the miracles that G-d made; the Book of Esther is the dramatic story of man. Trying to determine why Megillat Esther was raised near the level of Torah, higher than any other non-Torah text is difficult.
Rabbi Daniel Bouskila considered this question and offered an answer:
Jewish tradition places Megillat Esther on a pedestal, almost on par with the Torah, because our tradition understood - a long time ago - that experiencing G-d's miracles is not exclusively the realm of plagues in Egypt, the sea splitting, or mountains trembling with G-d's voice and presence. Our rabbis sanctified Megillat Esther as a hidden manifestation of the Divine, teaching us how to understand that G-d is ever present, even when it doesn't seem so obvious. By seeing Megillat Esther as more than an "all's well that ends well" tale, the rabbis actually raise the bar in our understanding of G-d and miracles. It's easy to believe in G-d when you witness supernatural miracles, and G-d's voice speaks to you from heaven. But when Haman's evil decree is reversed, and the enemy that perpetrated against us ends up destroyed - without one sea splitting and no Divine voice present - can we see that as a "miracle," and do we have the spiritual faith to believe that G-d helped us through this challenge?
Purim is representative of most of our lives. We don’t see G-d or hear G-d’s voice, but G-d is present in the shadows.
May your Adar and Adar II be filled with joy, and may you have the patience and wisdom to see the miracles in your life.
Public Religion Research Institute,Jewish Values Survay, March 2012-
About Rav Dangott
Eric Dangott is excited and proud to serve as Surf City Synagogue’s new Spiritual Leader starting in July 2013. Eric is a Huntington Beach native, and his Jewish youth was spent not far from Surf City’s Livingstone Campus location, at Temple Sharon. At Temple Sharon his initial interest and enthusiasm in Judaism blossomed under the guidance of numerous teachers, including our own Pnina Stein and Tanya Klugman.
After graduating from the University of California, Santa Cruz, with Bachelor’s degrees in Politics and Psychology, Eric spent a year teaching English in South Korea. A career in financial services took Eric from Orange County to San Diego, where his spiritual hunger was renewed. Surprisingly, the rabbi of the congregation closest to Eric, Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal, was the last rabbi at Temple Sharon, and leading the service when Eric celebrated his Bar Mitzvah.
Ultimately Eric became active in Gesher, San Diego Hillel’s graduate student and young professional group, as an officer and regular lay leader. When a professional opportunity took Eric to Tustin, as a Business Systems Analyst at SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, he happily transferred his skills from Gesher to Surf City Synagogue.
Eric has started initial studies at the American Jewish University, and looks forward to immersing himself as a full time student in the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies starting in Fall 2014. It is extremely meaningful for Eric to support and develop the Jewish community in the exact place his seeds of Jewish love were first planted. He looks forward to encouraging that same love of Judaism with the Surf City Congregation, allowing each member to tap into their Torah.