Parshas Ki Sisa - Purim (5775)
Tonight we begin celebrating Judaism’s most fun holiday – the holiday of Purim.
In some ways, Purim is similar to Halloween. I mean, they both involve kids and adults masquerading around in all kinds of costumes, as well as a lot of candy and other goodies, and everyone has a good time.
In more significant ways, however, Purim and Halloween are very different from each other, as we shall illustrate:
1. On Purim we take our children around the neighborhood so that they can give food gifts and other treats to friends and neighbors (as per the rabbinically-ordained mitzvah of Mishloach Manos, ‘sending delicacies to one another’ – see the Book of Esther 9:20-22), whereas on Halloween we take our children around the neighborhood so that they can take treats (or tricks) from their friends and neighbors.
2. On Purim we try to make people happy, especially the poor and the destitute (as per the rabbinically-ordained mitzvah of Matanos La’evyonim, ‘giving gifts to the poor’ – see the Book of Esther ibid.), whereas on Halloween we try to scare people to death.
3. On Purim we read twice publicly the Book of Esther which celebrates life, i.e. the Jewish people’s miraculous escape and salvation from death to life, whereas Halloween has its origins in ancient Celtic rituals that celebrate death (see, for example, David J. Skal’s book Death Makes a Holiday: The Cultural History of Halloween).
4. Detroit doesn’t burn down on Purim.
5. Perhaps the most significant difference between Purim and Halloween is that while a great majority of North American Jews do Halloween with their kids each year, only a pitiful minority celebrate Purim.
And this is the tragic irony of Purim.
You see, the Talmud in Megillah 12a teaches that the reason why the Jews in the Purim story were threatened with near annihilation at the hands of the evil Haman is because ‘they enjoyed the banquet of that wicked man [Achashveirosh]’. In other words, they had become enamored with the culture and lifestyle of the nations among whom they lived, and they lost their appreciation of all that they had as Jews.
And when Jews do that, they get into deep trouble. After all, G-d didn’t keep the Jewish people around all these thousands of years in a miraculous way just for us to follow whatever the nations around us are doing! G-d gave us our own unique path to follow as Jews, and all its many holidays, rituals, laws and customs are tailor-made just for us to cherish and enjoy.
We don’t need Easter, we’ve got Passover! We don’t need Christmas, we’ve got Chanukah! And we don’t need Halloween – we’ve got Purim!
It is my sincere hope and prayer that the Jewish people – all our brothers and sisters in North America and beyond – will wake up soon to the realization that all that we really need to add meaning and purpose (and even fun) to our lives is right there in our own Jewish backyard – and doesn’t involve pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns!