Purim: A Great Holiday For Jews? (Bulletin Message for Purim 2015/5775)

Shalom Sons of Israel!

How old does one have to be to enjoy Purim?

You might know that popular Israeli song “Hag Purim” by Levin Kipnis (1894-1990). It begins like this:

Hag purim, hag purim:

            Hag gadol layyeladim!

            In translation:

The holiday of Purim, the holiday of Purim:

            A great holiday for children!

Kipnis wrote the words to this folksong around the time the State of Israel was gradually coming into being. Folk music needed to be written in order for the Jewish inhabitants of the Land of Israel to have a Hebrew oral tradition to pass on to the next generation. Had it not been for pioneering artists like Kipnis, the Israeli nation of immigrants would have been able to pass down only folk songs in Yiddish, Judeo-Arabic, English and the other mother tongues of Jews who made it to the promised land last century. Hebrew folksongs could unite the children of Israel’s new immigrants by learning the same songs in the same sacred language of Hebrew.

But sometimes folk traditions come at a certain cost. In the case of Purim, Kipnis’ song is just one example of Jews emphasizing one age group’s participation in what should be a multigenerational festivity. That is to say, Purim should be a great holiday for Jewish people of all ages! If I had my druthers (and if I could go back and time and get Kipnis’ permission to do so), I would sing this folksong with slightly different words:

Hag purim, hag purim:

            Hag gadol lay’hudim!

            In translation:

The holiday of Purim, the holiday of Purim:

            A great holiday for Jews!

There is the custom of drinking on Purim, an activity which should not include kids (and according to some rabbis, an activity that should not include anyone at all; one such discouraging of drinking on Purim comes from Rabbi Menahem HaMe’iri in 14th century Provence in his commentary on the Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 7b). Beyond the drinking, there is so much else about Purim that makes it a holiday for adults. Megillat Ester (the Scroll of Esther) includes tales of seduction, of political backstabbing, and genocide. It takes a mature thinker to read Megillat Ester with a critical eye and the willpower to say, “Even though this is a story of my ancestors, my Jewish values are not directly informed by this text.”

We can learn lessons from Megillat Ester, and we can even strive to emulate certain actions from our sacred text. The three days of fasting that Esther declares in Megillat Ester (4:16) have been reduced to one minor fast day, Ta’anit Ester (“The Fast of Esther”). Not only do we read the drama in Megillat Ester as overdramatic, we even say that this sacred text is too much. Through the lessons adults learn with time, we learn that we can find greater depth sometimes by taking on less. In adult moderation on Purim, we can merit to contemplate Purim’s challenging themes.

May this Purim bring not only innocent joy but also the joy of wisdom!

Rabbi Jonah Rank

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