When I was a freshman at Princeton I remember walking down the street one night in March and seeing one of the local Rabbis running towards me. That was rare enough, the Galloping Rabbi. But there’s more: he was whooping and hollering… and wearing a giant chicken suit. And as for his sobriety… let’s just say that “his heart was merry with wine”. Mood: eyebrows up.
This was my first encounter with Purim.
And… so what?
We’re big on the Jewish calendar here at Abraham’s Wallet; we’re even more dedicated to the Jewish feasts and festivals than Abraham himself was! (It’s a joke! It didn’t exist yet.) Kinda like we Jesus types don’t often talk about what to do with our money when we’re not giving it away, I’ve also found that we’re reluctant to engage in a good party. (A GOOD party happens to be a fantastic use of financial capital and an appropriate time for some luxury spending.) Truth is, it’s pretty hard to understand the scriptures if you ignore the importance and frequency of the massive parties that God commands his people to engage in regularly. Adonai says, ¡Viva la fiesta! So if you want to know Him… learn about the party life He decrees.
On top of just knowing Him, all these feasts are fun and easy ways for a father to take the reigns of spiritual leadership in a family setting. (No, really. They’re easy. We’ll help.) Do you feel a little unsure about leading your wife and/or kids through a “Bible study”? (“Okay kiddos, it’s SECOND CHRONICLES time! Who’s ready to learn about SIEGES!?”) Does it feel unnatural to interject spiritual practices into your daily routine, like calling everybody to pray or read the Bible is phony and put-on?
…I know that feeling. And I’ve found that some of the feasts prescribed by God are a great way to bring something new to the table. Purim is full of deep meaning, but it also includes things like a costume party for kids. Come on. Layup. It’s a great first step into “feast and festival” world… (which is full of blessing, too). Let’s jump in.
What is the story of Purim?
Purim is the feast to remember when the LORD delivered His people from Haman’s plan to annihilate all Jews in a single day. And to remember his tool for that deliverance, Queen Esther. You’re going to want to refresh yourself on the story, but the gist is: this craphead (Haman) tried to squash all Jews but he ended up getting hanged for it. (Hooray!) What brought his death about was Esther’s humbly volunteering her own life for her people. (Yahoo!) From the day of Haman’s execution until now, the Jews have celebrated this story with a feast and a party annually. (Purim means “lots”, which is what Haman cast to decide the day he’d fail at killing God’s people.) This year, the party runs Feb 28-March 1.
How do you celebrate it?
Great question, bro. There are a measly four key elements to a good Purim celebration. I’ll give them to you here and then tell you step-by-step how to throw your own Purim feast today. So easy.
1. Reading the book of Esther. (Obvious, right?) Did you know that God’s name isn’t mentioned once in the book of Esther? Lots of the things we do at Purim are set up to remind us that God’s work and goodness, whether we can see it clearly or not, won’t be thwarted. Reading the book of Esther will either make you say, “What a fantastic set of coincidences! Universe, you’ve done it again! Just like the Ozone layer or the water molecule!” OR “Slick one, LORD of the Universe. You deserve worship.” We prefer the latter and, above all else, we take time on Purim to remember two things:
- God’s control doesn’t depend on our ability to see his plan from our current vantage point. If you’re in a crappy situation this Purim day, take heart in this story!
- Like Esther, we are constantly presented with the choice to participate in the advance of God’s kingdom. He’s gonna do this, the only choice is whether we’re going to jump in or not. (Can you tell that Esther 4:14 is my favorite verse in the whole book?)
2. Giving money to at least 2 poor people. How delightful is it that Purim starts at the end of LoDoFeb this year? In our family, we’ll be using some of the savings we found in our monthlong frugality experiment to distribute cash to some less fortunate folks right here in Salt Lake City!
3. Sending gifts of food. My family throws a big party for Purim. We’re kind of into this holiday… And when I say we like it, here’s a picture of our very own Esther, named out of our enthusiasm for this very tale.
BONUS NOTE: One side benefit of the big party is that it becomes very easy for us to hand out gifts of food. For one of those gifts, we join Jews worldwide in whipping up a batch of Hamantaschen – a little triangle pastry that represents either Haman’s hat or his ears, depending on who you ask. We narf these down and take a little joy in remembrance of Haman’s ultimate failure. Here’s my favorite recipe for Hamantaschen.
4. Throwing a feast in which wine flows freely. One of the earmarks of Purim is that everything is exaggerated: My family reads Esther TWICE during Purim – that’s a fairly long bit of scripture time. We send gifts of food and money, not only feasting but creating feasts in the homes of our friends and providing for those who don’t have the means to feast. And the Talmud (a collection of rabbinical sayings) suggests that you’re to keep drinking wine on Purim until you “can’t tell the difference between Mordecai and Haman”. Now, drunkenness is not kosher in my house (get it? Jewish comedy!), but we take the recommendation for frivolity to heart. Lastly, in order to commemorate the hidden nature of the Purim miracle (because Haman didn’t know what he was up against with Esther–it was a surprise ending!), the kids (and sometimes everyone) dress up in costumes.
What’s the point of all of this? Well, the obvious face of God remains hidden throughout the story of Esther, yet He delivers His people. That’s a familiar story for us today, and it’s easy to forget that the hand of our LORD is always at work for the good of His people, whether they’re in Israel or the USA or wherever else. In addition to engaging the richness of the Purim tradition like the Jews do on this day, we also pray for a few other things in my house:
- That Messiah would be revealed to all of Israel and that this ultimate deliverance wouldn’t be hidden any longer from God’s people
- That the LORD would invite us to participate in the building of his Kingdom with the same invitation that Mordecai gave Esther
- That we would be sensitive to the many ways that Yeshua is working today in the background of our lives and the lives of our friends and neighbors, drawing people to himself
- (PLEASE, feel free to totally crib my prayers and notes and everything else for your in-home Purim remembrance. You don’t have to have any of this memorized to lead your family in a significant spiritual experience. You actually get, like, zero points for memorization.)
So how does all that sound for an on-ramp into feastyness? I’ve left out lots of details so if you’re looking for more, try here, here and here. But for those who would rather just have highlights to maybe print out and use, here’s a step-by-step guide to your very own Purim celebration:
- Commemorate the fasting of Esther, Mordecai and the Jews on the day before Purim by taking some sort of fast (I didn’t mention that before, but it’s traditional. If you don’t want to do this, don’t let it stop you from Purim-ing. But we do this). Use the time to prepare for celebration and open yourself and your family up to seeing some of the hidden work of the LORD.
- On the first night of Purim, read the Megillah. Every. Single. Word. We like to get the kids involved and will have them act out the scenes they are hearing – you’d be surprised that a 4 year old can get through 30 minutes of uncut scripture when they’re listening for their cues.
- On the second day of Purim, you have a couple of jobs before the party:
- Bring gifts of two kinds of food to at least one friend. These should be things they can eat that day. While you’re doing this, invite those folks over for the feast you’re working on for that night!
- Give gifts of money to at least two people or families in need. This is a great day to do some serious generosity, but I would encourage you to hand cold hard cash to at least two people in person. Something about wire transfers seems to dull the mitzvah (blessing) of blessing another person who is in need.
- Dress up in costumes and read the Megillah again! One tradition is to bring noisemakers or to make loud boos and hisses whenever Haman’s name comes up in the story, and cheer when the good stuff happens (another hack for keeping little ones engaged!).
- Feast away. Unlike some of the holidays on the Jewish calendar, the foods we eat at Purim aren’t really prescribed. So if you feel like cheesy enchiladas, go for it. Just make something that is special! While we don’t encourage drunkenness, again, we DO encourage our attendees to “drink more wine than you normally would”. For most people this means an extra glass. For some it means they have a sip!
- Pray together, thanking God for his ever-present hand in our lives and asking him to open more eyes to His final act of deliverance – Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Did you try this out? How did it go? We’d love to hear about it in the comments! Also watch out instagram and twitter accounts for realtime updates as we celebrate Purim! And if you like Purim, you’re gonna love Passover – sign up for our email list to get more tools like this one!