Purim is the holiday the Jewish people need now
March 22, 2024 — By Rabbi David Hoffman, PhD

Purim is the Holiday the Jewish People Needs Now

The story of Purim is often told as a triumph of good over evil, a tale of redemption.  But is it really?

The Book of Esther begins with the Jews in Shushan, Persia– a community outside the Land of Israel.  Achashverosh is king.  The story ends with the Jews in Shushan.  Achashverosh is still king. 

And in the middle, the Jewish people dodge a bullet. 

Haman unleashes a plot to wipe them out.  But Mordechai and Esther foil the plan, and the massacre of the community is averted.

Good things do happen at the end of the story: Mordechai is promoted, Esther is queen, and the immediate threat of Haman and his sons has been done away with.  The Jews drink and feast.

But has anything fundamentally changed?

Mordechai and Esther may have navigated the threat of the moment, but there has been no change to the structure of Persian society, no change to the place of the Jewish people as vulnerable foreigners in this land.

The Book of Esther offers no promises of a happy ending with a sunset or redemption.  Jewish security remains precarious.  All we can do, it seems, is wait until the next “Haman” arises and hope we will again be victorious.

The Rabbis of the Talmud do not promise a better existential situation for the Jewish people, but they offer us more than hope.  They offer us the salve that will allow us to survive and even thrive.

The Rabbis teach that there are four mitzvot – four acts– that need to be done on Purim.

The first is that we must gather to hear the story. (Reading Megillah)

The second is that we must give food or money to the poor who live amongst us.  (Matanot Aniyim)

The third is that we should give friends and colleagues gifts. (Mishloach Manot)

And the fourth is to join with others to make a festive and joyful meal (Seudah)

All four of these mitzvot are about building community: Come together and listen to a tale of our shared history. Be aware of the poor who live among us and take care of their needs.  Reach out and connect with others. Bring loved ones and strangers around the table to eat and drink and celebrate.

Purim is the holiday of community building.  There are no other rituals. 

The story of Purim is raw and honest.  Being Jewish in the world is hard.  Whether in the Diaspora or in the Land of Israel, as we have recently been reminded.  Security is never guaranteed. This year, our Purim gatherings will be tinged with the pain of that reality, in ways we as a people have not experienced for decades, and in ways we never imagined could happen again. In a year where celebration does not come so easily, we lean into the mitzvot of Purim and their purpose. We lean into community.  

The story of Mordechai and Esther reminds us that community is essential for our Jewish future—and that leadership is essential for community. When preparing to fast before her audience with the king, Esther’s instruction to Mordechai is to “bring together all the Jews in Shushan” to join in her fast. Together, under her leadership, the Jews of Shushan comfort/nourish/support each other through the crisis.

Community building  – by means of extraordinary leadership  – is the project that we support at the Honey Foundation.  Our work at The Honey Foundation is more essential than ever.  We are investing in the leaders who are building the open, diverse, connected communities that are supporting the Israeli people as they go through one of the most difficult moments of Jewish history. 

Our Rabbis are taking care of the families of hostages in Hostage Square, welcoming reserve soldiers back into their communities, comforting the mourning, supporting families with parents away at war, providing meaning for people who desperately want to be a part of a story larger than the latest news cycle.

Community is what has always allowed us to navigate our shifting fortunes as a people. As Israel battles a present-day Haman, the Honey Foundation is privileged to support the work that will carry the Jewish people through this moment.