By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
We all know the saying, “Every generation has its challenges.” This is also true when it comes to the holiday of Purim. In ancient Spain, the Marranos were fearful about celebrating Purim for fear of detection by the dreaded Inquisition. During the Holocaust, the Nazis, may their memory perish, robbed our ancestors any vestiges of any Purim celebrations. At other stages our history, we were too impoverished to make any meaningful Purim festivities. During our times, thank G-d, none of these obstacles are in evidence.
Yet, there are challenges galore of different stripes. Firstly, in many neighborhoods, more people are home from work on Thanksgiving than on Purim. Of course this is not by choice. Merely, many breadwinners ‘have-off’ on Thanksgiving while on Purim they must use a precious vacation day which they can ill afford to use up. And, since nowadays a large percentage of our women are also part of the workforce – to help shoulder the burden of tuition, camp and rising insurance costs, in many homes children find themselves alone with sad instructions like, ‘Make sure not to open the door. You’re home alone and we have nothing to give back (shelach manos) anyway.’
I would like to strongly advise that everyone should make a courageous effort to take off from work this Purim.
When it comes to the mitzvah of mishloach manos, giving gifts to one another, it was the desire of Mordechai and Esther to correct the accusation of Haman that there was too much divisiveness amongst our people. Therefore, they created the beautiful mitzvah of mishloach manos to increase the friendship and achdus amongst our people. Indeed the Rambam says about this mitzvah, “Kol hamarbeh, harei zeh meshubach — The more one does of this mitzvah, the more they are praised.” You might recognize this statement. We also say it in Avodim Hayinu in the Hagaddah — that the more we say about Mitzrayim in the sedar, the more we are praised. And we all know how we take this quite literally, staying up until the wee hours of the night, joyously retelling the narrative of the Exodus.
How sad that, when it comes to the beautiful mitzvah of mishloach manos, people don’t want to ‘dirty’ their hands and houses. Rather, they send out postcards saying, “In lieu of mishloach manos, we have given a gift to this-and-this institution.” Or they give money to a yeshiva and people are sent commercialized and impersonal mishloach manos with a list of many names included inside. I very much fear that this in not exactly what Mordechai and Esther had in mind.
Oh yes, I know this was started righteously by people figuring that there was too much bal tashchis, waste of food. Also, people said it was getting out of hand, everyone trying to outdo each other with ostentations shelach manos, full of themes like everything-that-fits-on-a-boat, or a breakfast theme, a fruit theme, etc. So finally, many got disgusted by the race to live up to the Joneses and did away with even trying to compete.
This is a great shame for we, as children, were raised with the delight of relatives and friends coming to our door, of happily going out to all of the houses of the neighborhood, sharing hamentashen and nosh, and eating the whole day from a veritable treasure trove of once-a-year sweets scattered around the home. What will be our legacy of Purim to our children? Postcards and a couple of commercial Tupperware’s filled with institutionalized shelach manos?
A new way to celebrate Purim has evolved for our yeshiva bochrim. A stretch limo is rented for them, they are decked out in tuxedos, and they go around collecting for their yeshiva or another worthy charity. One can detect the sage advice of our leaders here. Having seen that Purim can be easily lost in a meaningless drunken stupor, wasted with levity and emptiness, they instead chose to fill the day with the eternal mitzvah of tzedakah following the lead of the Rambam – at the end of Hilchos Megilah – who says that there is no more glorious mitzvah on Purim, and no greater joy, than to gladden the hearts of the poor and the needy.
Yet, there are still some subtle dangers lurking in this custom. First of all, we caution our dear readers that, when you are visited by a troupe of such dedicated yeshiva bochrim, please don’t break out your best bottle of Blue Label and offer them a L’chaim. For, if they have just one drink in every house they visit, they will look like a bottle of Blue Label themselves by the time they get to their fiftieth house. Furthermore, there is a real concern that, if they spend their formative years collecting the entire Purim, when they get married – and have to create a regular Purim with shelach manos, matanos le’evyonim, costumes for the children, and sumptuous Purim feasts, it will be foreign to them – having spent all their formative years collecting in limos on Purim. Perhaps, we might try to find a happy balance for our own children.
Another dangerous issue – which I implore my reading audience to discuss with their children before Purim, is the hide
ous practice of bochrim taking a puff of a cigarette on Purim. Recently, a national survey concluded that one could get hooked with a nicotine addiction from just one cigarette. Since we know that cigarettes kill many, many people, this discussion is truly a matter of life and death. And of course, make sure you don’t deliver just one more shelach manos, or drive around the block to catch a Maariv, after you have taken a couple of drinks.
I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all of my readership family a very healthy happy, safe, and joyous Purim. May we merit together through the zechus of our Torah, to greet the Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily in our days.
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