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Rabbi Stiefel's Monthly Article

Purim and the Importance of Play

Last year I had the opportunity to be in Israel just prior to the holiday of Purim. I was thrilled to see a few stores entirely devoted to Purim costumes. Other places sold specially decorated bags one could purchase and then fill with baked goods for the mitzvah of mishloach manot, the custom of giving gifts to one another. On Rosh Hodesh Adar, (the first day of the Hebrew month of Adar) in the center of Jerusalem, a group of teens was dancing to the song Mishenichnas Adar Marbim B'Simcha - When the month of Adar (the month of Purim) arrives, we should increase our joy. And the bakeries had hamentashen for sale.

I have always loved the playful nature of Purim. Some of the best humor I have ever seen was in the Purim spiels (plays) at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. We made fun of our teachers and ourselves. There have been years I’ve devoted myself to creating a unique costume. And when Purim and March 17 overlapped, I made green hamentashen.

More lately, however, I struggle with Purim as I fully understand that part of the megillah (scroll) we read on the holiday is violent. The happy version of Purim I learned in religious school was that we celebrate that the Jews were saved from annihilation. I did not learn that the Book of Esther recalls the massacre we enacted on 75,000 Persians. This makes the holiday complicated. Stomping my feet and shaking a grogger (noisemaker) helps me process my complicated emotions.

In spite of my discomfort, I continue to embrace the playfulness of Purim. There is a section of Talmud that speaks of the importance of play. In the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 3b)

Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: There are twelve hours in a day. The first three hours, the Holy Blessed One sits and is occupied with [studying] Torah. The second three, [God] sits and judges the entire world. Then, seeing that the entire world is guilty, [God] rises from the Throne of Judgment and sits on the Throne of Mercy. The third [set of three hours, God] sits and

feeds the entire world, from the horns of antelopes/gazelles to the eggs of lice. The fourth [trio of hours, God] sits and plays with the Leviathan (sea creature), as it says (Psalm 104:26), “The Leviathan that You created to play with.”

God spends time in play! And shouldn’t we? We all know about the Almighty taking a rest on Shabbat, but what about having some fun each and every day?

Purim teaches us the importance of play to help us gain perspective and to keep our lives in balance. I invite you to have some fun with Mayim Rabim at our Purim meal, spiel and reading on Thursday, March 21 (details inside.) Hag Purim Sameach! Happy Purim!