Rabbi’s Review – February 2018

Purim’s Four Mitzvot

Rabbi Charles K. Briskin


Once a year I make my annual pilgrimage to the Costume Closet. This treasure trove is housed in the former gymnasium at the Malaga Cove School, and today is home to thousands of costumes and any accouterments that you can think of. Children get their school play costumes there; most adults visit the week before Halloween. We go at Purim.

Purim is the Jewish holiday where we literally and figuratively place a mask upon ourselves. We dress in costume, we are often times less inhibited, and we may let down our guard. On Purim, the world turns upside down.

Our costumes and masks hide the essence of who we are. It is the opposite of Yom Kippur, when we bare our soul to God. On Yom Kippur we stand face to face with God. On Purim, we try to hide from God—just as its heroine, Queen Esther, tried to hide from her responsibility to save her Jewish brethren in Shushan. Our hiding lasts for a day. Then the next day we return to the true essence of ourselves.

On Purim, I enjoy being someone else for a few hours. I love seeing the creative and clever costumes we wear at our celebrations. Yes, we look silly if we make a Starbucks run on our way to our TBE festivities, but that is part of the fun. It’s also a learning experience. “Why are you dressed up?” the barista may ask. “Costume party tonight?” What an opportunity to share a few things about Purim, such as these important commandments.

We can tell the barista why we tell the story of Esther in the Megillah. We can tell her about the mitzvah of giving charity to the poor; we call it ma’tanot le’evyonim. During our joyous celebration, we are mindful of those who have a fraction of what we have. We can tell her about giving mishloah manot—gifts of food and pastries (including hamentaschen) to our friends. We may even give one to our favorite barista who makes our drink each day. Lastly, we are commanded to eat, drink and be merry.

It is likely that we fulfill these mitzvot separately during the year. However, Purim is the only holiday when all four mitzvot and traditions align providing us the opportunity to learn, give, eat, drink, celebrate and be kind and generous to friends and strangers alike. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

This year we are retooling our Purim celebration so that the entire community can gather together at the same time. Come on Saturday, February 24 for Purim fun for children and adults, for ages 1 to 100. A full description is on the front page. Join us and I guarantee that you will fulfill all of the Purim mitzvot, but will have a fabulously fun time as well.