There was one Purim years ago when I realized that I spent the day in the car and somehow missed seeing many friends. In our neighborhood, we kind of live on the “other side of town,” so it’s hard to catch people and we don’t have a very busy block, so the day kind of felt isolating. Not to mention the ridiculous amount of time and money spent on finding the perfect packaging and inevitable violent argument I would have with a roll of cellophane.
While other friends were staying up late saying Tehillim, a friend and I would call each other around 2 a.m. in a state of panic as we were scrambling for another 10 yards of ribbon or box of margarine to make the final batch of frosting. I kind of came up with the idea of doing self-serve mishloach manot, where we dress up and there is a table outside the house with coordinating treats, but this way I wouldn’t have to deal with the PTSD of packing and the sadness of missing our friends. And then it became a tradition that kids and adults would look forward to, which meant the world to me.
When we went out to teachers, kids would help themselves and when I ran out of the nosh, we were done for the day. This would also allow me to finish up my cooking in peace as I knew I was going to be home for most of the day. I realized I cut a lot—not all—of the expense and the stress out of the day and really only let myself do what I enjoyed. This allows me to have some sort of creative outlet—but on my own terms. There’s no pressure, but there is a tradition. The joy I feel when kids come back year after year and look forward to my exciting treats really gives me genuine simchat hayom.
In a letter in last week’s Jewish Link, Michelle Kohn eloquently touched on so many of these points. It’s true that in many ways we have taken the meaning out of the day, which is something I continue to struggle with year after year. Finding meaning in the Purim story when you’re busy making 100 individual custom cupcakes/mini babkas/potato kugels, is kind of hard.
I don’t think I am actually going to change a whole culture, and part of me doesn’t want to change because then I would have nothing to discuss with friends for the week after Purim and I would never know the outrageous coordinated costumes my neighbor’s sister-in-law’s cousin sent to her whole neighborhood. And no one is saying that if you put effort into your Purim theme it means you are not a thinking person who has meaning in their lives. But I think the point is not to forget the point of the day.
When we learn about the characters of Purim, it’s almost as if they are fictitious and unrelatable. Maybe that’s why it’s hard to take the day as seriously as it should be taken. Who knows? But, if you are having trouble finding a positive female role model for your children, you don’t need to look further than Esther considering all the trials she endured.
Over the years, I always had the same group of friends invite me to join them in delivering mishloach manot at the local nursing home. I would smile and politely decline. Why would I waste my time at the nursing home? Purim is too fun and I wasn’t risking missing any of the action. Just two weeks I sat in shul listening to Parshat Mishpatim when the Torah explicitly states how we are not allowed to cause a ger (convert) any pain. While not many of us are in touch with so many gerim, the mefarshim explain the term ger as anyone who might feel like an outsider. This truly struck a chord with me and I finally understood the trip to the nursing home.
We have a unique opportunity to incorporate the mitzvah of mishloach manot by reaching out to those who could be more isolated on this day. You likely won’t even believe how much joy you will bring by simply taking 15 minutes out of your day to add someone to your list who may not be having as busy of a day as you are. There’s not a doubt in my mind that this will make you feel great. If you are lucky enough to be a parent, this is a tremendous opportunity for you to start a new family tradition while imparting this sensitivity to your children. Wishing us all a very freilichen Purim filled with joy, meaning and prayer and have the privilege to see real v’nahafoch hu for all the challenges we face.
Rachel Zamist lives in Passaic.
By Rachel Zamist