Learn from Congregation B’nai Chaim

Hefsiba "Jen" Cohen

This week’s Torah reading, Tetzaveh, speaks about the garments of the priests who served in the mishkan, or tabernacle. Gold, blue, purple, red and gemstones adorned the priests – all garments as created by the most talented artisans of the ancient Israelite community.

The instructions regarding the design of these outfits were very specific and not much was left for a designer to improvise on. The garments were quite elaborate, and much of the design seemed to be more of what we would imagine to be royal than religious with the precious materials used, including golden headwear.

During this festive time of year, the modern Jewish community is abuzz with the planning and designing of outfits, too. We are making fun costumes for Purim, meaning “Lots,” a festival celebrating freedom, life and victory against oppressors.

Many times during Jewish history, enemies have risen up, threatening to destroy the nation. The narrative of Purim celebrates Queen Esther and the salvation of her people.

The setting of the story is ancient Persia, during the reign of King Ahasuerus, who is believed by many to be Xerxes I. When the royal adviser Haman created a royal decree to kill all the Jews in the empire, Mordecai, who is Esther’s cousin and adopted father, called on her to stop the genocide by using her position as queen.

Why are disguises a theme in Purim? This theme can be interpreted two ways. On a personal note often, we mask our real self and our real feelings, and it is as good as a time as any to come to terms with this habit. A greater metaphor is that God is also “disguised” in the entire Book of Esther; nowhere is there a mention of “God,” yet the divine hand of providence is apparent throughout.

While worship is a time of reverence, the religious celebration of Purim is intended to be a rowdy occasion. While the story or megillah of Esther is read, listeners use noisemakers called “groggers” while also booing and stamping their feet to “blot out the name of Haman,” who is referred to as an Agogite or Amalekite, in compliance of the text from Deuteronomy/Devarim 25:19.

Aside from noise and dressing up, we eat triangle-shaped cookies, called hamantashen, which are in the shape of Haman’s supposed three-pointed hat, as well as other treats worthy of the celebration. Some Jewish communities eat nuts and seeds in reference to Queen Esther’s kosher diet while in the Persian palace.

For more information, visit www.bnaichaim.com.

Hefsiba “Jen” Cohen is a co-principal of the Lamad Academy Religious School in Murrieta.