Torah Fax

Friday, March 5, 2004 - 12 Adar, 5764

Torah Reading:Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20 - 30:10)
Candle Lighting Time: 5:34 PM
Shabbat Ends: 6:34 PM
Shabbat Zachor 

What’s The Point?

Hamantashen are the staple nosh of Purim, yet, for too long, Hamantashen have been misunderstood and frequently maligned. On the surface, a Hamantash is simply a piece of pastry-about 300 calories worth for the average size and recipe, give or take a few hundred calories-that is supposed to remind us of Haman, the wicked Prime Minister of Persia, who unsuccessfully tried to annihilate the Jews.

However, the question begs itself: What does this innocuous piece of pastry have to do with Haman? And second, how does the hapless Hamantash relate to our own lives, in the modern day and age?

The "traditional" explanation that the Hamantash represents the pockets, hat or ears of Haman is hardly satisfying. Where did the notion that Haman had triangular ears, hat or pockets come from? And besides, who cares about Haman? Don't we want to blot out his name instead of naming a delicacy after him?

A more plausible theory about Hamantashen is that they are actually "poppy seed pockets," and have nothing to do with Haman at all (unless it is a plot of our enemies to get us to ingest more calories, carbs and  cholesterol).  In Yiddish, the word for poppy seeds is mon and pockets are tashen. (Thus, the cookie should really be called a "Montosh," without the "hey" at the beginning.) However, the question persists, why do we eat poppy seed pockets on Purim?

According to the Midrash, Esther maintained her kosher diet in the palace of the King Achashveirosh, by eating seeds. Hence, it is customary to eat seeds on Purim. Since seeds are not the most appetizing and holiday food, someone took those tasteless poppy seeds and converted them into a delectable pastry. Hence, eating Hamantashen is our way of remembering Esther's devotion to her religion even as she served as Queen of the Persian Empire.

However, since everything happens by Divine Providence, even the little, insignificant details of a custom convey meaning and have symbolic significance. Two of the minor details of the Hamantash involve its shape. First, a Hamantash is supposed to have a filling (whether it is poppy seed or fruit jam etc.). Second, the Hamantash must be triangular, containing three points. What is the significance of these two seemingly insignificant details?

The entire miracle of Purim, many have pointed out (pun intended), was one that was hidden within the natural order of events.  A King marries Esther, a Jewish woman, who is related to Mordechai, the leader of the Jewish community at that time. She is in the right place at the right time and the Jews are saved. We know, of course, that the confluence of all these events was part of a Divine plan to save the Jews and that this Divine plan was couched and concealed within the natural order.

To symbolize the hidden nature of G‑d's presence during that period it is customary to eat foods wherein the main ingredient is contained and concealed within another ingredient. This is represented by the Hamantash that conceals the presence of its filling. So as we eat our Hamantashen we should reflect on the mysterious way G‑d works within the confines of  nature.

But what about the three points? Traditionally, commentators have explained that the three points represent the three Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But let's not simply be satisfied with an answer - that answer begs yet another question: why would we allude to our forefathers at a time like Purim?

The conventional answer is that whenever a miracle occurs we attribute it to the merit of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs. However, there is a deeper way of looking at the role of our Patriarchs. To be sure, our Patriarchs were historical figures whom we revere and look towards as our role models. However, they are also figures of the present and are-as Kabbalah teaches us-present in the soul of each and every Jew.  Legendary Jewish kindness and philanthropy is a trait we "inherited" from Abraham; Jewish reverence and devotion we inherited from Isaac; and Jewish compassion was bequeathed to us by Jacob. The three Patriarchs are truly the stuff that fills our being even if it is not visible on the surface.

And here is where the two salient features of the Hamantash (its three corners and its concealed filling) come together: The power concealed within us-the traits we inherited from our Patriarchs- is what enables us to reenact the Purim miracle in our own day and age and usher in the Age of Redemption.

The Hamantash, with its concealed filling and three points, teaches us that the secret of our survival is the connection we have to the traits of our ancestors that are embedded within our psyche. 

Moshiach Matters

In a recent update of the American Heritage Dictionary, the word “Chabad” was added, with this explanation: A name for the Lubavitch movement, a sect of ultra-orthodox Jews based in Brooklyn, New york and Israel who believe in the imminent arrival of the Messiah.”

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