How Purim celebrations transition to Passover

Maimonides discussed commemorations of past triumphs and tragedies much the same way – as current events, not ancient history.

 THE PURIM celebrations transition now to preparations for the Passover Seder (photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
THE PURIM celebrations transition now to preparations for the Passover Seder
(photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)

Alan King was a famous Jewish comedian who entertained both on the Borscht Belt and The Tonight Show. I have an affinity for King and his humor because we share a birthday and a love of cigars. King’s most famous joke was about Jewish festivals: “A summary of every Jewish holiday: They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!” The joke needs no commentary, and hits home for many Jewish families.

Jewish festivals and fast days are more meaningful than just commemorations of past events. Maimonides discussed commemorations of past triumphs and tragedies much the same way – as current events, not ancient history.

When he wrote about past tragedies (in the laws of fast days) he wrote, “There are days when the Jewish people fast because of the catastrophes that occurred to them, to arouse their hearts and inspire them to repent. 

“The fast days remind the Jews of our ancestors’ sinful conduct which resembles our present conduct. It is this sinful behavior that caused these catastrophes on them in their days and us in our days. By reminding ourselves of these matters through fasting, we will repent and improve our conduct.”

In a similar fashion, when Maimonides discussed the Passover Seder, he wrote, “In each and every generation, a person must present himself as if he, himself, has now left the slavery of Egypt.” 

When he discussed Purim and reading the Megillah, he wrote, “The prophets and the courts commanded that the Megillah be read in order to praise God, the salvation God brought us, and God’s response to our cries, so that we will bless God, extol God, and inform the future generations of the truth of the Torah’s promise, ‘For what great nation is there that has God so near to it? The Lord our God is always [available] when we call Him.’” 

Maimonides understood that the commemoration of past events speaks much more to the present than the past. Historic tragedies were caused by sins that are still repeated today and God’s salvation is still seen in our times.

mixing Zionism and theology has been a point of contention since the founding of the modern Zionist movement. Not all Zionists believe in God, and they understand the Zionist movement and its success to be a purely human development. Some Zionists who believe in God aren’t convinced Zionism is providential. 

The range of opinions on God’s involvement in Zionist success scale from a refusal to see God’s “hand” in modern Israeli events, to Rav Soloveitchik’s Divine knocking, to Rav Kook’s belief that Zionism and Israel are the beginnings of the ultimate redemption.

Israel and the Jewish people have been put in danger’s way on countless occasions over the past 75 years. The Jewish people have not only survived those dangers, but as a people, they have thrived. 

In 1948, the Jews beat the odds and defeated their enemies to win their independence. Israel’s enemies battled the Jewish people again in 1956, 1967 and 1973. Each time the Jewish people were in peril but overcame the threat and were victorious. Through wars, terror attacks, intifadas and rockets, the Jewish people have called out to God and have been answered.

Maimonides’s idea of Purim being a celebration of God’s continuous salvation of the Jewish people helps put Israel’s victories over the past 75 years into context. At our Purim celebration in the “Pilichowski Palace” we don’t only recall the miracles in Shushan, but the miraculous victories in Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the Mitla Pass, among others. 

The message of Purim is that God answers the Jewish people at their time of need, and it is a parent’s responsibility to teach this lesson to their children. This generation is privileged to have many modern-day examples to demonstrate the point.

Zionists didn’t desire war with its neighbors. Ancient and modern Zionists debated how to settle their ancient homeland and live productively with its Arab neighbors.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence stated Israel “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the holy places of all religions.

“We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.” 

Our neighbors rejected our peaceful overtures. Forced to go to war, we experienced great victories.Having modern-day examples of God’s salvation can make teaching their lessons to today’s children easy and challenging at the same time.

It’s easy to point to an Israeli soldier and tank and explain the miraculous victories our people have experienced in contemporary times. Children can see the people, touch the tanks and visit the places of our greatest successes. 

At the same time, children are accustomed to miracles occurring to ancient people and they might have trouble understanding that miracles can happen in their days as well. Every day between Purim and Passover provides an opportunity to teach our children that miraculous Jewish victories aren’t relegated to the past, they occur in our times.

During the 2,000 years of exile from the land of Israel, the Jewish people simultaneously celebrated Purim and Passover and commemorated the destruction of the Temples and other tragedies. The 2,000 years of exile can be characterized more by the fast days of tragedy than the celebration of victories.

The past 75 years of Jewish return to Eretz Yisrael have been characterized more by the celebration of victories than the commemoration of tragedy.In Maimonides’s framework, the past has been more fast day than Purim, while Israel’s resurgence has been a state of Purim.

The recognition that God is available to answer the Jewish people’s call for help is an everyday responsibility – the celebration of Purim isn’t limited to two days. Living in a time of miraculous victories in the Land of Israel is a dream come true for the Jewish people.

The writer is the senior educator at Nefesh B’Nefesh’s Zionist Education Initiative. He is the author of three books and teaches Torah, Zionism and Israel studies around the world. He is married with six children and lives in Mitzpe Yericho.