Get ready to celebrate a one-of-a-kind Purim with BJ! Whether through the joy of the Purim carnival, the hilarity of the spiel, the coming together for the Megillah reading, or the fulfillment of mitzvot—like sending mishloah manot—we can’t wait to spend Purim with you.

Purim, explained

Venahafokh hu – Upside Down

With its irreverent joy, Purim inspires us to flip the status quo upside down. Purim embodies a cathartic and exuberant release. It is our opportunity to poke fun at ourselves and roast our venerable institutions. We dress up in costumes and sing and drink and eat and laugh together, celebrating the wonders of happiness and humor.

The Four Mitzvot of Purim – Joyful Sacred Obligations

There are four specific mitzvot—sacred obligations—that we must participate in in order to truly celebrate Purim. We learn three of the four mitzvot directly from the Book of Esther. After Haman was defeated, Mordekhai declared an annual celebration to commemorate the Jewish community’s victory.

“Mordekhai recorded these events. And he sent dispatches to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Ahashverosh, near and far, charging them to observe the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar, every year—the same days on which the Jews enjoyed relief from their foes and the same month which had been transformed for them – from one of grief and mourning to one of festive joy. They were to observe them as days of feasting and merrymaking, and as an occasion for sending gifts to one another and presents to the poor.” (Esther 9:20-22)

Judaism often emphasizes the sacred nature of happiness and that is certainly the case on Purim. Generosity of spirit is the manifestation of our joy. We open our homes to celebrate with one another. We demonstrate our generosity by giving to the poor and sending gifts of food to our friends and families. We do this so that everyone has the means to have their own festive meal on this triumphant day. Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler (1892-1953) explains it this way,

“The worship service of Yom HaKippurim is meant to purify us from our sins and from the defilement of our souls by means of the concept of yirah – of fear. And Purim comes to do the same by means of the concept of ahavah – love. And love is a result of the concept of Hesed – of kindness; one who gives more, loves more; since love is a result of the concept of N’divut – generosity. Thus the joy we feel on Purim for God’s holy vengeance against Haman should cause us to recognize that this is the proper time to give generously of ourselves and of our souls to God! And from that comes the necessary result of Ahavat HaShem, the Love of God.”

1. Megillat Esther- The Whole Megillah

On Purim, we are commanded to hear the whole megillah – the entire Book of Esther. As a reflection of the joyful spirit of the holiday and the satirical story at the center of it, megillah reading is playful. A cacophony of shouts and groggers, noisemakers, erupts whenever the villain’s name, Haman, is mentioned in an effort to drown out his infamy.

Part of the experience of hearing the megillah is to attend in a festive costume. Don’t be shy! Dress up as one of the characters in Megillat Esther or be creative and craft your own clever design.

Join us to hear the whole Megillah at night or in the morning.

2. Simha uMishteh – Let’s Party

A fundamental aspect of Purim observance is to amplify joy through communal celebration. We gather together, recount the story of the Book of Esther, and poke fun at ourselves. Then, we party. We host big, festive meals with lots of delicious food and plenty to drink. The Talmud tell us,

“A person is obligated to become intoxicated on Purim until they do not know the difference [between] ‘cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordekhai.’’ (Megillah 7b).

Immediately following this instruction, the Talmud cautions us to not become overly inebriated. It relates this cautionary tale.

“Rabba and Rabbi Zeira had the Purim meal together, they got drunk. Rabba arose and slaughtered Rabbi Zeira. The next day he prayed and revived him. The next year he said to him, ‘Come and let us have the Purim meal together.’ He said to him, ‘Miracles do not happen all the time.’” (Megillah 7b)

In short – Have a great time. You even have permission to allow yourself to over indulge. But, please, drink responsibly.

3. Mishloah Manot – Send Gifts

Because one of the mitzvot of Purim is to enjoy a seudah (festive meal), we send gifts of food to each other ensuring that all Jews had something  delicious to eat. Traditionally, a mishloah manot gift package contains at least two different types of ready-to-eat food and/or drink.

Haman tried to make us afraid. He wanted to divide and demoralize us. By sending each other gifts we are actively defying the inclination to allow fear to constrict our innately generous spirit. Instead, we open ourselves to one another and demonstrate kindness and care for each other. It strengthens our communal bonds and reminds us of our true magnanimous nature.

4. Matanot la’evyonim – Fight Food Insecurity

Giving gifts to the poor, matanot le’evyonim is a core mitzvah of Purim. In modern times, this can take the form of direct presents, but it’s more commonly fulfilled by donating money to an organization that specifically focuses on food insecurity. This Purim, fulfill the mitzvah of Matanot La’evyonim (Gifts to the Poor) with Leket Israel, providing fresh, rescued food delivered to those in need on Purim day and Shushan Purim.

Leket Israel, Israel’s National Food Bank, rescues over 73 million pounds of surplus, high-quality food annually, that otherwise would go to waste, from hundreds of frames, hotels, corporate caterers, and IDF army bases. The food is distributed weekly to over 296 nonprofits feeding 33,000 Israelis of all backgrounds. Make an online donation as part of Leket Israel’s Matanot La’evyonim Drive.

The obligation of tzedakah, bringing justice into the world through financial donations, is something we are committed to everyday. The Purim specific mitzvah of matanot le’evyonim is distinct from tzedakah. Our gifts to the poor on Purim are not only an example of the pursuit of justice, but as an expression of our overwhelming joy and desire to share that joy with everyone.

Megillat Esther – Revealing the Hidden

In many ways, the story of Purim is an exploration of the relationship between what is revealed and what is hidden.

Esther conceals her Jewish identity for most of the story, only to reveal it at the precise moment when she can most effectively leverage her power to save the Jewish people. When we are first introduced to her, we are told that Esther’s real name is Hadassah, but for the remainder of the book, she is exclusively referred to as Esther. Her true identity is hidden.

The definition of her two names further emphasizes this point. Hadassah means myrtle. You might remember that myrtle as one of the four species included in a lulav during Sukkot, but its spiritual significance extends beyond our fall festival. With its beautiful white flowers and its sweet aroma, myrtle came to symbolize love and righteousness. An early Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible explains, “[Esther] was called Hadassah (Myrtle) because the righteous are compared to myrtle … As the myrtle spreads fragrance in the world, so did she spread good works.” (Targum Sheini, Esther 2:7)

This is in direct contrast to the name Esther. The rabbis homiletically link the name Esther to the word Hasteir, meaning “hidden.” These two words sound similar and share three letters in common – Samekh, Tav, and Resh – but are not etymologically related. That never prevents the rabbis from offering a linguistically inspired spiritual insight. In a conversation about events that are secretly foreshadowed in verses in the Torah, the Talmud asks, “Where is Esther indicated in the Torah? [She is referenced in Deuteronomy 31:18, when it says] I will surely hide [hasteir astir] my face.” (Hullin 139b). While Esther’s Hebrew name, Hadassah (myrtle), indicates something that cannot possibly be concealed, the rabbis define the primary characteristic of her Persian name, Esther, as the essence of hiddenness.

But wait. There’s more.

We often translate Megillat Esther as the Book of Esther, but more precisely it means the Scroll of Esther. The word megillah – scroll – is related to the word lig’ol “to roll” and l’golel to “unroll.” By rolling or unrolling a scroll you are either revealing or hiding its contents. Unsurprisingly, all of these words are also connected to l’galot which means “to reveal.”

Megillat Esther, quite literally means Revealing the Hidden.

We unroll the scroll to uncover a story. At the center of the story is a young female foreign Jewish orphan. This lowly status is emblematic of the most vulnerable kind of exiled person. Someone who is utterly powerless. To protect herself, she conceals her true identity and masquerades as a regular citizen of Shushan. Through a set of miraculous or maybe merely coincidental events she becomes a queen in this foreign land. As a queen, she has access to power, but she does not fully leverage her power until she reveals her seemingly powerless authentic self. We emulate her by dressing in costumes, simultaneously allowing us to disguise our identity while also providing us with an opportunity to reveal a part of ourselves that we have hidden.

This process of revealing and concealing is just like the rhythm of rolling through a scroll or the unfurling joy of self-discovery that defines the human experience.

May you have the courage to reveal something about yourself that you have kept hidden. Through that bravery may you discover unexpected power and unbridled joy.

Purim sameah!