Holidays

Holidays Reimagined: From Pesah To Purim To Post-Hurban Pesah

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Shimon Laufer

 

Purim holds a special place in the Jewish calendar as the first of two Rabbinic-created holidays. Unlike the biblically mandated festivals which relate to the miraculous events surrounding the Exodus, Purim was the first holiday that Hazal would establish independently, both in principle and in practice. The Talmud points out that all the subsequent holidays established by Hazal which were listed in Megillat Ta’anit would ultimately fall into disuse. The exceptions noted in the Talmud are the holidays of Purim and Hanukkah.[1]

What is unique about these two holidays that their observance has become permanently embedded in Halakhah?

The events of Purim took place during the period between the destruction of the First Temple and the construction of the Second Temple. This period was characterized by the absence of the ongoing supernatural phenomena of the Temple, the decline of prophecy, and the closure of the age of miracles.[2] It is interesting to ponder the choices confronting the Anshei Knesset Ha-Gedolah [Men of the Great Assembly] when they first considered how to react to the events of Purim, without any historical precedent.

It was clear to Mordecai that God was guiding the events. He confidently proclaimed to Esther, “If you remain silent at this time, salvation shall come to the Jews in another way” (Esther 4:14), understanding that Hashem will protect the Jewish people from destruction, no matter what choices Esther will make. Yet, as the events unfold, there are no specific miracles which clearly show God’s involvement. Unlike the miracles of Passover from the past, or even Hanukkah in the future, there was no overt act of God in the events of Purim. Given the circumstances of this “ordinary” salvation, should the Great Assembly now establish a holiday with no obvious miracle attached to it? If so, with what practices should it be established?

Certainly, the decision to create a new holiday would not be taken lightly by the Sages. Bound by the prohibition of bal tosif (adding to the Torah), Hazal would be hesitant to “add” a holiday. While not including a prohibition of performing forbidden work may solve this “bal tosif” issue, this would also eliminate an important element of the Jewish way of celebrating holidays. What would it mean for Hazal to create a holiday with no prohibition of work that would still be meaningful?

I would suggest that in establishing Purim, the Great Assembly had to pattern its observance after that of an existing biblical holiday, even without legislating a prohibition of work. The Gemara often utilizes the expression “kol de-tikun rabbanan, ke-ein de-orayta tikein[3] – the Sages patterned their enactments after the Torah’s laws. This concept is found in Talmud in a number of places, suggesting a general principle with wide application. Beyond the talmudic references, Rav Schachter (Nefesh HaRav p. 191) cites Rav Soloveitchik seemingly applying this principle more broadly even to the practices instituted during the Omer period for the students of Rabbi Akiva, or during the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av. Rav Soloveitchik sees these customs as patterned after the established Rabbinic practices of mourning. The Rabbis established new practices, but patterned them after existing ones.

Given this predisposition, perhaps the Rabbinic holidays of Purim and Hanukkah are indeed purposefully patterned after biblical holidays, such that the Purim holiday was based on the co-seasonal holiday of Passover, just as Hanukkah was clearly based on the co-seasonal holiday of Sukkot.

An examination of the clear connection between Sukkot and Hanukkah will establish this connection, and help us see the pattern as applied to Passover and Purim.

The Connection Between Hanukkah and Sukkot

Commenting on the juxtaposition in the Torah of the passages regarding the holiday of Sukkot and the passage regarding the kindling of the Menorah in the Temple (Leviticus 23:33-24:4), the Sefer Rokeah points out that this is a “hint to Hanukkah: just as Sukkot is eight days during which we complete the Hallel, so too Hanukkah…”

In addition, there are several laws that seem to have parallels.

  • Both the Sukkah and the Hanukkah candles are restricted to height of 20 amot so that those inside the sukkah/passersby would be able to take note of the sukkah/candles (Shabbat 22a).
  • Both Sukkot and Hanukkah have the requirement of performing a mitzvah outside the home. The sukkah is built outside the home; the hanukkiah is lit outside the door of the house.
  • The opinion of Beit Shammai is that the number of candles to be lit on each night of Hanukkah should be in descending order of the days remaining of the holiday. An opinion in the Talmud explains that the reason for this opinion is that it corresponds to the oxen sacrificed on Sukkot, where each day one less ox is sacrificed (Shabbat 21b).
  • The last opportunity to bring bikkurim (first fruit offerings), if not done on Sukkot, is Hanukkah (Mishnah Bikkurim 1:6).
  • Both Sukkot and Hanukkah are eight-day festivals during which full Hallel is recited.

If there is any doubt as to the influence the holiday of Sukkot had on the formation of Hanukkah, a citation from the Book of Maccabees II makes the point explicitly.[4] In Maccabees II 10:5-8, the author writes:

Now upon the same day that the strangers profaned the Temple, on the very same day it was cleansed again, even the five and twentieth day of the same month, which is Kislev. And they kept the eight days with gladness, as in the Feast of the Tabernacles, remembering that not long afore they had held the Feast of the Tabernacles, when as they wandered in the mountains and dens like beasts. Therefore, they bear branches, and fair boughs, and palms also, and sang psalms unto Him who had given them good success in cleansing his place. They ordained also by a common statute and decree, that every year those days should be kept by the whole nation of the Jews…[5]

Here, in the Book of Maccabees, we have a clear indication of a conscious relationship between Hanukkah and the biblical Sukkot festival. In establishing Hanukkah, Hazal looked to the biblical holiday occurring during the same season, Sukkot, which influenced how the holiday would be observed.[6]

Since we can detect in the literature that Sukkot influenced the creation of Hanukkah, let us now explore the evidence for such a connection between Purim and Passover.

The Connection Between Purim and Passover

There is much evidence of a connection between the holidays of Purim and Passover. Even within the Megillah, we read of Esther declaring a three day fast which would have occurred over the Passover holiday (cf. Rashi on Esther 4:17). Undoubtedly, Hazal associated the two holidays due to what appears to be common themes, seasonality, and connections highlighted in a few talmudic sources.

For example, the Talmud in Megillah 6b discusses whether one should celebrate Purim during the first or second Adar during a leap year. The Gemara suggests that generally, “one does not pass over mitzvot,” and therefore one ought to celebrate Purim at the first opportunity, i.e. during the first Adar. Nevertheless, the Talmud concludes that we celebrate during the second Adar “in order to link one salvation to another salvation” (Megillah 6b). Rashi explains that the two salvations that are being linked are Purim and Passover. Apparently, the Talmud understood that connecting Purim to Passover is a principle important enough to override other common principles.

In Pesahim 6a, we find another unique law that appears to connect Purim and Passover. The Talmud suggests – “We ask and expound concerning the Laws of Passover 30 days before Passover.” Beit Yosef (Orah Hayyim 429) cites contradictory passages from Megillah 4a and 32b, which state, “Moshe established that they should ask and expound on the subject of the day: the laws of Passover on Passover, the laws of Atzeret on Atzeret, the Laws of Sukkot on Sukkot…” Must the halakhot be studied on the day of the festival as the gemarot in Megillah suggest, or 30 days prior, as the gemara in Pesahim suggests?

The Beit Yosef suggests that perhaps the thirty day obligation applies only to Passover due to the intricate laws that need to be studied. Others question this view, since Sukkot also has many laws without a required study period, and because it does not address why specifically 30 days are given for study and not a different length of time. Be’er Heitev (ad loc.) offers an alternative resolution, arguing that the law of studying 30 days earlier applies only to Passover and not to any other holiday. In fact, he claims, one starts to fulfill the obligation of doresh hilkhot Pesah on Purim day, irrespective of the number of days before Passover in which it falls.[7] Perhaps the 30-day requirement to study only before Passover derives from the fact that Hazal understood that Purim and Passover are intimately connected, and therefore it is appropriate to begin considering the laws of Passover on Purim.

The halakhic evidence, however, suggests that the two holidays are not merely thematically connected. They are connected by common practices, demonstrating that Purim observances may have been patterned after Passover observances.

The source for the practice of studying the laws of Passover “30 days before Passover” is that in the desert, Moses instructed the people about the laws of Pesah Sheini,[8] the make-up opportunity to bring the Korban Pesah for those unable to bring it, on erev Pesah, which was thirty days earlier. It is interesting to note that the only other holiday that seems to have a “parallel” a month apart is Purim Katan, the 14th day of First Adar in a leap year. Intriguing, the names of the two days are also parallel; Pesah Sheini is also referred to as Pesah Katan.[9]

Passover has the requirement to drink four cups of wine, which reflects a feeling of freedom and alludes to the four expressions denoting redemption mentioned in the Torah (Exodus 6:6-7).[10] This wine must be drunk within the context of the Leil Ha-Seder. Purim has a requirement of drinking wine to the point of inebriation: “ad de-lo yada” (see Megillah 7b). According to many opinions, it must be drunk only during the seudat Purim.[11]

On Passover, the Paschal lamb must be eaten only by a group, the very same group that had joined together to offer the sacrifice. Similarly, on Purim, not only do we have an obligation to eat a meal (seudat Purim), but we also have an obligation to share our food with others (mishloah manot), effectively ensuring that our meal is eaten as a group.[12]

The gloss (429) of the Rema mentions the talmudic custom that within 30 days before Passover, one should purchase wheat for the poor to enable them to fulfill the requirement of baking matzot. This practice is referred to as kimha de-Pisha. The Mishnah Berurah cites Talmud Yerushalmi Bava Batra 1:4 regarding this custom.[13] Matanot le-evyonim (gifts to the poor), an important element of Purim, seems to parallel this concern for the needy on the holiday.[14]

The recitation of the Haggadah/Hallel parallels Mikra Megillah with its pirsuma nisa. On Passover, we recite the Hallel at the Seder to praise and give thanks to Hashem. The Gemara (Megillah 14a) asks why, if Hallel is recited upon achieving freedom from slavery on Passover, it should not be recited on Purim, when the Jewish People were saved from annihilation. The Gemara concludes that Hallel on Purim is clearly appropriate, but in this case, the recitation of the Megillah is a form of Hallel. It seems that reading Megillat Esther serves as a substitute for both the reading of the Haggadah and reciting the miraculous events leading to this deliverance, as well as praising God for His salvation, which is the essence of Hallel on Passover. From the back-and-forth in the Talmud it is clear that the Talmud assumes that the observances of Purim should be patterned after the observances of Passover which are thematically alike.

If we notice the common practices, we must also notice in what ways the Purim practices differ from Passover. On Passover, all the practices are formal, structured, and explicit. Charity must be given to people, but specifically for matzah. Reservations are required for the meal (by joining in the Korban Pesah), which is structured formally with food and recitations about the miracles which occurred. Our praise to Hashem is explicit. In fact, the Seder evening is designed to be so unusual that children inquire and that parents convey the miracles that occurred.[15] By contrast, Purim’s version of all these practices are completely informal and unstructured. Charity is given to the poor, but for any use. The meal is open to all, whether or not previously planned. Food may be sent to others to enjoy, or eaten together with the host. There is no formal text at the meal. The drinking is open ended – maybe too much so. And in place of explicit praise to Hashem, we simply read the story of Esther.

Passover Redefined as the Source for Purim

Our Sages debated the proper response to the events of Purim. Purim was certainly a great day of deliverance, since the Jewish nation had nearly been annihilated. At first glance, it would seem that Passover should be a fitting precedent for celebration over deliverance from imminent danger. Yet, Passover, per se, was not simply a holiday celebrating liberation from slavery; it was a holiday celebrating the Passover miracle: that the Egyptian first-born were killed, while God passed over the homes of the B’nei Yisrael. If the primary celebration of Passover was on account of the Passover miracle, then it could not be used as a template to establish a holiday of Purim, which had no (open) miraculous intervention by God. Despite the common theme of salvation, Passover was the holiday celebrating the miraculous; there is no holiday celebrating the ordinary salvation.

It would seem that when looking for a paradigmatic holiday for Purim, the Rabbis chose to highlight certain themes of Passover, thereby promoting it primarily as a holiday of freedom and deliverance (geulah) through the miracles that occurred, rather than a holiday that celebrates the specific miracles – the “passing over” of the Israelite households. Given this characterization, Passover could serve as a fitting model for future “Liberation” holidays such as Purim.

If this is the case, we can well understand that the Sages, in enacting the customs for the new holiday of Purim, were basing these observances on common Passover practices, yet modified somewhat to reflect the unstructured salvation absent the overt signs of God’s interventions. Perhaps what Hazal considered was that the Passover story of open miracles and the explicit presence of Hashem in our salvation required a celebration marked by explicit and formal practices by which to have us explicitly verbalize Hashem’s workings. By contrast, for Purim, Hazal established similar practices to Passover, yet modified them by making the celebration less formal, less structured, and less explicit about God’s involvement, yet marked nonetheless by celebration. By engaging in this form of celebration, we are to understand that we must celebrate God’s salvation, even when His help is not explicit.

The Rabbis constructed Purim in the image of their interpretation of Passover. The Passover miracle notwithstanding, they nevertheless found commonality between Purim and Passover in the experience of salvation. As the Talmud (Megillah 14b) asks, “If we say Hallel upon going from slavery to freedom, how much more so upon going from death to life…”

Therefore, the customs associated with Purim seem to reflect Passover observances. We share our meals with others (mishloah manot) on Purim, just as we ate the Passover meal in a company of others. We provide for the poor on Purim, as we did for the poor before Passover (maot hitin). We read the Megillah in praise of Hashem on Purim, as we recited Hallel on Passover. In short, Passover provides the model for the loosely structured Purim as a festival of deliverance.

Essentially, Purim was a turning point in Jewish history. All holidays that celebrated the overt miracles of Hashem might have become irrelevant since God no longer acted overtly. By identifying the essence of Passover and applying it to Purim, our rabbis made the Passover story relevant in this new era as well.[16] Rather than being a relic of the past, Passover is re-experienced in the new world as Purim, at a later and fundamentally different period in our history. By establishing the holiday of Purim, Hazal gave importance and eternity to the Passover message. The miraculous biblical experience was translated into a new language of Jewish survival achieved through human efforts in the modern world. And this salvation too, was deemed worthy of celebration.

Midrash Mishlei 9:2 states that in the future, all the festivals of the Jewish calendar will become null except for Purim. What is unique about Purim? As the holiday of modern adaptation, Purim will always be relevant as it takes a biblical holiday and adapts it to new circumstances.

Purim as a Source for the Post-Hurban Pesah

Not only did the Sages fashion Purim in the image of Passover, but Passover itself, after the destruction of the Temple, was similarly re-imagined. If Purim had been patterned after Passover, Passover after the Hurban would now be patterned after Purim.

With the destruction of the Temple, the Passover holiday would have felt very different for the celebrants. Whereas previously, the offering of the Paschal lamb would have recalled the miracle of God’s passing over the Israelite households, there would be no more offering and no manifest presence of God once the Temple had been destroyed. How could Passover remain relevant without these crucial elements?

To understand how the Rabbis addressed this question, we need to analyze a variation in the text of our Mishnah concerning Rabban Gamliel in the standard printed Mishnah vis-a-vis the Kaufmann Manuscript, one of the oldest extant manuscripts of the Mishnah understood by scholars to be an early 2nd century version of Mishnah written in Israel.[17]

The printed version of Mishnah Pesahim 10:5 states:

Rabban Gamliel used to say: Anyone who did not say these three matters on Passover has not fulfilled his obligation. And these are they: Paschal lamb, matzah, and bitter herbs. Paschal lamb because the Omnipresent passed over [pasah] the houses of our forefathers in Egypt, matzah because our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt, bitter herbs because the Egyptians embittered our forefathers’ lives in Egypt. In each and every generation a person must view himself as though he personally left Egypt, as it is stated: “And you shall tell your son on that day, saying: It is because of this which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.” Therefore we are obligated to thank, praise, glorify, extol, exalt, honor, bless, revere, and laud [lekales] the One who performed for our forefathers and for us all these miracles: He took us out from slavery to freedom, from sorrow to joy, from mourning to a Festival, from darkness to a great light, and from enslavement to redemption. And we shall say before Him: Halleluyah.

Let us look at the same Mishnah in the Kaufmann MS A50:

Rabban Gamliel says: Anyone who did not say these three matters on Passover has not fulfilled his obligation: Paschal lamb, matzah, and bitter herbs. Paschal lamb because the Omnipresent passed over [pasah] the houses of our forefathers in Egypt, bitter herbs because the Egyptians embittered our forefathers’ lives in Egypt, matzah because our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt. Therefore, we are obligated to thank, praise, glorify, extol, exalt, elevate to Whom who did to us and our forefathers all these miracles, AND took us from slavery to freedom. And we shall say before Him: Halleluyah.

A number of differences can be discerned between the two versions of the Mishnah.

  1. The Kaufmann manuscript presents Rabban Gamliel’s statement in the present tense. It begins, “Rabban Gamliel says,” reflecting a contemporary statement, while the printed Mishnah states “used to say,” implying that the author is recalling Rabban Gamliel’s past statements.
  2. The Kaufmann manuscript significantly omits any mention of the idea that “in every generation one is obligated to see himself as though he left Egypt.” The printed Mishnah adds the sentence “In every generation,” presumably as a necessary explanation for why we must praise Hashem.
  3. The Kaufmann manuscript suggests that we are required to praise Hashem because, “He did miracles AND took us out”; the printed Mishnah implies that we must praise Hashem because “He did miracles, He took us out.” The printed Mishnah further continues by quoting from Megillat Esther (9:22), “from sadness to joy, from mourning to a Festival.”

What is the significance of these variations?

The Kaufmann Manuscript seems to interpret the miracle of Passover as implied by the name Passover: that Hashem passed over the houses of the Israelites. Following the verse in Exodus 12:27, the Paschal lamb is eaten to commemorate that Hashem “passed over the Israelite houses when He smote the Egyptians.” This, presumably, was the miracle of Passover, and as Mekhilta Pischa 42 explains, “va-yikod ha-am va-yeshtahu”- the people bowed and prostrated themselves – to teach that whoever hears these miracles which the Holy One, blessed be He, did for Israel in Egypt, should give praise.” The miracle of Passover requires praise to Hashem who did the miracles AND brought us to freedom. Freedom, an important result of the miracles, is seen as distinct from the miracle of Passover. The Korban Pesah would be brought to commemorate the Passover miracle, while the observances of maror and matzah would commemorate the transition from slavery to salvation.

By contrast, the printed Mishnah, with its later additional insertions and word changes, suggests that the Passover miracle requiring praise to Hashem is not the miracle of the “passing over” described in Exodus, but the resulting liberation from Egypt. Praise is required every generation, since “in every generation, one must view themselves as if they had been liberated from Egypt.” Moreover, by further associating “taking us out from slavery to freedom” with the other parallel phrases lifted from Megillat Esther, the Mishnah is making clear that it is these experiences which should be our focus of thanksgiving.

Indeed, it appears that the printed Mishnah is reinterpreting the earlier version of the Mishnah, in light of the existence of the holiday of Purim. At a time without a Korban Pesah, they reinterpret the holiday of Passover as one of liberation and salvation, patterned after the Purim holiday previously established.

What might have brought about such a reinterpretation?

Rabban Gamliel, living about 20 years before the destruction of the Temple, wrote in the Mishnah: “Whoever does not say these three things (Pesah, matzah u-maror) on Passover…” It is interesting to note that the verse in Exodus requires only that one speak about the Pesah offering, not matzah and maror. After the destruction of the Temple, sensing that a holiday about the Passover Korban recalling Passover miracles might be out of place in a world without any offerings or miracles, Rabban Gamliel expands the focus of the holiday to the salvation and liberation of the people. Therefore, one is required to speak also about the transition from slavery to freedom symbolized by the matzah and maror, not just the Pesah as indicated in the verse in Exodus. After the destruction of the Temple, and in light of the Purim holiday, we begin to understand that Passover’s story of redemption from slavery is itself a miracle, and worthy of commemoration.

What emerges, then, is that although Passover originally was the source holiday from which Hazal patterned the observances of Purim, as circumstances changed, Purim later became the source holiday for a reinvisioned Passover without korbanot or miracles as articulated by Rabban Gamliel. After the destruction of the Temple, Passover itself seems to have been later reinterpreted in light of the now-existing Purim holiday, to focus on the common theme of salvation and downplay the miraculous aspects of Passover no longer relevant in the post-Temple world.

Understanding this transition, this might solve a famous question regarding the opening of the Haggadah with the passage Ha Lahma Anya. The text of this Aramaic insertion has the host inviting guests to join in the Passover Seder, even though the Korban Pesah must only be eaten by those individuals who had earlier joined in the sacrifice of the Korban. One may not invite new guests to partake in the Korban Pesah. Many commentaries suggest that this paragraph, in Aramaic, is a later insertion into the Haggadah, after the point in time when the Korban Pesah was no longer brought. In this sense, again, Passover is borrowing from the Purim themes of seudat Purim and matanot le-evyonim, by inviting the poor and needy to celebrate Passover, as they would have done on the Purim holiday.

If indeed, the post-Hurban Passover is patterned after Purim, this might explain an additional anomaly in the halakhic literature as well.

Mishnah Pesahim (10:1) indicates that one must have no less than four cups of wine at the Seder. What is the source of this requirement? Rambam and Sefer Ha-Hinukh both point out that this is a Rabbinic requirement. Rashi, citing the Midrash, suggests that it is based on the four “languages of redemption” mentioned in Exodus 6. In fact, the source for the four cups of wine is debated in Talmud Yerushalmi Pesahim 68b. The Talmud brings three opinions:

a) R Yohanan – representing four redemptions mentioned in Exodus 6 (ve-hozaiti…)
b) R’ Yehoshua ben Levi – the four cups of Pharaoh in the dream related by the wine steward (Genesis 40)
c) R’ Levi – the four cups of revenge… and parallel cups of comfort

Answers a) and c) are both relevant to the experience of exile and redemption that the Jewish people experienced and will experience in the future. But how do we understand the explanation of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, whose source for drinking the four cups relates to Joseph’s experience in Mitzrayim hundreds of years earlier?

If we carefully read the story of Joseph in Egypt, we find similarities to the story of Esther in Persia.[18] In both stories, a Jewish figure is brought within the king’s orbit under trying circumstances and rises to a position of prominence, which ultimately results in saving the Jewish people from the trouble that befalls them. In both stories, the circumstances in which the Jew is brought into focus revolves around wine served to the king. In both stories, the Jewish figure ultimately recognizes that their rise to prominence was ordained by God in order to bring salvation to the Jewish people. It should also be obvious that many of these same elements are echoed in the story of Moses and the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery.

Reading the Joseph story in this way, one recognizes immediately that the beginning of the salvation of the Jewish people from famine, and later from Egypt, was predicated on the dream of the wine steward, and Joseph’s non-miraculous rise to power. The Midrash hints at this idea of geulah stemming from Joseph.[19]

From this perspective, the story of Esther and Ahashverosh can be seen as another story of Joseph and Pharaoh: a salvation rooted in the King’s wine, and precedent for the idea that God works through the ordinary to later bring salvation to his people.

Recognizing the parallels between the Esther/Ahashverosh and Joseph/Pharaoh stories, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi suggests that the Rabbis added an observance to Passover beyond what is mandated by the Torah. The four cups of wine are now introduced, to connect the two stories of ordinary salvation to Passover.[20]

One might further suggest that the mitzvah to drink specifically four cups of wine on Passover is indeed taken from Megillat Esther, where the drinking of wine is a dominant theme and where we find four instances where wine banquets play an important role:

  1. Ahashverosh calls for Vashti when his heart is full of wine.
  2. Haman and Ahashverosh sit to drink as they make the decree of annihilation.
  3. Esther, Haman, and Ahashverosh drink before Haman is required to parade Mordecai around.
  4. Esther reveals her plight to Ahashverosh at the wine banquet that she prepared.

The four wine banquets we read about in Megillat Esther connect the stories of Esther and Joseph. In each of these stories, seemingly ordinary events in the ordinary course of life, turn out to be markers in God’s plan. In Egypt, Joseph’s rise to power was predicated on the four cups of wine in the hands of the Pharaoh. In Megillat Esther, the four wine banquets highlight the turning points at which God orchestrated events to unfold in bringing salvation to the Jewish people. By attaching a new Rabbinic practice of drinking four cups of wine on Passover, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi may be suggesting that we focus our Passover celebration not on the miraculous events of the Passover of old, but the ordinary events of every day freedom, as we are familiar with in the Joseph story, and as we read about in Megillat Esther, to add relevance to the Passover celebration in the post-Hurban era.

Clearly, the changing emphasis and nuances over time between Purim and Passover have formed the basis for reimagining and recreating both holidays in light of the circumstances in which the Rabbis found themselves. Were holidays intended only to celebrate the miraculous, as in the year of the original Exodus, our celebration would perhaps be valid, but of limited relevance in the world that we know today. By creating new holidays, and re-imagining existing ones as an opportunity to see the hand of God, even without “overt miracles, signs, and wonders,” the Rabbis provided Judaism and Jews with a way to express thanksgiving to Hashem even in a world where His presence is often obscured.


[1]Rosh Hashanah 19b.

[2] Yoma 29a. Rabbi Asi said: Why was Esther likened to the dawn? It is to tell you: Just as the dawn is the conclusion of the entire night, so too, Esther was the conclusion of all miracles performed for the entire Jewish people.

[3] See Pesahim 30b and Mesorat ha-Shas ad loc.

[4] Maccabees II is generally dated to around 100 BCE, which may be influenced by the Sadducean descendants of the Hasmoneans.

[5] That Hanukkah is patterned after Sukkot would answer the famous question of the Beit Yosef as to the reason for an 8-day holiday of Hanukkah if the miracle lasted only 7 days. According to the Book of Maccabees, Hanukkah was established for 8 days, not because of the miracle, but specifically to parallel the 8-day holiday of Sukkot.

[6] Interestingly, the Book of Maccabees asserts that the holiday practice was to take the four species on Hanukkah. Even if one rejects this assertion, it highlights the idea that the practice of the new holiday ought to be patterned off the existing holiday.

[7] See the contrasting view of Pri Hadash who extends this obligation to all holidays.

[8] Pesahim 6b.

[9] Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:3 See comment of Rabbi Ovadiah Bartenura ad loc.

[10] Pesahim 99b, Rashbam ad loc. quoting Bereishit Rabbah 88.

[11] Mishneh Torah: Hilkhot Megillah 2:15.

[12] Mishneh Torah: Hilkhot Megillah 2:15.

[13] Interestingly, Yerushalmi does not mention that the custom is within 30 days prior to the holiday. In fact, the context of the Talmud is that residents who have resided in the city for 12 months have the right to demand certain benefits, including wheat for matzah.

[14] The suggestion that matanot le-evyonim is connected to Passover practices, seems to relate to debate in Aharonim as to whether a poor man provides matanot le-evyonim:

  1. Taz Orah Hayyim 744: “Even a poor man that is supported from public funds must give matanot le-evyonim, just as [he must expend funds] for the 4 cups of wine on Passover, unlike other acts of charity.”
  2. Pri Hadash objects to the opinion of Taz, finding no reason for a poor man to be obligated in matanot le-evyonim.

While his opinion is rejected by the Pri Hadash, the Taz highlights the telling comparisons between the Rabbinic decrees on Purim and Passover.

[15] Mishneh Torah: Hilkhot Hametz U-Matzah 7:1-3.

[16] The Hida suggests that not only the Passover theme is incorporated into Purim, but all the holidays are incorporated in Purim: the name “Purim” can be seen as an acronym for Pesah V-Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Matan Torah. The holiday has themes of death to life like Passover, decrees like Rosh Hashanah, fasting like Yom Kippur, accepting the Torah like Shavuot, and many non-Jews becoming Jewish like Sukkot.

[17] The Kaufmann Manuscript (known as MS A50 or Codex Kaufmann) dates from the 10th or 11th century. Its name derives from the collector, David Kaufmann and was acquired in 1896. Additional analysis of these two versions of the Mishnah can be found in Nishmat Ha-Mishnah by Rav Yakov Nagen, beginning at page 164.

[18] See Gilles Gerleman, “Esther” for a discussion of the comparisons between the Joseph story and the Esther story and see Laniak’s article on “Esther’s Volkcentrism,” both located in The Book of Esther in Modern Research.

[19] See the Penei Moshe on Talmud Yerushalmi ad loc.

[20] An additional halakhic anomaly is the fact that women are included in the mitzvah – There are three mitzvot d-rabbanan in which women are required to participate because “they too were included in the miracle”. Indeed, there are only three instances where the Gemara says this (Megillah, Hanukkah, and the Four Cups of Wine). Clearly, Hazal associate this mitzvah with respect to Passover, together with the clearly Rabbinic holidays of Purim and Hanukkah.

 

Shimon Laufer
Shimon Laufer is a passionate life-long learner, who has studied and taught Talmud, Tanakh, and Jewish Thought for over 30 years. He received his Semicha from RIETS, and is a graduate of the Bernard Revel Graduate School and the Fordham University School of Law. He is also the founder and CEO of Promenade Senior Living, a New York based seniors housing and services company. He welcomes comments and questions and can be reached at Slaufer@PromenadeManagement.com.