I like Purim. I really do. I just hate going to shul to hear the megilla on Purim evening. I can’t take the noise. Kids bring firecrackers and cap guns and things that go “bang”. Their parents bring tactical nuclear weapons and graggers that must have been designed in the bowels of hell. And it’s not only the noise. The name “Haman” appears fifty-four times in the megilla. Assuming that the congregation erupts for thirty seconds each time they hear “Haman”, twenty-seven more minutes are being tacked on to the megilla reading. And remember that we’ve been fasting all day. I’d try looking for a quicker and quieter minyan but then we’d lose the family aspect of going to shul together, and Purim is most definitely a family-oriented holiday. Last but not least, gragger-mania leads to a halachic problem: a person is required to hear every word of the megilla reading, and with the background noise this is more often than not an exercise in futility.

What can we do to extricate ourselves from this imbroglio? We can’t simply ban noisemaking. Blotting out Haman’s name is a firmly-entrenched custom[1]. To this end, many have looked for ways to reduce the number of times that graggers are sounded. The Ben Ish Chai rules that “feet are stamped” only the first and last times the name Haman is read. In some congregations graggers are sounded only when Haman’s full name appears: “Haman the son of Ham’data the Aggagite”.

In others, graggers are limited to instances where Haman has an adjective appended to his name, such as [Esther 7:6] “This evil Haman”. The yishuv of Hoshaya, in the lower Galilee, has banned noiseaking for all references to Haman in the fifth and sixth chapters of the megilla[2]. This aids in maintaining the storyline and also removes twenty-one instances of Haman.

The congregation of Trnava[3] in Slovakia had a custom to make noise only for the ten sons of Haman. What is the rationale for this custom? And speaking about the ten sons of Haman, it should be noted that the phrase “aseret bnei Haman” – “the ten sons of Haman” – is a classic example of what I call a “gratuitous Haman”, meaning a usage of the name Haman that seems to appear for the sole purpose of triggering a gragger earthquake.

In the ninth chapter of the megilla we read of the battle between the Persian Jews versus their would-be killers [Esther 9:6-10]: “In Shushan the capital the Jews slew and destroyed five hundred men, including Parshandata… and Vayezata, Haman’s ten sons”. After King Achashverosh hears the casualty numbers he tells Queen Esther [Esther 9:12] “In Shushan the capital the Jews slew and destroyed five hundred men, and Haman’s ten sons”. Esther replies [Esther 9:13] “If it please the king, let tomorrow be granted to the Jews to do as today’s decree and let them hang Haman’s ten sons on the gallows”. Finally, the King implements his wife’s orders [Ester 9:14] “The king ordered that it be done so, and a decree was given in Shushan, and they hanged Haman’s ten sons”. The phrase “Haman’s ten sons” is repeated four times in five verses. Why?

The first step in a solution is noticing that the megilla does not use the term “Asara bnei Haman” but, rather, “Aseret bnei Haman”. “Asara” is the cardinal “ten”. “Aseret” means “a complete set of ten[4]”. In other words, all ten of Haman’s sons were killed and publically hung. While the Midrash and Rashi assert that that only ten of Haman’s sons were killed and others survived (the Midrash suggests that Haman had thirty sons and the Talmud in Tractate Gittin [57b] says that descendants of Haman’s sons taught Torah in Bnei Brak), the simple meaning of the verse is that Haman had only ten sons who were all killed.

Before continuing, let’s ask a seemingly irrelevant question: On Purim, family and friends get together for the Purim Se’uda, a large meal usually accompanied by large amounts of intoxicating beverages. In fact, our Sages tell us that there is a positive commandment on Purim to drink intoxicating beverages. On Chanukah we have no such festive meal. The halacha brought down in the Shulchan Aruch [Orach Chayim 670:1] states that there is no positive commandment to celebrate Chanukah with food and drink. The Chaffetz Chaim, writing in the Mishnah Berura, explains that the miracle of Chanukah was fundamentally different than the miracle of Purim. Haman’s goal was the physical destruction of the Jewish people [Esther 3:6]: “to destroy, kill, and eradicate all of the Jews… from the young to the elderly, women and children”. The miracle of Purim meant that the Jews could live another day. Their physical well-being was threatened and their physical well-being was restored. To celebrate this miracle, many of the Purim mitzvot, most prominently the Purim Seuda, are set to the theme of physical enjoyment. The miracle of Chanukah was entirely different. The Seleucids did not intend to physically wipe out the Jews. Their goal was to prevent the Jews from practicing ritual Judaism, which was anathema to Greek philosophy. They did this by forbidding circumcision and the study of Torah, and by converting Beit HaMikdash into a Greek Temple. The miracle of Chanukah enabled Jews to remain Jewish. Their spiritual well-being was threatened and their spiritual well-being was restored. This particular miracle is not celebrated with physical joy, but rather with spiritual joy.

Look again who Haman wanted to kill: “All the Jews: From the young to the elderly, women and children”[5]. Aren’t “the young and the elderly, women and children” part of “all the Jews”? The message that these words come to teach is that Haman set out to destroy not only the Jewish People but the Jewish family, as well. In Persia, “family” was not an ideal. Achashverosh kills his wife because she refuses to appear naked before him. In his search for a new wife, he does not differentiate between married and unmarried women. He strips women from their husbands and violates them at will. The Talmud in Tractate Ketubot [48a] criticizes the Persians for having marital relations while wearing clothes, as it prevents intimacy between husband and wife. Make no mistake: Haman did not want to kill the Jews to take revenge upon one Jew named Mordechai who refused him the honour he felt he deserved. Haman was an anti-Semite. He hated all Jews and longed for their destruction. He tells Achashverosh that [Esther 3:8] “Their laws differ from [those of] other people and they do not keep the king’s laws”. Jews are different. Jewish families walking down the street with their ten children in tow made him furious. These people would raise yet another generation of Jews. They all had to be destroyed.

The miracle of Purim ensured not only the survival of the Jewish People but our perpetuation, as well. The family was threatened and the family was restored. For this reason Purim is a family-oriented holiday. Men, women, and children are required to hear the megilla and so the entire family goes to shul together to face the noise. Fathers and their children drive around giving Shaloch Manot to friends and neighbours. And the larger family gathers together to eat a meal of celebration and a glass of schnapps.

Things work in both directions – mida k’neged mida. It was not enough that Haman was punished. It was critical that his family be wiped out just as he had planned for the Jews. And so his wife, Zeresh, disappears. The megilla repeatedly reminds us that all ten of Haman’s children were hung and remained hanging for all to see. Each time we hear their names we blot out. Because if it is either us or them, than let it be them.

Shabbat Shalom and a freilich Purim,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5775

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Nechemiah Uriel ben Tzippora Hadara and Moshe Dov ben Malka

[1] There are shuls that have banned all sorts of noise. One of these, not surprisingly, is in London. In 1783, a riot broke out in the Central Sephardic Synagogue in London when some congregants refused orders and made noise when Haman’s name was recited. The police were called and the congregants were removed from the premises.

[2] I assume that violators are summarily hung.

[3] Jews lived in Trnava until 1539 when they were expelled as a result of a blood libel. It wasn’t until 1717 that they could even pass through the town on their way from Point A to Point B. Jews repopulated the town in the late 1800’s, and all were exterminated in the Holocausts.

[4] The eight days of Chanukah are called “Shmonat y’mei Chanukah” and not “Shmone y’mei Chanukah”.

[5] This phrase is repeated multiple times in the megilla.