Yaakov Green

Childish salvation: Purim reminds us to giggle

3rd graders in Maimonides School in Brookline, MA performing in the school's annual Purim Play. (courtesy)

I recently watched our school’s third grade masterful performance of the Purim story, an annual milestone at Maimonides School. They did a great job! Their lines were memorized, their costumes cute, and their stage directions well followed. So much growth and learning takes place through an authentic experience such as this performance. I fondly remember my own performances as a student at Maimonides, and how much they meant to me.

I wanted to share a notion that struck me as I enjoyed the performance. Besides the sense of pride I shared with the other parents and grandparents in the audience, along with the smiles and cellphone photos, I was struck by the importance of this moment – children demonstrating their mastery of the story of a Jewish holiday which is really the story of our Jewish nation.

The holiday of Purim feels connected to another major moment in Jewish history which we also celebrate with a holiday. Tradition links the Purim story to the story of Exodus, recounted every year at the Pesach seder, which culminated when our people were freed from bondage and became a nation at Mt. Sinai on Shavuot. Our sages of blessed memory teach us that on Purim we reaffirm our commitment to that which we had received and committed to previously – kimu ma she’kiblu kvar – linking the miracle of Purim with the experience of the newly-formed nation of Israel that left Egypt and gathered around the mountain for revelation.

The crescendo of the Pesach story is reached on Shavuot, and we link them through our counting of the Omer. This is the culmination of the story of our people being saved from imminent destruction, which we commemorate by reading aloud, together, the details of that story and experience. We are required to share the story with each generation and make sure it continues to feel alive and relevant.

This description should sound timely and familiar. Purim is, to my knowledge, the only other holiday where the essence of the day’s mitzvot is centered in reading the story of that day aloud from a script. When we share in telling the story of salvation through the haggadah, or in telling the story of salvation through the public chanting of Megillat Esther, these two moments resonate together within the Jewish calendar. Both holidays are linked with joy, with wine, and with storytelling.

However, one important difference struck me as I stood on D’Agnelli Court in the Fox Gymnasium and watched my son and his classmates teach the audience about Jewish salvation. On Pesach the obligation to tell and pass on the story is focused on the adult teaching the child. The haggadah is the quintessential accomplishment of the mitzvah of learning and teaching Torah. We engage our children and we, the previous generation, inspire them to ask questions and to become inspired by the moment and by G-d’s majesty.

But on Purim, there is a tonal change. The day feels more directed by the children. We see the customs and costumes of the day surrounding us. We hear the groggers and “boo’s” through the megillah’s reading. We watch the children perform plays that remind us grown-ups about levity and laughter, the elated feeling of having just been saved. We are taught by our children to remember what it feels like to giggle and revel in the joy of being protected and saved by the King of Kings. This time, it is the children who help the adults feel salvation and appreciate the holiday.

May this Purim holiday be one where our children’s laughter, costumes, innocent excitement and unbridled joy permeate us. May their example break through our slightly jaded hearts, which are often “too tired” or “too busy.”  May we all appreciate that we are still children – G-d’s children – so dressing up, playing with a grogger, laughing and living with joy are activities for us as well. Thank you to all our children, in third grade and in all grades, for reminding us grown-ups of the joy to be found in G-d’s salvation.

Chag Purim Sameach!

About the Author
Rabbi Yaakov Green is the Head of School, and an alumnus, of Maimonides School, a Modern Orthodox coed day school serving students from infants through 12th grade in Brookline, MA, where he lives with his wife Elisheva and their five children. Before coming to Maimonides, Yaakov has served as a school administrator for many years Dallas, TX, St. Louis, MO, and Boca Raton, FL. Yaakov holds a master's degree in education, concentrating in Ed. Tech. Bachelor’s degrees in English Literature and Political Science, and has participated as a cohort fellow in many educational programs in Harvard University, JTS Davidson School, and University of Missouri, St Louis. He spent several years developing innovative programs that have been implemented across North America, Israel, and Australia, in classrooms, camps, and conventions, synagogues and Sunday schools.
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