Michal Kohane

Purim: Moses & Esther making mishloach manot…

Once upon a time, when my children were younger and we lived where there were no hamantashen for Purim, already a week or two before the holiday, the whole house started to smell like a bakery and it seemed that the entire kitchen floor was a mixture of different fillings… on the other side of the room, there were bags of goodies, paper plates that would turn into decorated baskets, colored ribbons and cellophanes for packaging. On the eve of the holiday’s eve, the house would become a “conveyer belt” factory for preparing mishlochei manot, and the next evening, after everything was ready and we had already heard the megillah once, we would return home, load the car and drive around between the neighbors’ houses, running and leaving packages on doorsteps, hoping that people would wake up on Purim morning to find a surprise – a festive mishloach manot at the door.

The point is that the next day, we too would wake up on Purim morning to find mishlochei manot at our door that dear friends had left for us. And I remember once thinking to myself, what in the world are we doing? After all, while we’re struggling with all the preparations, all our friends are also doing the same… isn’t there something here that doesn’t make sense?

Mishloach manot seems like a strange mitzvah: after all, each of us can buy our own sweets, bake our own cookies, and sit at home and eat them to our heart’s content, thus putting a check mark on this day!

Let’s backtrack for a moment to the beginning of this holiday, and Haman’s complaint to Ahasuerus about the Jews:

There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; and it is not in Your Majesty’s interest to tolerate them. If it please Your Majesty, let an edict be drawn for their destruction, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the stewards for deposit in the royal treasury.” (Esther 3:8-9)

Haman is evil but stupid – he is not. His speech is sophisticated and persuasive. It moves from half-truths (a scattered and dispersed people “among all” the people of your kingdom…) to a lie (they don’t obey the king’s law), and continues with advice and temptations for which he was not asked (it’s not worth it for the king to keep them, as if it costs the king money to have a population that contributes to his kingdom, and the enticement of huge sums if he gets permission to “lose them” [translated here as their destruction, but Haman does not define to the king exactly what it means and what the king signs).

And yet, there is also a half-truth here, and that is the fact that the Jews are scattered and divided. Haman recognizes our weak point and wants to exploit it against us.

The Jews are really experiencing a very difficult and very new experience. So far, our entire existence is in the Land of Israel. All our intentions, all our purpose – is the Land. When the Children of Israel leave Egypt after exile and harsh and grueling slavery, all that stands before their eyes is to reach the land of the ancestors, where they will finally be able to be and live who they really are. Do we also have an existence outside Israel, not as slaves and handmaids, but as equal people among others? Maybe today it seems obvious to us, but then, during the exile and the destruction of the 1st Temple era? We had a bad and bitter experience with the Ten Tribes who were exiled about 140 years earlier, and until now it is not clear what happened to them. The “proof” that outside of Israel we have no existence is right in front of our eyes! Haman also understands that there is no such phenomenon of one nation that remains scattered among the other nations and can thus continue to exist. His “logical” proposal is that they should be “lost”.

The solution on the other hand, is offered by Esther, that is, the solution comes from a hidden place, not completely obvious (Esther from the word nistar, hidden): Go, gather all the Jews together  (4:16). That is, it’s true, the dispersion and separation is a source of trouble for us, but we have a remedy for that – “go gather together”, be together, do things for each other.

The sages managed to make Esther’s image a beloved one, the beautiful queen that every girl in the kindergarten wants to be like, but Esther comes with additional depth.

In terms of her biblical character, if we were to look for a parallel among the men in the Bible, we might be surprised to see that of all of them it is – Moses. Moses who grew up in the palace; who apparently is not concerned with the fate of the slaves, but who decides to tie his destiny with that of his people no matter what.

And Esther, who can hide in the palace, and look out with “compassion” on the fate of the Jews outside, with a shrug of the shoulder, ‘ah, what can I do now’… and it is true, the task is not easy at all. That’s why when Gd offers Moses to go to Pharaoh, Moses resists, and when Mordecai tells Esther that she must do something, it seems to her initially like a very bad idea.

But both of them, each from their place, get up and go, get up and do, against all odds.

When we are asked about Moses’ greatest quality; what is the most significant thing about him, the extraordinary, it is that he was “humble”. What does “humble” look like in action? We know that he fiercely resisted the Golden Calf, and even broke the Tablets; He stood up to Pharaoh, and Korah and the spies, so it seems that being humble does not mean being “a rug”, weak, calm, unresponsive, not angry… so what is it? What is the quality that makes the one who brought us out of Egypt such a successful leader? Is it because he is a talented and creative commentator, or maybe an army commander? Maybe a healer and life saver?? No, on the contrary: when Moshe doesn’t know something, he says he doesn’t know and goes to ask Gd, and this happens more than once, and we wonder: what did Gd find in him?? Look at him, he can’t do anything by himself! All he does is “simply” accept the Torah and… wait, wait… that’s it!


Perhaps we can explain this quality in another way: we trust that our Torah is the exact word of Gd only because we trust this ability of Moses to convey to us exactly what he received. He does not tell us what his opinion is and what he thinks about the last operation and how he knows more because he is this and that, and how he would have done it differently because he…. His greatness is the ability to convey the word of Gd without any ego, any interferences, to be in a real flow With Gd. This is the exodus from Egypt, the exit from a narrow and forced place to an open place of true freedom. This is redemption.

And Esther?

Our sages said that “anyone who says something in the name of the original sayer, brings redemption to the world” (Pirkei Avot 6,6). The word “redemption” may make us think of Moses, especially together with the ability to convey things in the name of the one who said them, after all, that is exactly what we just said he was so good at, except that the example that the Sages bring here is actually… Esther, as it is said “And Esther said to the king in the name of Mordecai” (Esther 2:22, appears in tractate Megillah 15:a). That is, when Esther told about Bigatan and Teresh and their plot to assassinate the king, she said it in Mordechai’s name. Later, when the king’s sleep wandered and he asked to bring the book of memories, he found it written that Mordechai was the one who told the king, and this is where all this unique rescue and redemption began.

Esther, like Moshe, does not bother to take credit for herself for the operation or the statement or… nothing in fact. She didn’t “been there” and didn’t “know before” and didn’t stand around waving titles and ranks and what not, and none of that. Her ability, an ability that seems to us to be nothing, ‘what has she already done’? is to put herself aside, when this is what ultimately led to this redemption, not very different from Moses!

Moses and Esther, Purim and Pesach, Adar and Nissan are related in many different ways.

On the surface, they seem like complete opposites: Purim comes at the end of our Biblical calendar year while Passover is at the beginning; Pesach starts us off as a nation, and Purim is towards the end of the Bible and that era in our history. Purim is in exile from which the people do not come out, while all of Pesach is aimed at Eretz Yisrael. Pesach is about birth, renewal, breakthrough, promise, looking ahead, while Purim deals with the difficulty in surviving after the terrible destruction of the 1st Temple. On Passover – Gd organizes our redemption. On Purim – his name is not even mentioned in the megillah.

But Purim and Passover are also deeply connected, even if surprisingly.

A careful reading reveals that most of the important events in the Scroll of Esther take place in Nisan, in Passover itself! The Midrash ponders how Esther could tell Mordechai that everyone should fast when it’s Seder night, and her answer to him, that if we don’t fast this time, there will be no people in the future to celebrate any holiday at all! Sort of – Purim guards Passover. In addition, according to tradition, Moses was born in the month of Adar. We are told that he was born circumcised, but had he had a brit, it would have been on… Purim.

The complexity of the relationship between these holidays is also reflected in their food: on Pesach we have a mitzvah to eat “alone”, everyone is required to eat matzah. Each family should bring a Passover offering, and then they will sit down to eat it. On Purim, the obligation is to get out of ourselves, to go see the other, to engage in mishloach manot, sending gifts, giving gifts to the orphans, giving half the shekel, and from that – feast and joy.

The message of Purim has always been critical and perhaps this year more than ever. We often think that if only everyone thought “like me”, everything would be fine. How do I get them to agree with me? Why don’t “they” see what “I” see? If only “they” weren’t “like that”, and would change to my liking, then… then there would be peace in the world! then I can really be happy!!

Purim does not cancel Pesach, of course, but comes to complete it, like a kid growing up. In its way it says, asks, begs us to get out of ourselves and go see – and hear – the other. The real joy, suggests Purim, is not about filling our own bellies, increasing and magnifying our justifications and egos, but rather, stepping aside and making room for someone else.

About the Author
Currently a "toshevet chozeret" in Israel, Rabbanit Michal Kohane, trained chaplain and educator, is a graduate of Yeshivat Maharat and teacher of Torah and Talmud in Israel and abroad, and soon, official tour guide in the Land of Israel. She holds several degrees in Jewish / Israel studies as well as a PsyD in organizational psychology, and has been a leader and educator for decades. Michal’s first novel, Hachug ("Extracurricular") was published in Israel by Steimatzky, and her weekly, mostly Torah, blog can be found at
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