Raz Chen

The Real Meaning of Purim

This totally counts as a Purim costume if I'm pretending to be a spy.
This totally counts as a Purim costume if I'm pretending to be a spy.

I only intended to write the one Purim post yesterday. Even though I wrote about how to do it right, I still regarded it as a great holiday for the kids. I wasn’t planning on making a big deal out of it this year when I’m so busy. 

This was before I learned the real meaning of the holiday. My co-writer and I were talking about the final edits to the first article, and she asked what my plans for Purim were.  “It’s your holiday to celebrate. It’s the day to celebrate strong and smart Jewish women,” I said. “So, you should enjoy it.”

“Actually, the miracle of Purim was due to people like you,” my co-writer said. Like any good lawyer, she presented her opening argument of Purim. She opened up the Megillah on her phone and began reading the eighth chapter of Megillat Esther. 

As the text states, the King sends out a decree that “the Jews who are in every city, had the right to assemble and to protect themselves, and to destroy,” anyone who came to attack them.

“That would only work if the Jews were warriors who knew how to fight. Otherwise, they would have been slaughtered,” my co-writer noted. 

Instead, as she read, they assembled and protected themselves, and were ready to fight fiercely. So mighty were our Jewish ancestors that as the Ninth chapter states “no one stood up before them, for their fear had fallen upon all the peoples.”

“The miracle of Purim came from the combat instructors who taught the Jewish people how to fight,” my co-writer explained, proving that her third major in Jewish Studies had not just been in vain as her parents had feared. “Because they were trained and ready, they could conquer their enemies. We didn’t get hail or wild beasts to fight our battles. We had to strap on our weapons and go from civilians to warriors.”  

Now, that was a theory I liked. In fact, it sounded like home in Israel. When a Tzav Shmoneh (Order 8) goes out, civilians go from professionals to soldiers in hours. They pull on their uniforms, load up their goal, grab their guns, and stand ready to defend the country. As one of the instructors, I was truly part of the miracle today, and I was carrying on the mission of those ancient instructors who taught the Jews of Judea and Persia to fight. 

My co-writer also taught me that the 13th of Adar also celebrated Yom HaNicanor, when a few centuries later, the Judeans would again become warriors and defend their right to self-determination in the story we now call Hannukah. 

I admit when I got off the phone, I took a moment to smile. “I’m part of the miracle of Purim,” I thought. I could not be more honored. Now, I would definitely take the time to celebrate. 

Unfortunately, my next thought was that I had so much more work to do. Unlike in Israel, the Jewish community in the United States needs to work harder to learn the skills of self-protection. While the Jews of Shushan then and the Jews of Israel now can protect themselves, Jews here still have a lot to learn. 

In my last article, I talked about finding the true meaning of Purim. Well, now I got to find it, due to having a really smart friend. Seriously, why don’t schools teach this stuff more?

This holiday would be so much more enriching if we had these ideas as part of the Purim Mitzvah? 

My co-writer and I only started talking about this Friday morning, so we are still ironing out details, but Purim definitely needs an additional update. 

Our first big idea is that the Seuda of Purim should begin with a Seder Purim focusing on self-defense and safety training. Every family, every school, and every synagogue should take the time to do as our ancestors did and learn how to protect ourselves. 

What would go into the curriculum? There is so much that can be offered. The community can have bully-proof classes for kids. There can be seminars on safety on topics like building security, evacuation procedures, domestic violence prevention, and defense against hate crimes, as well as historical presentations on Jewish combatants like Ben Bril, Daniel Mendoza, and of course, Imi Lichtenfeld. 

These lectures definitely should not be dry. They can and must be fun and interactive and express the fun of Purim. We can “reverse” by learning how to take on the mindset of our enemies, and how to thwart them. Costumes and props and noisemakers are definitely useful now! We can study the skills through enjoyable games that not only teach but build bonds of friendships. Plus, it will make the Purim feast so much more meaningful and delicious, as a reward for truly celebrating the spirit of what our ancestors fought for. 

Purim can be so much more than masking ourselves as heroes. It can become a holiday where we become heroes and truly live out the story. 

About the Author
Raz Chen is an expert in Krav Maga, teaching in New York City, with multiple certifications from the Sports Academy in Israel, and Wingate Institute. A former special operations infantry combatant and Senior military Krav Maga instructor, Raz taught over 10,000 soldiers, including top special forces counter-terrorism and US Marines. He currently teaches classes and seminars for the army, police, and civilians on topics like counter-terrorism, rape prevention, Krav Maga instructor certification, Krav Maga combat, and fitness. He is the creator of AVIIR, a company dedicated to functional training, protection, regeneration, and longevity. Credit and gratitude to his co-writer and senior student Elke Weiss, whose research, writing, and editing are instrumental to this column and all my other writings.
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