A Sweet Appreciation

Joshua Runyan

Depending on your frame of reference, any number of recent happenings are proof positive that we live in a topsy-turvy world. From the practically unfathomable victory of President Donald Trump to last weekend’s Academy Awards mix-up to a spate of JCC bomb threats and Jewish cemetery desecrations, one thing is for sure: Whatever world we thought we lived in, current events have a habit of proving that reality, our perception of it and our expectations of what it should be are rarely in sync.

Maybe that’s why every year, the Purim story — where we actually proclaim, v’nahafoch hu, that that which is a cause is actually an effect, that nothing is as it seems — seems so full of meaning. And perhaps that’s why its celebration of the hidden as opposed to the revealed is so welcome.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, the staff who works tirelessly to engage, inform and inspire thousands of Jewish Baltimore readers every week has taken advantage of these days before Purim — the holiday begins this year Saturday night, March 11 — to take an informal survey of the best hamantaschen that the community has to offer. Much like their testing of matzah ball soup last year, it was by no means a scientific study, but it was a joyous one.

Although our tradition ascribes various explanations to the custom of eating hamantaschen this time of year, the fruit-filled triangle cookie has long been associated with Haman, the villain of the Megillah. One Midrash notes that when Haman, in a moment of clarity, recognized the virtue of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, his strength immediately waned. (Tash can mean “weaken” in Hebrew.) So we eat these cookies in celebration of the weakening of our enemies.

What was it about Haman that made him so evil, other than of course his deep-seated hatred of the Jews? Pharaoh was just as loathsome, but it is Haman whose name we attempt to blot out as we read the Megillah. Might it be that he, perhaps more than any other figure, harbored the illusion that he alone could control destiny?

The fact is, control itself is an illusion, meaning that at the end of the day, it is God Himself who is in charge. That is as true when we recall the revealed miracles of Pesach as when we celebrate the hidden miracles of Purim. Forgetting that — or even thinking that we’ve got it all figured out — might well be the ultimate stumbling block, our modern-day enemy.

In this last week before Purim, let’s embrace the uncertainty of the present with the knowledge that, however appearances may argue otherwise, there are entire worlds we neither see nor understand. Such an appreciation can be as sweet as an oddly shaped cookie.


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