Purim: Postscripts

By Jonathan Berkowitz


Postscript 1: Purim Wordplay

If you remove the letter U from Purim it spells “prim.” If you add the letter E to Purim and rearrange, it spells “impure.” The joy of Purim is its excesses of food, drink, satire, and parody. We certainly don’t act prim, but we do stop before we get too impure.

The villain, Haman, is a descendant of Amalek whose name God promised would be blotted out; so we rattle our groggers to do just that. Haman is the embodiment of all that is evil, yet if you change the first A to a U, it becomes “human.” Does that mean all of us must be ever on guard not to lose our humanity with the seduction that evil can bring? Incidentally, have you ever counted how many times Haman’s name appears in the megillah? I have; it’s 54, the same as the number of parshayot in the annual cycle. Is that a joke or just a coincidence?

Postscript 2: Purim and Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras (literally “Fat Tuesday”, named for the custom of eating rich foods) is a Christian holiday that occurs around the same time as Purim. Is there a connection beyond the calendrical coincidence?

Mardi Gras is the last day before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Religiously, it is Shrove Tuesday, when Christians confess their sins and receive absolution (“shrove” is the past tense of “shrive” meaning “to confess”). Mardi Gras is a carnival, and in many respects, so is Purim.

Purim falls exactly one month before Pesach, which coincides with Easter (the Last Supper was a seder meal preceding Good Friday and Easter Sunday). So, the forty days of Lent usually begin about ten days before Purim.

As most carnivals do, Mardi Gras turns society upside down, psychologically. Its celebrations often promote members of the lower classes to be kings and queens for a day. The word “carnival” comes from two Latin words that mean, literally, “removal of meat”. Lent is a period in which Christians abstain from eating meat, once an exception to the cultural norm.

Purim also turns things upside down. The Jewish outsiders in Persia become part of the ruling class, and the native Persians are humbled. And when we celebrate, we are encouraged to act like a king or a queen.

While there are no theological connections between Mardi Gras and Purim, the two holidays help Christians and Jews recall the currents of human history.