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    Fancy dress on Purim

    February 21st, 2021

    Nobody is certain where the idea of fancy dress on Purim began.

    There is a 15th century responsum from Rav Yehudah Mintz of Italy who says there is no prohibition on men wearing women’s attire on Purim because everyone knows it is for fun and has no sexual overtones. Rav Moshe Isserles quotes this responsum in his glosses to the Shulchan Aruch.

    Some historians suggest that Purim fancy dress was an imitation of the Roman carnival which was held just before Lent. People took part in street parades wearing fancy dress and masks.

    But this doesn’t necessarily explain our Purim custom. The Apter Rebbe, known as the Ohev Yisrael, acknowledges that the fancy dress minhag existed amongst Jews and was a form of mockery of the European norms that caused Jews such grief.

    The Si’ach Yitzchak (Rav Yitzchak Weiss) thought that disguising oneself echoes the wicked Haman, who pretended to the king that he was genuinely concerned for the stability of the regime. The Talmud (Megillah 12a) points out that things often have hidden motives. However, many centuries elapsed between the time of the Talmud and the medieval adoption of the fancy dress custom.

    There may be an explanation in a medieval Tosafot in Rosh HaShanah 3a which says that Haman’s ancestors the Amalekites tried to defeat Israel by changing their voices and their clothing. A piyyut (poem) for the Shabbat before Purim actually says Kesut velashon shinah – “he (Amalek) changed his voice and his clothing”.

    How can we allow ourselves to mimic our enemies, the Amalekites and the wicked Haman? Simply because we see the funny side in our enemies being brought low despite all their pretensions.

    (This article is based on an essay written by Rabbi Yair Hoffman in 2010)

    People of copper, people of gold – T’tzavveh

    February 21st, 2021

    Parashat T’tzavveh focusses on the Sanctuary and its appurtenances.

    The Sanctuary vessels were variegated and each had its own function. The Lubavitcher Rebbe used to compare them to human beings. Just as each Temple vessel had its own purpose, so each human being has a personal, unique contribution to make to the world.

    None is a clone of the other. Some are good at learning: others are good at other things. Some are people of copper: some are people of gold.

    That doesn’t mean that some are more valuable and others more worthless. It means that the community is not all stamped out on the same cookie cutters, each with the same appearance or identical personality.

    Being human has many possibilities, and nobody should feel bad if they are not like other people.

    What did they do with Moses? – T’tzavveh

    February 21st, 2021

    The first word in the parashah is v’attah – “and you”. Who is the “you”?

    The context makes it clear that it is Moses – but he isn’t named, and in fact nowhere in the sidra do we encounter his name. He is certainly there, just as God is certainly there throughout the Megillah which we read this week on Purim.

    But with God there is a suggestion that comes from Him Himself. In rabbinic literature He even tells the Jewish people to leave out His name: “Let them forget Me”, He says… but the full sentence is, “Let them forget Me but keep My Torah”.

    In regard to Moses we might echo the Divine statement – leave out the actual name of Moses if you must, but don’t leave out the commandments which he received from the Almighty Lawgiver.

    Choshen Mishpat – T’tzavveh

    February 21st, 2021

    One of the volumes of the Code of Jewish Law is Choshen Mishpat, which deals with how to administer a legal system.

    The name comes from the Torah reading this week, where it says (Ex. 28:15), “Let them make Me a breastplate of judgment” – v’asita choshen mishpat. Rashi says that the word “judgment” is used because it atones for perversions of justice.

    Part of the breastplate is the urim and tummim, “the lights and ideals”, since through them a truly just (i.e. ideal) decision is clarified (Num. 27:21).

    The choshen is to be ma’aseh choshev, “the work of a skilled craftsman”. Nothing important should be done in a slipshod or haphazard way.

    “Good enough” is never good enough. If something is worth doing, it is worth doing it fully and properly. It takes more effort, but otherwise the task can be completely spoilt.

    No holy places – T’rumah

    February 14th, 2021

    The most famous sentence in the sidra is HaShem’s command, “Let them make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst” (Ex. 25:8).

    Depiction of the Mishkan, Foster Bible Pictures, 1897

    Everybody knows the rabbinic commentary that says though HaShem wants a sanctuary His intention is to dwell amongst the people.

    The building would be called a sanctuary, a mikdash, but it would only be holy so long as the people who assembled there were holy. The Divine Presence was not in a building but in the builders.

    In the same way we have holy days but it is not the days as such which are holy but the people who observe them.

    In modern times when, Baruch HaShem, we have Jerusalem, what is holy is not the city but the people. We attach a great fanfare to the so-called holy sites, but they are only holy when people come there and take part in holy activities.

    We say that a Jewish home is mikdash me’at, a minor sanctuary, but even though a Jewish home is said to be sacred, what really is sacred is the family that has a Jewish heart, mind and soul.