Our Purim Seudah (Meal) 2020 (5780) at Shabbos House had a great vibe and many students shared meaningful things. Spring break around the corner, midterms underway, Coronavirus in the air, but we did have a beautiful Seudah. Here’s tidbits of what we remember (let us know if we missed anyone or anything) in no particular order. 


There’s this interesting thing about the Megillah, that even though it is one of the 24 Books of the Bible, G-d’s name isn’t mentioned even once, which is very unusual for a biblical book. But G-d’s hand is really all over the story, albeit in a hidden behind-the-scenes kind of way. There’s a great message here for us: As we go through life it is important to remember that even when we don’t see G-d and it may not be self-evident, we should look out for G-d hidden within our everyday lives.


Something I noticed this year at Megillah is how the reading seamlessly transitions back and forth between the occasional saddest trope (cantilation song) used for Eicha (Book of Lamentations, read on Tisha B’Av) back to the vibrant, bold and upbeat Megillah trope. There’s no hesitation, no hiccup, it goes straight from one into the other. Life has its ups and downs of course, but this can teach us how quickly we can rise back up, get back into things, it recognizes that there are sad parts, worrisome parts of the story, but it doesn’t let us wallow in misery or sadness for too long. 


We were tabling for Purim in the Campus Center and in the lull between people Rabbi Mendel and I learned an interesting thing about Purim – it’s all about Reveal the Concealed. Esther’s identity was hidden, G-d’s name is not mentioned, even a Hamantasch has much of its filling hidden within the folds of dough. It’s really cool that you see this in the title: “Megillat Esther” itself. Megillah which literally means scroll is closely related to the word Giluy which is Hebrew for reveal or revelation and Esther, while that was her name, is related to the Hebrew word Hester which means concealment. I liked this a lot, and thought about it all week. Today I was down at Kosher Dining and I saw one of the Hamantaschen was really closed up, you couldn’t see the filling at all. When I specifically chose that Hamantach, Mrs. B. wondered, why that one? You can’t even see what’s in it? So I explained the whole reveal-conceal vurt and how this particular Hamantasch exemplifies it! 


In the beginning of the story, Esther keeps her identity a secret. She doesn’t tell the king that she’s Jewish. But then she realizes that if she doesn’t stand up for herself, and be clear and open about who she is, it won’t end well. So she musters up the courage to do that, and becomes the heroine of the Purim story, saving all of her people. I feel that the same switch happened in my life. In the beginning I was afraid to talk about my disabilities, I didn’t want to call attention to it, I didn’t want to highlight how I was different. But as I grew older I began to realize that unless I was open and clear about who I am, and proud of what I stand for, there are people out there who will take away resources and opportunities from us. They may misunderstand us if we don’t explain ourselves and advocate for what we need. So like Esther’s switch, I also made that switch, and I encourage all of you to do the same and be proud of who you are and what you stand up for. 


If I were to ask everyone in this room to write down injustices in the world, past and present, you would be able to come up with a list. This is an obvious thing, unfortunately and we all recognize it in our world and in our lives. That’s why I like the Purim story because it is a story about addressing an injustice, standing up for a minority under threat, not letting a people get bullied around. 


I especially related to the fact that Esther was an orphan and was taken in and raised by extended family, Mordechai her uncle. That’s like my story, too, having been raised by extended family because I have neither immediate parents. And thanks to that upbringing, Esther did very well for herself! 


My favorite single line of the Megillah story is the start of Chapter 6, where the king can’t sleep and asks for a book. I can relate to that. That’s exactly what I do when I can’t sleep! I know this isn’t related to the main theme of the Megillah, but hey, it’s a good message: Go read books! 


Aaron K. turned to a few fellow UAlbany students who had been with him at the Frisch High School in NJ and asked them if they remember one year for Purim when half a class dressed up as bananas? 

Rabbi Mendel couldn’t let that just slide by as memory, so he asked if they had ideas of lessons to be learned from bananas and the significance of such a costume:

Issac Z. said: Bananas don’t grow alone. You might eat them alone as single bananas but they grow in bunches. People, too, grow as people, best when they are with others in a good bunch.

James M. said: Bananas, like people, have insides and outsides. The main thing is what’s inside. You peel away the outside, you throw that part out, and focus on enjoying the inside. 



One of the famous lines about Purim is the Talmudic statement that you’re supposed to drink on Purim until you don’t know the difference between Mordechai and Haman, the hero and villain of the Purim story. But wait, is that right? Why is that an ideal? What’s the goal in being morally confused? My cumulative 3 months of Chabad Yeshiva education taught me this: Of course we ought to know the difference between Mordechai and Haman. But the goal is that it should become more than just knowledge. It shouldn’t remain merely information. The goal to reach levels higher than knowledge, to know that difference in ways that knowing can’t know. The difference will still be there, of course, but we will connect with it way beyond just knowing the difference. 


Purim has 4 practical Mitzvot, observances, good deeds. #1 hear the Megillah night and day. #2 give gifts of food to one another. #3 give charity to the poor. #4 eat a festive meal. Don’t forget to do all these 4 things on Purim. Happy Purim! 


I’m a math person and I like to think in numbers and patterns. I noticed that Purim has 4 Mitzvot, and the number 4 is significant at Passover as well: four questions, four sons, four cups, four expressions of redemption. Four is a cool number because it works in a quadrant, it divides equally on its axis, giving each corner or square its share of the whole. 

TZEDAKAH – Rebecca W.

Of all the Mitzvot of Purim, and I love Purim and am having a great time with all of you, I think I love the Tzedakah charity part the best. We are at our best when we think of and reach out and help others, when we use whatever resources we have to be there for others who need it and can benefit. So while all of Purim is fun and great, I think the Tzedakah Mitzvah is the most special. 


I just want to say how happy I am to have found this Jewish campus community here at UAlbany. It’s a real blessing, it makes a difference in our lives, it is very meaningful to me. Our semester is ending abruptly now, but I hope we can come back to finish it, or if too late for that, then G-d willing, hopefully, to start again together next year. 


There’s a strange sentence near the end of the Megillah. It says that “Mordechai was liked by most of his brethren.” And the very last verse says “and Mordechai… spoke peace to all of his descendants.” I once heard an interesting commentary on this. Mordechai was a busy man, he was a Jewish leader and he was involved with Persian politics. He and Queen Esther saved the Jewish people from annihilation. So he accomplished big things. But sometimes busy people aren’t there as much for their own families, there’s too much going on outside the house, communal affairs keeps them from being home when their spouse and children need or expect them. I once met a descendant of the famous scholar and Rabbi, R’ Chaim Brisker who told me that this was an issue in their Rabbinic family and her parents were cognizant of this and made special efforts because of it. So this is one way to understand Mordechai being liked by most of his brethren, but not everyone. His communal involvement was hard on some people. But once the Purim story was over, Mordechai sought to make amends and was doing all he could “to speak peace to his (own) descendants.” Maybe not everyone sees it this way but this is one interpretation that I heard and I liked it.


Of course, my favorite character in the Purim story is Mordechai. I’m not knocking Queen Esther, of course, but Mordechai is my name! One of the things I like about Mordechai and relate to in my personal life is that he wore different hats and played different roles. He was a Jewish leader and a Rabbi, but he was also involved in government and politics and “sat at the king’s gate” which was an important position at the time. I think we all can relate to this because we wear different hats ourselves. We are Jewish students and part of this community, some of us are Jewish leaders on boards of Jewish student groups, but we’re also students at UAlbany, it’s a secular university and a state school, and many of us are involved in other clubs from chess to chemistry, sports or fraternities or whatnot. Mordechai was able to balance all that, and so can we! 


I have fond Purim memories of all of us, my brothers and sister, back when we were very young, all of us under 10, we’d go around and deliver Mishloach Manot (the Purim food packages) around our neighborhood in the Five Towns. We were all dressed up in costume, some years I think we all had matching or themed outfits, and it was a lot of fun, a lot of nosh, and a great feeling of generosity, graciousness, neighborliness and community. 


My Purim carnival booth this year was the good ‘ol Fluff and Chips that I remember from my school days Purim Carnivals. I brought that back. But here’s one thing I know now that I didn’t think of back then: there’s a message! Like it or not, life is filled with all kinds of fluff, but we have to be able to sort through all of that and count our chips, recognize our blessings, know what really matters and not let it all get lost in the fluff. Priorities! 


One thing nice about this Purim meal is how we are all gathered here in a festive way and it’s not even Shabbos! I like that. I have lots of conflicts between my schoolwork and my jobs, but I hope to try to come to more events during the week and get some of the non-Shabbos communal feel and experience here at Shabbos House.


Purim is one of those holidays that brings people out, it engages them. Some people go daven all the time, others go when they can. I think even if you can’t or don’t daven or go to Shul all the time, it is still meaningful and important when you do. Each Mitzvah stands alone, each good deed has benefit, whether you do it all the time or just at certain times. Some people relate a lot to certain Mitzvot and those observances are special for them. And so whenever the time, whichever the Mitzvah, no matter the duration or frequency, just do it! 


Purim has some quieter characters that aren’t as famous as Mordechai and Esther but they do play important roles and they teach us a lesson. Charvonah for example. It’s not even clear whose side he was on. Some say he was originally on Haman’s team and that makes him a bad guy. But when the king blew his top at Haman in anger during Queen Esther’s wine meal, Charvonah was the one to point out the gallows that Haman planned to hang Mordechai. That was an important and decisive move, just at the right time. Because if Charvona hadn’t spoken up just then there’s a possibility the king would have calmed down, Haman would have wormed his way back into the king’s good graces and the Jews would have still been in jeopardy. So we are grateful to Charvona for that one single act, that sentence or two that he spoke. He even gets mentioned in the classic Purim song after the Megillah. I think this is a Chabad-esque style thing to appreciate and value every single good act, each Mitzvah, no matter how few other Mitzvot that person may have done. Don’t underestimate people, or the value of their actions!

Speaking of the one person theme. I enjoy learning Tanach (the books of Prophets and the stories of the Hebrew Bible, a classic source of Jewish history during that time period). It is interesting that Haman, who descended from Amalek (the tribe that hated Jews and sought to destroy them) isn’t called an Amalakite in the Megillah. Instead he is called “HaAggagi” which means a descendant of Aggag, an Amalakite king that King Saul spared a couple hundred years earlier. Why the trace back to Aggag? Again, this teaches us the (negative) value of a single person. Saul spared Aggag and a Haman came out of that. One person has the potential to change the world. As a senior in college, it’s important to realize the importance our actions and behaviors now have on the future. Saul’s dealing with Agag had an impact down the road, generations later, with Haman in the Purim story. At college the generations are more compact, we have a few years here to impact the community, leave a legacy, role model the campus community to continue on after us. Usually I argue with Rabbi Mendel about the interchangeable parts theory, students step right up to fill the voids that graduating seniors leave, but this message runs against my argument: Our actions do leave an imprint, our choices made a difference and shape the future story. 

The Megillah mentions two courtiers of the Persian King Achashvairosh, Bigson and Teresh, who plotted to kill the king and Mordechai uncovered that plot and saved the king’s life. Here’s some interesting digging I did on these two, a mix of of my Talmud Megillah studies with my old High School Rabbi and my archaeology major here at UAlbany: These two courtier were from Tarshish, a far away country from Persia, likely modern Spain. Why did he hire folks from so far away? He must have been paranoid, he was afraid of the locals (which is one reason he threw that 18o-day feast) so he hired out from afar. And even these guys turned out to plot against his life! This shows how precarious the situation was, how fickle the king was. While Esther and Mordechai had to deal with him on the physical end they couldn’t rely on him, he was incredibly unpredictable and unreliable, so all the more they had to put their trust in G-d! 

Mordechai and Esther handled the Purim story on two levels, two tracks, the spiritual and the physical. When hearing of the decree his first reflex and response was to don sackcloth and gather the Jews in prayer. Esther did the same. While she was preparing to go to the king, she first insisted that Mordechai gather the Jews in fasting with prayer and repentance. But they didn’t only do spiritual things. They also dealt with the issue in physical practical ways, utilizing earthly means and methods. Similarly, when we are faced with challenges in our own lives, personally or communally, we have to deal with it on both levels, both tracks. Ignoring either the physical or the spiritual approaches won’t do it. We need both. 


The first time the title “Jew” appears is in the Megillah where it appears a lot, and Mordechai’s title is “Mordechai haYehudi” or Mordechai the Jew. This is significant because the Megillah was written in the period between the two Jerusalem Temples, during a time of destruction and while Jews were living in a foreign land. You’d think that’s when Jews would lie low, blend in, assimilate? No! Mordechai was a proud Jew, who wouldn’t bow or kneel to Haman, and was known for just that, for being a Jew. This is an important message about Jewish pride in our times, here in America. 

One of Haman’s main arguments against the Jews was their particularism. “There’s that one nation… they are different, their laws are different.” You’d think that Esther’s counter-arguments to the king would address that? They did not. On the contrary, Esther did not take a universalistic humanitarian approach and instead empathized exactly that point, describing “my people and my nation” in her appeal to the king. 

It was quoted before, how the end of the Megillah describes “Mordechai was liked by most of his brethren.” Most!? Who didn’t like Mordechai? The Talmud explains that a portion of his colleagues in the Sanhedrin (high Jewish court and scholarly leadership) distanced themselves from him because of his preoccupation with worldly, government and communal affairs. These others Rabbis felt that his scholarship and piety would suffer as a result.  But most Rabbis stuck with him, did they not? The Rebbe explains their argument using a slight variation in wording between the Jerusalem (an earlier version) and Babylonian (the classic) Talmuds. Both have the same teaching that one who is occupied with communal affairs (for the sake of the community) their learning is — and here is the difference. One version says their learning is protected (i.e. maintained, but no further growth) and one says that their learning is blessed (not only maintained but also grows!) and the Rabbis who stuck with him, and Mordechai himself was of the opinion that those occupied in communal affairs and helping others, their learning is blessed and grows!