This Purim Meal 2021 began earlier on Friday afternoon and went into Shabbat, with all present sharing various thoughts, messages and inspiration over the course of the meal interspersed with songs, good food and good times, and lots of conversation – and commentary (mostly) from Rabbi Mendel Rubin.

We’re going to try to remember the things that students shared (thanks also to Kiki M.) but obviously its based on the best we can remember… (if anyone has corrections/changes to their piece, please let me know, its easy to fix). 

The italics below is Mendel’s commentary on and in between things the students shared. 

James M:

Purim is a tale of two queens. Vashti is the queen who (for whatever selfish motives) refused to present herself and entertain at her husband’s wild & crude drunken party, and Esther was her replacement who ended up using her position to save the Jewish people from Haman’s evil plan. But in a way, (aside for all the Midrashic background of how cruel and abusive Vashti was) these two queens of the Purim story have something in common: they both had a fiercely independent streak. Vashti said no to his husband’s party and Esther said no to all the makeup and perfumery during the beauty contest. They both (each in their own way) stuck to what they wanted to do despite whatever pressures to do otherwise. This is a lesson for us: don’t let external pressures get to you, be the person you want to be/become. 

There’s a Chassidic expression/ideal/wish (in Yiddish) “Nisht Nispoel Veren Fun Velt!” not to be affected/effected by the world around us. Yes, yes, we must engage, we must be involved, but we can’t let it get to us, it shouldn’t define who we are or what we seek in life. 

Russel H:

Popping popcorn is an interesting thing because while all the kernels look the same, and are all sitting in the same oil, yet they don’t all pop at the same time. Each one goes pop-pop when it is the right time for that kernel. People, of course, are like those kernels of popcorn, each of us blossoms and goes pop-pop when it is the right time for us. 

There’s that saying life is a box of chocolates. Usually the chocolate box comes with a sheet of paper or chart that tells you what’s inside each of the differently shaped chocolates, but in life we don’t get the same paper, and you really don’t know how things will turn out and what you’re going to get. 

One last thing. The Jews felt kind of comfortable in Persia, and it was only when Haman came out of nowhere with his genocidal decree that the Jews woke up and felt their inner core identity. Sometimes its that feeling that there’s a crazy anti-Semite at your back that makes you wake up and really live. Hopefully we can get that sense of urgency and dedication without an actual threat. 

Love, love the popcorn and the chocolate messages! Russel’s last point is actually a Midrash, and it’s also a point made in the Rebbe’s last published Maamar (Chassidic discourse) “V’Atah Tetzaveh”. May we have and live with that motivation and urgency without the harsh reality, amen! 

Josh G:

Knock, knock! 
Who is there?
Vashti Who?
Vash-dee-Dishes and I’ll give you a Hamantasch!

This may be a joke, and Purim is certainly a good time for that, but one day have to tell you the “washing dishes is romantic” insight gleaned from Tanya chapter 25. We give and get a lot more than a Hamantasch when employing this method! 

Alex S:

There’s a Disney movie we watched as kids called “Meet the Robinsons” that had a great message of “Keep Looking Forward!” I think that’s an important message these days. Many of us had a tough first semester back during Covid, dealing with quarantine, some of us in multiple quarantine, all the restrictions and challenges… but the main thing is to keep looking forward. We may be in a dark tunnel, but there’s a light at the end of it, we may even start to get a glimpse of glimmer of it. Don’t get bogged down and dragged under by the past but keep working and looking forward instead. 

Ben F:

I’d like to take off on what Alex said. It’s something my father tells me a lot. We got to keep going upward, rise up, don’t look down and don’t look back. 

The NY State motto: Excelsior! (Latin for Ever Upward!) It’s on the seal of the state, its on the flag… and “Maalin BaKodesh” is a Talmudic expression for “in matters of holiness we must increase and never decrease”… Though Kiki says in some form of English it means looking for the woodchips or something… There’s also this story on about not looking down when climbing higher

Aaron K:

All this talk of keeping going forward and not looking back or down, reminds me of the classic Jewish song “Kol HaOlam Kulo” comparing the world to a narrow bridge and the main thing is not be be afraid at all. Just keep going! Don’t look down, don’t get scared, don’t get stuck, just keep going! If you get sidetracked, you might fall. 

Yes, that song! Everyone knows that song. But we once had a question – if you’re going out on a very narrow bridge. What’s the main concern? That you don’t fall off! Why does the song say the main thing is not to be afraid? (See scattered below, various students shared idea to help answer this).

There’s also another question about this song (for another time!) based on the Chabad perspective that the bridges/spiritual connections in our world are not narrow at all, on the contrary they are broad, they are many, why does the song speak of narrow bridges/connections? But that’s for another time. 

Jason F:

Mendel likes to say a lot that Purim is about “Reveal the Concealed.” That’s why Hashem’s name is not in the Megillah. That’s why we had the wrapped prize auction game last night. I’d like to take that from ancient Persia to here at UAlbany. Whenever we’re on campus and proud of our Jewishness, wearing a kippa or doing something Jewish, that’s revealing the concealed right there. Don’t let our Judaism get too hidden or forgotten. Gotta bring it out, open it up, use it and do it with pride! Like Mordechai in the Purim story…

Yes, Yes! Jason is right on track with the Baal Shem Tov teaching explaining the Mishna “one who reads the Megillah backwards has not fulfilled their obligation.” Why would anyone read the Megillah backwards anyways? The Baal Shem Tov explains it to mean backwards in time. He says the Mishna is cautioning us not to see Purim as an ancient story! Instead we need to see it in the context of UAlbany in 2021! 

Ariana K:

I love to ride horses, I did a lot of horseback riding. And yes, I did fall off the horse a couple of times, but you get up and get back on the horse and ride again. I think the message of the narrow bridge song is that you probably will fall off, but if you’re not afraid, you will fall off in a way that you can get back up and on it again. 

Like the Clipptity-Clop-Clop Niggun that we like to sing – get back on that horse! See this post about it… 

Shira S:

My grandmother had been through a lot these past few years. I called her earlier today and asked her how her day was, and she was cheerfully describing how she did this and that, all ordinary regular things, but it made me realize how one can be grateful and positive for many simple things we take for granted and how valuable such a healthy mindset is!

Shira said “grateful and positive” – its amazing how linked these two are. One affects and leads to the other!

Liron K: 

Last semester I was home, this semester I am back up here. Things worked out better than I expected. I agree it is important to keep a positive outlook and to look forward rather than look back, to see the good rather than dwell on the negative. 

Sophia-Evelyne N:

I’m part of the Emergency Preparedness major and one of our professors was describing a worst-day scenario and asked what we’d have ready to take at a moment’s notice and get out. What would we have ready in a bag? would we have such a bag ready? The purpose of being prepared is not to eliminate the possibility of bad things happening, but to increase our possibility and capacity to best respond and deal with it. It also helps us with resilience, rebounding and rebuilding going forward. So maybe the song’s focus on not being afraid is helping us deal with the fact we may fall off, and how to best deal with that. Because surviving even our worst day is better than the alternative. If we’re alive, we can rebuild. 

Shane M:

I played football middle school through high school. I remember one game where the other team’s coach said that I was a threat and put two guys on to take me. Sure it was harder, but you gotta keep going and just plow through. It’s like that in life, too, just keep pushing onward. Don’t let the obstacles in your way keep you back or pull you down. 

Gotta tell you one day about the Rebbe Maharash’s motto of “Lechatchila Ariber!” – there’s lots more to this but for starters here’s this 7th Night of Passover Crossing the Sea connection (see link – and link at that link). 

Isaac S:

Everyone has heard of Yom Kippur. It’s one of the holidays that most Jews still keep in some way. The biblical name for Yom Kippur is actually “Yom Kippurim”. The funny thing is that the Hebrew prefix “Kee” means like. So in a (non-literal) sense, the Torah seems to be telling us that Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar is a day like Purim. 

This makes you wonder: Yom Kippur is like Purim? The two couldn’t be more different! One is serious, the other joyful, one is a fast, the other is a feast. On one we pray all day, and the other is much more physical with gifts of food and charity and lots of festivity. Besides, Yom Kippur is biblical dating back to Sinai and Purim comes much later in Jewish history.

You might say that Yom Kippur is more spiritual and Purim more physical. And that’s the point. They are two opposite ways of expressing our deep commitment and connection to G-d – one by fasting and praying and rising above the physical, and the other by seeking and finding (Jason’s reveal the conceal!) spiritual within the physical, by engaging with it and celebrating with it. 

This is very Baal Shem Tov-esque! Involving the physical instead of fighting it. Fits the “Dirah B’Tachtonim” vision, another great Chassidic concept we’ll have to talk more about another time!

Orly M:

Earlier today I happened to hear a Daf Yomi shiur on tractate Pesachim (which they are now studying) page 97. Its not something I usually study, but I did listen to this lesson today. It was all about the Paschal Lamb that was an annual offering in biblical and Temple times. It reminded me of the annual rites, and how these rituals mark time. It made me think of where we were a year ago, how Purim was our last event, and all that transpired this past year. But more than anything else, I feel the rituals of the passage of time teaches us to focus on the here and now moment. Where we are now. What we are doing now. Not to dwell on the past, and not to anxiously anticipate the future but just to focus on what obligations and opportunities do I have now, what can I experience and do today?

Ah, Orly’s take is a little different than Alex’s “looking forward”. It’s more focused on the immediate present, the here and now. Each approach has its time and place and there are benefits to each. 

David I:

I am sure glad I was speaking with my father earlier today because he shared with me something interesting that I can share with you now. As Isaac said, there’s this phonetic connection between Yom Kippur(im) and Purim, and the compare/contrast of the two holidays. Think about it, before Yom Kippur it is a mitzvah to eat, but then on Yom Kippur we’re not allowed to eat. Purim is the exact opposite: We don’t eat on the day before because of Taanit Esther, but on Purim its a mitzvah to have a Seudah (meal) and eat a lot! So eat away on Purim, its a Mitzvah!

Ethan R:

I’m a hockey fan, as are some others here, I’m sure, but I doubt any of you here are Chicago Blackhawk fans. (Some in the room boo-ed). That’s right, I’ve gotten a lot of hate for being a blackhawks fan in this part of the country, but passion is stronger than hate. 

And a quote: 

Kiki M:

A lot of people on the outside looking in about Judaism see the being different, the restrictions, the serious holidays. Most people don’t know about the love and warmth and tremendous sense of community and connection. They don’t see the joy and the happiness! That’s much more of what Judaism is really about. This is something I wish more people on the outside looking in would realize, would be more aware of. There’s a whole world here they just don’t know about. 

Dylan K:

Some of you spoke earlier about moving forward. I think that’s something to keep in mind about politics, too, both on the national and state level but also in our student government. There’s so much talk about right vs. left, but while those differences are important, the main thing is that we all keep moving forward. 

Garret T:

I wish everyone a happy Purim!

OK, this might not seem to be an insight, inspiration or message but the truth is that heartfelt wishing one another is itself a very meaningful thing, not to be taken for granted, and it is a key feature of a Chassidic farbrengen. 

Tyler R:

So this isn’t on the joyous Purim theme, but I had a friend, not a very close friend, but someone I knew, a friend from High School who recently took his own life. It shook me up, you know, it makes you think. First of all, about how little we know about what others are dealing with, the quiet things going on in their lives. We often have no idea of what people are struggling with. The takeaway? Gotta appreciate and cherish every day. And let’s check up on friends, see how people are doing, especially with Corona, many are alone and struggling with stuff we don’t know about. Give them a call, message them, see what’s up. 

Indeed, indeed. We often have no idea what others are going through, nor do we fully appreciate the power of a positive encouraging word or a reaching out. Can’t lose sight of this! 

Max W:

All I got to say is 28-3. If you know, you know. 

Now, I (Mendel) didn’t know, but thankfully students help us know! This amazing Patriots (Max is from Massachusetts) Superbowl 2017 comeback against the Atlanta Falcons is a good & fitting Purim message. The Jews were down big time at the start of the Purim story. Haman had them in a corner and it looked like he would win big. But that’s not how things turned out at the end of the game. Even if you’re down by a lot, and it feels insurmountable, don’t give up. Fight like crazy, give it your utmost, to get things turned around! Don’t quit and just let it go. 

Adrie S:

My father used this expression: (doesn’t amount to) A hill of beans. I was thinking about this. What does this “hill of beans” expression mean? I know it usually has a dismissive negative meaning, but hoping it can mean something positive, too. 

Raizy thought a hill of beans can symbolize how the little and insignificant can collectively amount to something. It’s the power of the small things, how they are cumulative. One alone is almost nothing, but dozens and hundreds and thousands can become quite a big deal. So, too, with the little things in our lives. They add up!

Ben M:

Gonna tag onto what Tyler spoke about. The Mishna teaches that “when (the Hebrew month of) Adar comes, increase in joy”. This isn’t only a mandate for ourselves but also what we can do for others. Let’s think of ways to bring others to smile, to feel good about themselves or about their day. A little encouragement and uplift goes a long way. Don’t underestimate the power of a smile and what it can do for someone. 

Yes! We often underestimate the value of this. Our Rabbis say, “words that come from the heart, enter the heart!” A little heart goes a long way for others and ourselves. 

Ethan G:

I hope everyone enjoys their Matzah Ball soup! 

Ah, Ethan! There’s more to the Matzah Ball that meets the eye! We’ve done research (see this link) on Matzah Ball Physics and the implications for our character and personal growth. 

Ari S:

So I grew up in a very Jewish area, went to Jewish schools and all, but by age 10 or so I already considered myself an atheist. I’ve been around, in and out, by now I’m more agnostic religiously, here’s this: When I traveled Europe, my father kept nudging me to go to Chabad for Shabbos. And many weekends I did. I spent Shabbos with Chabad in Venice, in Budapest, other places. And even though I didn’t know anyone there, I felt like I was home, like I belonged. This is a crazy thing about Judaism that so many others are jealous of, they just don’t get it. There’s this cultural bond, this people bond, this family connection. And wherever you are (physically, spiritually) it is there for you. It is always there for you. 

Sam G:

Hard to believe, but last Purim I was in Israel, just before this whole Corona thing went down. We had two Purim meals that day, one earlier in the afternoon at one teacher’s home, and a second one later that evening. In between I was walking with a friend who had too much to drink who said something inappropriate to a stranger passing by. This was a very religious neighborhood and someone hit him (not too bad) with a rock for that. We did manage to get him home, but lesson learned. 

We’re not supportive of the rocks approach, but we sure ought to be careful with what we say to others. Appropriateness matters, even when we have the “under the influence” excuse. The Talmud says, a person is always responsible for his/her actions: whether while awake or asleep, humans always have to take personal responsibility. So lesson learned is the best ending for this story. 

Noah M:

There are 4 mitzvot of Purim: Megillah (hearing the scroll read twice, night and day), Mishloach Manot (the gifts of food), Matanot L’Evyonim (charity for the needy) and Mishteh (the festive feast). Of all these four, I really feel that Matanot L’Evyonim (the charity for the needy) is the most important and the most underrated. It’s not as festive as the meal, not as elaborate as the Mishloach Manot gifts of food, but it is really important and that’s where the true spirit of Purim lies – for me. 

Indeed, more than any other year, this year we witnessed a generous outpouring of student, alumni and others who contributed in various ways – including Shabbos House’s Purim Fund which we distributed to individuals, families and reputable organizations in 3 distributions: pre-Purim, early Purim day and late Purim afternoon. 

Matt B:

Last night at the Purim wrapped-prized game auction at Shabbos House I bid for a wrapped package that turned out to be a set of bubble bottles. Now what made these bubbles unique was the fact that they were scented. Why is this important you may ask? Well, bubbles are kind of complicated to interact with. They are ephemeral and ethereal, if you touch them they pop, you certainly can’t keep them. You can only watch them go and look as they float by until they are no more. That’s why scented bubbles are so interesting, the scent adds another angle or layer of interaction that we can have with bubbles. It is one more way we can engage with these delicate, fleeting, other-worldly things. Perhaps the same can be said of Torah. There is so much about it that defies many regular interactions that every angle or opportunity to interact with Torah in a new and different way: a changed lens, deeper layers, different experiences, approaches and perspectives can add so much to our appreciation of it. Perhaps a whole new sense can be engaged! 

Matt is right! The more angles and lenses with which we see Torah, the richer it becomes! 

Eric R:

As some of you know last summer I had a skateboarding accident and broke my elbow. This began a long process of healing, and thankfully by now, I am on the mend, no external gear, though I am still working to regain the full range of motion. For a while this was really hard for me, as I like to be an active person and this was holding me back and I didn’t feel like myself. But as time went on, I started to push myself more, obviously not doing what I couldn’t do, but also not letting that stop me do what I could. Like what Shane said, pushing the limits, gathering up inner strength, this was really important for me.

BTW, there is or used to a be a bar down on Delaware Avenue called “The Elbow Room”. FYI: In Yiddish an elbow is called an “Ellenbogen” and that’s the name of two families who used to live in Albany, one married an alumni and we’re very close. But Elbow is also an example of both strength and flexibility – the proper blend of which is very important in life and in Judaism… (Rebbe spoke about this balance a lot). 

Ronnie T:

As an RA on campus during a challenging year I saw a lot of things I wish I didn’t, and didn’t have the strength to handle alone. But the good thing is – I never had to handle it alone. And that’s an important message for each of us, we do not have to do it alone. There are friends, family, people who will help you through things.

Estee S:

Queen Esther in the Purim story is a heroine, she’s the queen, she’s important, but underneath that power she was quite alone. And she lost her parents, and was raised by her uncle/cousin Mordechai. That must have meant a lot to her, she had that support, that sense of belonging. That’s why it means so much to me that my parents have taken in my best friend, they care for her like family. It’s really very special.

Kayla S:

Not many of you know this, but I’m only a freshman and have already changed my major a number of times. This can be a confusing process, very uncertain, lots of unknowns. But it is Purim today and I’m thinking about Queen Esther. She was in a tough position herself. She had to marry this despicable guy, she had to hide her true identity, she was dealing with a lot. And then she came to that crossroads about going to speak to the king. She was hesitant, the Megillah itself says that. But she made the right choice, she did it, and did it really really well. I’m hoping I can channel some of that courage and conviction that Esther mustered up to deal with the crossroads and uncertainty of her life, so I can make the good right decisions I need to make in mine.

Ah, the difficulty in making decisions…

Esther-Miriam R: 

Esther wasn’t eager to be queen, and she hesitated at first to go to the king when Mordechai asked, but you know what – she did what needed to get done. She may not have liked it, but she did it anyways. That’s like me speaking at this meal, I don’t really want to, but the lesson is that sometimes we need to do what needs to be done no matter how we feel about it. 

Like the Shmuel of Karov Second Seder story! See link… 

Sara R:

Chani came up with this cardboard box theme, and she had this vision and I thought to myself: cardboard is so plain, so flat, it has no character. But once we started working with it, we realized how much texture it has, and how it can be peeled and formed and shaped and designed in so many interesting ways. It was pretty magical to discover that richness in what seemed so plain. 

Bassie R:

There’s an interesting and telling wording switch between the two conversations Haman has with his wife and company. The first time, after being invited to the king and queen’s private dinner and after his rise to power the Megillah calls it “his wife and his friends.” But the second time around, after his humiliating parade of Mordechai on the horse, the Megillah words it “his wife and his advisors”. This is a message about fair-weather friends, only there for you when things are rosy and they can benefit. This subtle word switch in the Megillah tells us about what true friendship is and what it isn’t. 

Nu, think about that… what kind of friends are we for each other? 

Madison W:

When a person asked “Should I do X?” often what they are really asking is: Do you think I am able to? Do you think I have a chance? Am I good enough for that? It can often be very much a question of self-doubt and self-esteem. So many people hold back out of fear of failure or anxiousness of what others may think of them. Being that voice to empower and uplift someone and make them feel good enough and able enough can open a lot of doors that never would have opened. 

Think of Mordechai’s words to Esther! First she hesitated, she worried, she wasn’t sure. One of the things Mordechai showed & empowered her was how this was her opportunity, it was her mission, and he believed in her that she could do it.  We did a whole Torah-Tuesday class/series on “Torah and Self-Esteem” based partially and expanding upon the works of the late Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski. We should bring back that class sometime. 

Michal S:

It happens that various ways this week – in a philosophy class, in an SNL skit, and in some nasty untrue barb about Israel not vaccinating its Arab population – that the same thought kept coming up. It’s not about what people think of you or what they say about you or how they misunderstand you. It’s about who you are at your core, who you are for yourself. The rest of those things will sort themselves out eventually, hopefully, but most important is that this doesn’t change or define who we are inside. 

Michal takes us back right where we started with James thought about the two queens… and that Chassidic expression “Nisht Nispoel Veren Fun Velt!”