My 5-year-old son, all dressed up in his finest Purim costume, looked up at me and said, “Abba, I love Purim! Let’s go do some more shalach manos!” He was referring to the special candies and treats that are given out amongst friends throughout the community on Purim day.
He and his siblings along with all their friends prepared many days in advance, just like their parents were doing the same, to give out packaged treats to all their friends, neighbors and community. It is a special mitzvah on Purim called mishloach manot. I smiled and thought it was cute how he probably was perceiving the “agreed exchange.” Typical 5-year-old kid, right?
But then I remembered a beautiful teaching Rabbi Moshe Katz shared with us at our Purim event downtown. He asked the question we all have to ponder, “What’s the difference between Purim and Halloween?” They dress up, and we dress up. They get candy, and we get candy. Is it just that Halloween has a horror theme to it, and Purim has more of an ancient Persian royal banquet feel to it?
The answer he gave shed a beautiful light on the holiday; it also influenced my response to my son’s query. Rabbi Katz told the crowd of 60-plus young professionals gathering at JUF/JCC downtown to learn and celebrate the story of Purim, that the difference is profound and actually goes to the core of what it truly is to be a Jew.
You see, on Halloween children are taught to go around knocking on doors asking for candies and treats. They put in their efforts, and they reap the rewards. But on Purim, we teach our children to go around knocking on doors to give candies and treats. Despite the fact that we often receive in return, the true Purim experience dictated by our heritage going back over 2,500 years is to be giving on the day of Purim. That’s the Jewish “Halloween.”
Purim is a day of connecting with our friends, community and our heritage. Some even explain the age-old custom of costumes is to break down any barriers that may have been between us. Perhaps my neighbor and I are of a different socio-economic status, or perhaps we have nothing in common. Today, I dress up as a ‘50s rock star and he’s a green crayon. We walk around the neighborhood and the community sharing in our delight of being a part of the Jewish people. We send each other homemade goodies as we laugh and dance to our hearts content together, on par as comrades.
This is the message of Purim. It is the message of our Jewish people. And it was the message that I tried to convey to my son with his cute inquiry. I told him, “Enjoy your candies and treats, my son. They come from your friends who love and care about you. But remember, the most precious opportunity for you to be a part of on this day is the chance to show your friends how much you love and care about them!”
The Downtown Purim Experience was a project of Chicago YJP, a Division of the Lois & Wilfred CTN: Home of the Wondering Jew in partnership with JCC 20s & 30s. To receive periodical insights from Rabbi Moshe Katz, you can email him at RabbiKatz@TorahNetwork.org.