February 12, 2003 – Number 2
The main observance for Purim is the reading of the Megilla, the Scroll of Esther. This is written on a scroll like a Torah but instead of winding it on two sides, it is all rolled to one side as if it were a letter being delivered to the Jews of Persia. The Mitzvah of Purim is not so much to read the Megilla, but to hear it being read. Like the Torah, it is hearing the words that is important. Unlike the Torah, hearing the Megilla is usually a challenge. The reading of the Megilla is usually accompanied by lots of noise as everyone tries to drown out the name of the villain of the story, Haman.
Anyone who complains that services are stuffy and boring, has never attended a Purim service. Purim is naturally loud and boisterous. Participants often come in costume. The usual custom is to dress up like the characters in the Megilla, but people have been known to make up Megilla characters and to dress up as a parody of modern news makers as well. (The only costumes that may be improper are Halloween costumes of ghosts and witches)
One also brings to Purim a noisemaker. Any object that makes noise is appropriate (pots and pans, whistles, air horns or baby brothers). A Gragger (Raashan) is a noisemaker that is special for Purim. Small tin ones are readily available as Purim gets close, but a large wooden one is true to tradition. If you are really handy with wood, they are not hard to make from scratch.
While many learn to read a Haftara for their Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and others may learn to read Torah from the scroll, the crowning achievement for a Baal Koray (a master reader) is to learn to read the Megilla. The Megilla is read much like the Torah only the reader deserves “combat pay” since there is no end to the people around who try to trip him/her up. (Not to mention the interruptions every time Haman’s name is mentioned.) The cantillation for the Megilla is unique to this scroll. The final test of the Baal Koray is found in the next to last chapter where the list of the ten sons of Haman can be found. This list must be read in one breath to signify that they all died together. The Megilla, however, does go on. It doesn’t leave you “hanging” but tells of the great deliverance of our people due to the actions of Esther and Mordechai. This is the real reason for our joy and gladness on this holiday
Next week, More on Purim…and remember, when Adar begins, joy increases