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For the week ending 15 March 2003 / 11 Adar II 5763

Purim

The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Hamentashen

From: Jill in Long Island, NY

Dear Rabbi,
Why do we eat hamantaschen on Purim?

Dear Jill,

I've heard that the word is Yiddish and comes from the two words "mon" (poppy seed) and "tash" (pocket). Thus it would mean "a pocket of dough filled with poppy seed." Perhaps the letter "heh" at the beginning is to make the food sound like the evil, Amalekite, Haman, who we are wiping out and "consuming."

The connection between hamantaschen and Purim may be as follows:

Compared to the spectacular miracles we recount on the night of Passover, the events of Purim appear unspectacular. Esther wins the beauty contest -- well, somebody had to win. Mordechai overhears a plot to kill the king -- was that a miracle? Only when you read the "whole Megilla" do you discover that each event was a hidden miracle. The very name "Megillat Esther" can mean "Revealing the Hidden." Hamantaschen hint to this hidden aspect of Purim, since the poppy seeds are hidden inside the dough.

Why poppy seeds? The Talmud states that Esther ate seeds while in the palace of Achashverosh. This enabled her to avoid non-kosher food, yet maintain a healthy appearance. Perhaps the Yiddish word "mon" alludes to this, since the Hebrew word for manna, the miraculous food which sustained the Jewish people for 40 years in the dessert, is "mon."

Sources:

  • Tractate Megilla 13a.
  • Ta'amei HaMinhagim 895.
  • Mishneh Berura 695:12.

Letters, Dates and Criminal Trials

From: Dr. M. W. in Slingerlands, NY

Dear Rabbi,

In the Book of Esther, why are certain letters in the names of Haman's sons written so much smaller than the others and why are some letters in the text (such as a tav towards the end of the book) larger than the others?

Dear Dr. M. W.,

In Megillat Esther, and elsewhere in the Torah, you find several places where a letter is written slightly larger or slightly smaller than the other letters. This is an ancient tradition, and the reason for each instance isn't always explained.

The particular ones you mentioned (Esther 9:7,9) aren't explained in any classical sources. Recently, however, it has been discovered that these letters, which occur in the section describing the hanging deaths of Haman's ten sons, may contain an uncanny hint to the Nuremberg trials in which ten Nazis were tried and hung for their anti-Semitic crimes, as follows:

As you may know, the Jewish calendar year is represented by Hebrew letters. The small letters in the names of Haman's ten sons are: "tav" "shin" "zain." The large letter is "vav." These letters represent the year 707 ("tav shin zain" equal 707) of the sixth millennium (represented by the large "vav" which equals 6). Thus you have the Jewish date 5707, or 1946 by the civil calendar. On the first of October, 1946 — 6 Tishrei 5707 on the Jewish calendar — the Nuremberg Military Tribunal tried ten Nazis and sentenced them to death by hanging for their modern "Hamanism." One of them, the notorious Julius Streiker, even cried "Purim-Fest 1946" as his cryptic last words.

Sources:

  • The Jewish Observer," March 1986, pp. 56-57

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