Keep Your Communication Lines Open During Pesach Cleaning

One Pesach many people got to hear the interesting flavor of my cousins.  My aunt, in a drive to have no suspicion of any Chometz crumbs anywhere, had her children wash the telephone.  (Hey, you never know, don’t you sometimes speak on the phone with your mouth full of food?)  The phone receiver was promptly taken apart.  Each part was washed and scrubbed well (in our house when this happened, the cleanser of choice was Easy-Off).  Finally, it was dried, put back together and put back into use.

Thereafter, began a run of crank calls.  Someone kept calling and being silent.  The phone would ring and they would be greeted with the ominous silence.

Having the whole family home for Pesach vacation meant having a dozen kids all cooped up and ready for fun.  The crank caller was the perfect person to use for that fun.  The phone would ring and the family would gather in the kitchen.  They would pass the phone receiver from hand to hand and yell insults and invectives into the phone.  Sometimes they would do the yelling in chorus.  Weirdly enough, the crank caller did not get scared off from their bluster.  That phone kept ringing and ringing and ringing.

Chol Hamoed my parents called my aunt.  They dialed the number and said “hello”, really innocently.  From the phone came a cackle of booing, cursing, yelling and hysteria.  It was fun for us to hear such colorful language.  We promptly called back.  And got a repeat of choice words from the chorus of cousins.  We tried talking to them, but seems that we weren’t being heard.

My father smiled.  “Someone has been Pesach cleaning,” he wisely deduced.  He then called another relative to “tee es schnell” go over to my aunt’s home and let her know that there was no crank caller and that the earpiece of her phone was broken, whilst the mouthpiece obviously was in perfect working order.

You learn, over the years, through trial and error and through many incurred expenses, just what to clean for Peach and what to leave alone.  You also learn how not to get rid of Chametz.

For example, I can promise you that throwing flour into the trash is way wiser than trying to pour it down the toilet or to wash it down your sink.  Flour and water in combination, not a good idea.  Dough in pipes, not even Drano will be very helpful there, my friend.

Tangible examples, with more meaning that can be incorporated in it.  When Pesach cleaning, do not break down the lines of communication.  How many of the balabustes, those who are expert at cleaning and running their homes, forget that their earpieces need to continue working through the Pesach preparations and not just their mouthpieces.  If you are hollering at your loved ones and creating chaos in the Pesach preparations, you’ve gotten your Pesach prep all wrong.

And sometimes, when getting rid of things that we don’t want, we create a bigger mess for ourselves.  Guilt, throw it out.  Don’t combine it with anything else.

Keep your lines of communication open this Pesach.  And keep your emotions unclogged by mess and guilt.

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Rosh Chodesh Nisan

Rosh Chodesh Nissan arrived yesterday.  Nisan’s astrological sign is the lamb.  For the Egyptians this symbol was wealth and power.   For the Jews, this sign was what they would sacrifice for G-d.  All our possessions can be used either way – as something to worship or as something we can use in our service of G-d.

Take stock of all you own and possess.  Are we worshipping our possessions…or using it as a tool to serve the Creator of the world?

We are told, ““B’Nisan Nigalu…” In Nisan we were redeemed and in the future the redemption will also be in Nisan.   One step toward redemption is a sense of unity, which leads me to the next topic to learn about, which is:

KIMCHA D’PISCHAPesach tax season – we give a donation (most common to do it through our rabbi at our shul) so that the poor people will have food for Pesach, too.  Kimcha means flour and d’pischa means of Pesach — we ensure Matzos can be served on every Jewish table.  The story of how Meah Shearim began is tied into this.  When the pioneers who decided to begin settling land outside the Old City Walls first bought the plot of earth to build on, the powerhouse behind the construction project, Rabbi Rivlin, decided to start with a Mitzva.  That first year, before they had funds to build, he planted wheat for Matzos and used the proceeds to marry off an orphan.  Opening a project with kindness gets it off to its proper start, and from that get-go of being used to produce Pesach wheat which funded the marriage of an orphan, Meah Shearim became a nucleus of Torah and Chesed.

We should always start our planning with thinking of the less fortunate – and in this month we do the same by beginning the month of Nissan by giving charity to cover the holiday expenses of the poor.  Being part of a community means responsibility to community.  Same applies for working within a community.  Kimcha D’Pischa you had a choice:  either give or take.  No one was exempt of either one or the other.     

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Parshas Vayikra: Karbanos from the root of karov, of coming close

The upcoming week’s Parsha is Vayikra (and He called to Moshe)…G-d called to Moshe from the setup Tabernacle and gave him the commandments about the sacrifices.

Concept of Karbanos – the root word of the word sacrifices is Karov – to near, to become closer.

The whole point of the sacrifice exercise is to come close to G-d.  Let us say you had this nasty spat with your good friend.  You really want to patch things up, but you don’t know how to go about it.  And then, you see these beautiful daffodils in the corner deli.  You scoop up the bouquet and head to your friend’s place, flowers in hand.  The point is not the flowers.  The flowers are just your mechanism to come close and repair the rift.  That is the mechanism that G-d put into place for us.  At all times, there are ways to come close to Him, even if we have distanced ourselves.

Verse 2  “Speak to the Jews and tell them a man when he brings from you a Karban for G-d, from the domestic animals you should bring your karbanos.”

The Ohr Hachayim points out a problem with this verse.  It is almost repeating itself.

If you look at this verse again, you will see something amazing.  What does G-d really want – us to bring ourselves closer to Him.  If we choose to “give to G-d”, that is a Korban, but that is not the real essence of what is FOR G-d.  The real essence of what G-d wants is in the italics words  “from you”, your life should be spent coming close to Hashem, when you give to Him it should be a welling up of your soul and yourself.

In this week’s Parsha, we see the sensitivity of Hashem to every type of person on the spectrum.  A Karban was set up for every kind of person and his circumstances.  G-d gives us a chance at each occasion to find a way to still come close to Him –even when we make our mistakes.

There are Ashma and Chata’h – there are times you mess up on purpose and there are times you mess up by mistake.  We don’t say you are damned – that is not the Jewish way.  You messed up – okay, let’s deal with the mess up and find a way to get you back on track.  “kee nafaltee kamtee” because I fell I was able to rise.  It is not the end of the world when we mess up, as long as we pick ourselves up.  The Torah in its infinite kindness gave us ways to get ourselves back on track after a mistake.   So two different sacrifices are described to cover the two types of sinning we do (mistake and deliberate).

There are other times we have to “get back on track”.  When you get something good, sometimes you forget your purpose in life, so focused and absorbed you might become on enjoying good times.  So, there is a Karban set for the thank you times that we have to become close to Hashem – -those times we have to stay grounded and hit the realization, “where did all the good times come from, if not from Hashem”.

Not only are there Karbanos set for every occasion possible where we might need a “grounding”, a way of reconnecting to Hashem; but there is also a way to bring the Korban in a  sliding scale accessible for all.

Supposing Moshiach came tomorrow and we had to clean up our messes.  So we had to go out and buy some goats/sheeps or cows.  What if we don’t have that kind of money – does that mean the poor person cannot “reset” his spirituality by refocusing through a Korban?  Nope.  The Torah gives different guidelines for different folks.  In fact, some folks are too poor to bring that – so the Torah tells us what they can bring – a Korban within their own means.  There is the possibility of bringing two doves (something he doesn’t have to buy but can try to catch), and if he can’t do that he can bring flour as his Karban.  This shows the sensitivity of G-d, outlining in  the Torah that the rich aren’t privileged characters who get to buy their way to atonement.  Each person, according to his means, has an obtainable way to come close to Hashem.

There is a reverse on this – when you give it has to be befitting of your means.  If you are rich, you cannot get away with a smaller thing.  In our own lives, we have to be honest with ourselves – what in our life are we willing to change to become closer to Hashem after a mess-up in our observance – and when we make that calculation we have to be honest with who we are.

One of the concepts of a Karban is that you didn’t send it by messenger – here take a donation for the synagogue and finished with it.  You had to be present at the Karban.  You had to be actively involved.  Mess up – you have to fess up.  It is not a buying of forgiveness “oh forgive me father for I have sinned” “okay give me X amount of dollars and all is forgiven” – that is NOT the Jewish way.  G-d (not a confession to the father confessor) I have sinned – now I will get busy (not just merely donate) with recreating a spiritual connection to Hashem.  So I haul my erring self to Yerushalayim (to a place of spirituality – in our days, hopefully we haul ourselves to a Torah shiur to get ourselves back where we need to be).  We invest time and money to get the Korban – go meet with the Kohen and then – we MUST confess – we have to examine ourselves and see our flaws – it is not the Kohen who has to say what we did wrong – we have to do that for ourselves. It is about us reconnecting, not about us “buying” our way to forgiveness.

Whether we lost our way in spirituality due to errors or due to too much goodness in our lives, may we all merit to reconnect, to bring our personal selves back into a relationship with G-d, by using whatever might be appropriate for our means.

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End of Adar – Tzarchay Tzibbur/Public Works

The end of Adar, beginning on the 15th day of Adar, in days past was dedicated to public projects.  There were two categories of work being done.  The first was a repairing of the roads, opening of public water-spigots and making sure the way for the Jews to travel to the Temple for Pesach was ready for the Jews in a physical sense.

There is the famous story of Nechunya who lived in the times of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa.  Every year, at this time of year, he would dig huge wells so people traveling along the way to Yerushalayim should have enough water to drink.  One year, his granddaughter fell into one of those wells he had dug up.  Rescue seemed hopeless due to the vast depths of the pit.  The worried townsfolk who were trying to save the girl ran to Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa, asking for divine intervention through his prayer.  However, Rav Chanina didn’t even bother praying for her.  He merely said, “Shalom,” reassuring the people that she was fine.  An hour passed and the girl was nowhere near fine.  She was still at the bottom of the pit and no ladder could reach her.  The folks went to Rav Chanina again, who, again succinctly repeated his one word to reassure them that “she’s fine.”  After another hour, by which time naturally the girl should have been a goner, they went again to Rabbi Chanina, who again seemed unconcerned and said, “Its okay, she’s out.”  They ran to the well, and they found the girl sitting by the side of the well as if nothing had happened.  They asked her how she got out and she told them that Avraham took her out.  Puzzled, they returned to Rabbi Chanina to find out how he had been certain she would be okay and why he wasn’t concerned about her danger.  Replied Rav Chanina, “since her grandfather dug those wells for altruistic reasons for the benefit of the public, there was no way that any harm would come to his granddaughter through those wells.”

Doing for the public is a huge merit.  In fact, in shul, we say a special prayer for those who do public work – we pray they be safe from all harms and be rewarded for their work.  So those who pay for the electric bills of the Shul, or put out tissue boxes for your use in Shul, or those who collect for the poor of the neighborhood and give out food to those who don’t have, etc – these people get an extra blessing and prayer.  It is important we try to find ways to contribute to “tzarchei Tzibbur” to take care of the community in different ways –and this time of the year is the perfect time to do it.

Then there were the spiritual public projects in times past that got done at the end of Adar.  This was to make sure spiritually everyone was ready for the Pesach Aliyah to Yerushalayim. The Bais Din [Jewish courts] would take care of things that had been waiting because of winter restricting easy travel.  Things such as judgments that a local court could not take care of would now be brought to Yerushalayim for the final judgment to make sure these sentences or court cases could be dealt with.  So, for example if there was a murderer on death row, now the Bais Din of Yerushalayim would deal with the issue so that there was no murder left unaccounted for by the time Pesach came around.  [just as an aside – yes, the Jews had a death penalty and death row – but very different than the current one in place in the world – here in the USA they can put people to death with circumstantial evidence or by hearsay (I saw him covered in blood and the dead body near him so he must be guilty or by some other criminal saying I saw him kill) In Jewish courts during the times of the Temple, there has to have been warning and two KOSHER (meaning two reliable, honest people) who saw the actual crime committed.]

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Rabbeinu Bachya on What Causes Us To Flake Out on G-dliness

A little bit of studying today about what might possibly block folks from doing the G-dly right thing.

Rabbenu Bachya writes in Chovos Halevavos [Duties of the Heart] there are three things that might make a person not keep the Mitzvos [commandments].

1.  A person might not understand the concept of Hashem [G-d], that we were created by a Creator who is interested in having us do the right thing.  The more we understand the concept of Hashem the more motivated we might be to do the right thing!  So the first step in keeping what Hashem wants us to keep is to try to learn about what does “Ani Hashem” mean.  Who is G-d and what does He want.  Of course, we can only learn this to the extent of our human mind and not in full truth as we are finite and G-d is infinite.  Yet, glimmers of who G-d is can be accessible to us through learning.

2.  Some people sin and don’t do the Mitzvos simply because they don’t know what the commandments are.  They might recognize that there is a G-d in the world and might even pray, but they are just ignorant and don’t know Halacha [laws].  That is why it is important to learn, so that we can keep what Hashem wants us to keep.

3.   Some people sin even though they know that there is a G-d and know the Halachos, and the reason why is because of fantasies, imagination.  They imagine what glamorous things they will get from doing the wrong thing and get swayed away from the good and pure way.

Just imagine a relationship between man and woman as an analogy for our relationship with G-d.  Some of us won’t fall in love because we never met the person we can love.  Those are the folks who don’t know G-d — they just never got to know G-d.  Then there are those who meet someone they love, but never explore, learn and remember what their loved one likes and wants.  So they bring vanilla icecream when the person abhors vanilla and wants chocolate.  Or other such things.  Those are like the folks who say they know G-d but don’t bother to find out what G-d wants mankind to be doing.  And then there are those in relationships who flake out of the relationship because they think the grass is greener elsewhere or something like that.  Those are the people who don’t follow G-d’s laws because they imagine perverted lifestyles will give them more glamour.

Okay, so here are our marching orders.  We must explore the world, history, laws of nature, perfection of the universe and find G-d so we know G-d.  We must then learn what G-d demands of us in a relationship.  And we must always remember, there is nothing more pure and whole, nothing more perfect, than listening to a Perfect Infinite G-d.

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Ki Sisa

Parshas Kee Seesa

KI SISA – WHEN YOU COUNT is most often the translation.  Yet the words Kee Seesa actually means when you lift up.  The point of the count was to raise the self-esteem of each person counted.    YOU COUNT, my friend, to G-d and to our nation.

 When Jews are to be counted, they should not be counted numerically.  Rather, they donate a half-shekel coins and the coins are then counted.  Everyone has something to contribute is the message to us.

Why only a half-coin?  To teach us that no person is a whole entity on his own.  We need each other.

(Maturity at 20 – 20 and older are counted. That is the age of a sense of understanding ramifications of our actions.)

Verse 15:  “the rich cannot give more, the poor cannot give less’ – all are equal in the eyes of G-d.   When it comes to exemplifying the importance of every single soul, G-d orders us to signify each soul is equally important to Him.

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Megillas Esther, An Original Screenplay, G-d as Director

Setting:  The Persian-Median Empire.  The time period – ah, somewhere around 70 years after the destruction of the first Temple, give or take a few years.  The Jews knew this exile they were in would only last 70 years as they had that prophecy given to them, but who can ever get the count right?  Was it 70 years yet?



Once upon a time…no, that isn’t how it starts.  It actually starts with “and it was in the days of Achashverosh…”  This king Achashverosh (a Persian dude) was ruler from Hodu (India) toKush(some translate as Ethiopia) – basically ruler of the world.  The world at that time was divided into 127 provinces, all under the same rule.  In the third year of his rule, Achashveirosh does the calculation and figures out the 70 years are up.  Yet, the Jews are still under his control.  This, he thinks calls for a party to celebrate that G-d would not redeem the Jews.  Achashverosh shows off all his wealth and the loot from the Temple.  He invites the Jews and makes sure the party is “glatt kosher” [Verse 8:  “and the drink was according to the law”.]

The Jews attend – and they will be punished with the threat of extinction because they enjoyed this party.  At the same time that Achashverosh is throwing his party for the men-folk, his wife, Vashti (who was a grand-daughter of Nebuchadnezer and the King had married her to solidify the kingdom), also threw a party for the women.

A week into the party, the king (and everyone else) was royally drunk.  The King decided to flaunt his wife by asking her to wear less than the Kardashians.  Although Vashti would normally go with such outrageous behavior, she had reason to be in hiding that time of her life – she had been afflicted with hideous skin problems.  King gets angry and confers with his advisors, who tell ‘off must go the head’ of his royal wife.  No sooner said than done.  Off gets lopped the head and a decree is issued that each man should rule his roost.  (Or is it every rooster should rule his hen?)


Party ends.  Hangover time.  King wakes up sober and wants to know where his Queen Wife is – and remembers he killed her.  Now he’s lonely, hung-over and scary.  So his servants quickly think of a fix – they tell him to hold a Miss Persia contest – most beautiful maiden gets to become next Queen.  This is the original season of the Bachelor.

There was a man in Shushan, and his name was Mordechai, “the son of Yair, the Son of Shimi, the son of Kish,” of the tribe of Binyamin.  He had been exiled from Jerusalem way back when and he had a cousin who had been an orphan.  He had helped her, took her in, and married her.  His wife’s name was Hadassah and/or Esther.  Now Esther was no youngster.  She shouldn’t have been targeted for an episode of Bachelor.    However, there was a G-dly plan, and she was kidnapped from her home and hauled off to the harem of the King.

“Mee zeh yaamod l’chaper Shegagah” – we are told, who will stand up and atone for a mistake – Esther.  Life is a journey in history.  It doesn’t begin and end with our birth and death.  We are born in the middle of things and die in the middle of things.  It is kinda like being given a walk-on part in a movie – we walk into the middle of action and leave in the middle of action.  Therefore, we sometimes need to think what happened before and what might happen after us.  Esther will go through a horrible experience right now – she is kidnapped and forced into a marriage with a monster (think of someone having to marry Arafat!).  She could have said, “G-d, life is so unfair.”  But greater people realize there is a rhyme and reason to this world.  Why did Esther have to go through this – because she had to set right the mistake her great-great-grandfather Shaul had made.  Shaul had left alive Agag, the king of Amalek, by mistaken pity.  He had the opportunity to finally wipe out Amalek and he messed up, leaving behind a survivor, who then had children, allowing eventually a Haman to be born in the world.  Esther had to, therefore, be the one to save the Jews from Haman.  When you have things happen in life, sometimes, you are being asked to do kindness to your ancestors and set right or finish up things that happened in their life. So, back to the story…

There was prep time for each girl before she was forced to meet the king.  Esther did not ask for any prep items, did not put on makeup, etc.   She had seven servants with her, one for each day of the week.  Her time came up and she was hauled off to the King – and he loved her – placed the crown on her head and decided he had found the successor for Vashti.    The King threw a party (he was a party guy).  Then there was a second pageant (at the urging of Esther who hoped the king would find another damsel to love instead of her).  Once again, Esther won the favor of the king.  Esther told no one of her lineage, as per the instructions of Mordechai.

Mordechai used to be at the Gates of the Palace.  While there, he overheard the plot of two fellows, Bigson and Little son – nah, just kidding.  Bigson and Seresh.  They wanted to do-in the ruler.  Mordechai tattled on them, saved the king’s life and got inscribed in the king’s little book of favors.


After all this (G-d prepares the medicine before every illness so once all the elements are in place of the future saving of the Jews), Haman comes to power.  He loves being worshipped and has all bow to him. All do, except for one stubborn Jew, Mordechai.

Haman is not happy about this.  He decides he wants to kill all the Jews.  In the month of Nissan to the 12th year of Achashveirosh’s rule, Haman cast lots (“Pur”) to see when he should go about his nefarious plan.    He hits upon Adar.  He then goes to pitch his plan to the king and offers him payment for the privilege of killing us all.  The king agrees and gives Haman his signet ring to pass any anti-semitic edict he would so desire.  Haman sends out messengers to all parts of the world with an edict that on the 13th of Adar all Jews should be killed.


And Mordechai knew all that happened, tore his clothing, went into mourning.   What does it mean, he knew all that “happened” – he knew that there was a game plan and that Hashem wanted the Jews to repent for attending the party that celebrated their non-deliverance into Redemption.  Esther is worried when she hears of Mordechai walking around in sackcloth and asks “wassup” and is told.  Mordechai tells her to go save her people.  She is scared to.  He pushes her.  If you don’t, he says, G-d will save the Jews somehow, but you will be losing out your place in history.  Don’t think G-d can’t pick other folks to do His bidding.  You must always rise to the occasion so you don’t lose out being the hero of the day when G-d sets it up for you to be one.  Esther agrees to risk her life to save the Jews, but tells Mordechai to organize a three-day-fast (the original diet plan).  The Jews begin their Teshuva process, repenting and returning to Hashem.


Esther goes to the king – unasked.  He is charmed.  Asks her what she wants.  She invites him and Haman to a party she was planning (with wine as the featured drink).  Her husband agrees to attend.  Haman is happy with the invite – but as he goes out he comes across Mordechai, who doesn’t bow.  Haman storms home and complains, and is advised by his wife to build gallows for Mordechai and hang him.

Haman gets to work right away building gallows for Mordechai, then rushes to the palace in the wee hours to get permission for his new plan.  See how foolish are the wicked- – they can have everything, but focus on the one thing they don’t have.  Haman was being honored more than anyone, but focused on the one Jew who didn’t bow to him and, therefore, said all his wealth and honor meant nothing if he couldn’t “have it all”.  Ah, wickedness, focusing on the one thing he doesn’t have instead of focusing on all the positive in his life.  That is a Haman trait.


That night the sleep of the KING was disturbed.  (so while we know that Achashveirosh had insomnia, we are also being told that Hashem was feeling bad for the Jews because He had been “awoken” by the Jews’ Teshuva).  Achashveirosh is feeling edgy.  He doesn’t understand why his wife would invite Haman and begins to be paranoid.  He asked for a reading of his black book of those who were loyal to him to see if anyone would care if the Queen and Haman whacked him off.  He hears about Mordechai saving his life back during the plot of Bigson and Seresh and says, “I’ve got to repay the guy.”  He asks who is in the palace in the wee hours – and finds out Haman is there.  He asks Haman for advice on how to reward someone who did him a favor.  Haman gives advice – and is told to do all those honors for Mordechai.  He is to dress Mordechai in royal garb and lead him through the streets on a royal horse.  He is not happy as he does this – especially when his own sweet daughter dumps her chamber pot on his head.  He ends up running home to get ready for the party – and being warned that he will fail by his wife (boy, wasn’t she a supportive one!).


The Party.  King wants to know what Esther wants.  She asks for her people’s lives.  “How can I live, when I see the bad happening to my people.”  Esther was safe.  She would have survived.  But she tells Achashvayrosh that being safe is not enough for a Jewess, that we only feel secure when we are sure of our brethren’s well-being, too.

The King wants to know who would have the audacity to kill such a people (playing innocent) – -she points out Haman.  Haman gets hung where he belongs, on the tree he had prepared for Mordechai.  There is a great justice system in the world, and what you do to others, often boomerangs back to you, hence Haman built his own gallows.

This happens to be Pesach night.  Most huge miracles for the Jews happen at the stroke of midnight on Pesach night, and the Purim miracle is just one of the many.


Law is promulgated at the advice of Mordechai that Jews can defend themselves.  Esther asks that Haman’s sons be hung.  The 13th of Adar rolls around, which was the day that Haman had set for the killing of all Jews, and the Jews defend themselves.  Purim is the day that the Jews finally finished killing out all their enemies and get to celebrate their being saved.  Mordechai gets Haman’s position.  The Jews learn to love each other and to listen to rabbinical guidance.  “keemoo V’Kibloo” they rose up and accepted the Torah.


 The four Mems.

Megilla – we need to hear the reading of the Megillah (from a kosher scroll) twice, once at night and once during the day.  We do this before the other Mitzvos of Purim.

 Matanos L’Evyonim  – we need to give $$ to two poor people

– If you need to make sure to locate poor folks to give it to on Purim, you can call in donations before or on Purim and have this charity fund distribute the money on your behalf on Purim day in Israel – Kupat Ha’ir 1-888-587-2842.

Mishloach Manos – we need to send two food items to ONE friend.  Has to be ready-to-eat food.

 Mishteh – we need to have a festive meal

Now to the Customs of the day:

Costumes:  To show G-d “masked” Himself in the story and the Jews saw through the Mask and found the Director behind the film of events.

Drinking Wine:  Yeah, much of the party happened with folks drunk, hence, we imbibe.

Hamantaschen:  Those folded over pastries hiding good things inside.

Gragger:  When Haman’s name is mentioned, we whirl around this noisemaking tool or drown out the sound of his name with any means at our disposal.  Gragger and dreidel — very similar toys for different holidays signifying the lesson of the holiday.  Gragger you swing from below and the noise comes out on top.  At times, we must do things down here on Earth to create the results from G-d.  In the Purim story, the Jews had to repent sincerely to get G-d to forward to them a full redemption.

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