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Unwrapping Purim

As told to C.B. Lieber

It can be easy to forget Purim’s a day of tefillah, simchah, and gratitude to Hashem. Seven women share how they tapped into Purim’s power

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

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TAKE TWO Everyone knows men don’t drink during shanah rishonah, right? But what happens when you’re in shanah rishonah for the second time around, and your straightlaced husband, who makes Kiddush on grape juice and never touches alcohol, wants to invite over his entire shiur?

T he details of Purim — long list of mishloach manos to send, costumes that are unraveling, kids on a sugar high, and men in their state of once-a-year revelry — can be so consuming that it’s easy to forget the unique opportunities of the Yom Tov: a day of tefillah, simchah, and gratitude to the One Above for all the miracles He does for us.

Seven women share how they tapped into the power of Purim...

Doors Closed, Doors Opened

So much to do. So much to do. The words were a steady tattoo, beating through my head. Not enough time. So much to do.

I maneuvered the double stroller into our front yard, and up toward my door. We had just delivered mishloach manos to the babysitter. My husband had gone out on his rounds with my oldest. Now I had to put the baby down for a nap, keep my overactive toddler entertained, finish my seudah prep…

I reached the front door, took out my key, and jiggled it in the lock. It wouldn’t turn.

I tried again.

Nothing.

I tried another time, wiped my sweaty palms on my skirt and tried to pull the key back out. Nothing doing. The busiest day of the year and I was locked out of my house.

Don’t panic, I told myself. My three-year-old hamentasch was wiggling impatiently in the stroller. I unbuckled him absently. Next to him, the baby had fallen asleep, warm and cozy in her bunny costume.

This was before the days of cell phones, so I had no way of reaching my husband. I had to deal with this crisis on my own.

I knocked tentatively on a neighbor’s door and explained the situation, then dialed the super’s number with shaking hands. Fortunately, he answered right away. He’d come over as soon as he could. Probably in about half an hour.

Oookay. Half an hour to sit and wait outside my door.

At least the weather was nice. I borrowed a Tehillim from my neighbor and backed out her door again. “Go play on the grass,” I told my three -year-old. He was off like a shot. I sat down in my front garden, opened the Tehillim, and breathed deeply.

So much to do, so much to do…

But I can’t do it right now, anyway.

At that moment, it hit me: So much of what I had to do was self-imposed. We had a chiyuv to give two mishloach manos — and we’d done that already. If I didn’t get to all my friends, my cousins down the block, and my husband’s night-seder chavrusa, so what? There was nothing I could do for the next half hour but wait.

I sat on the grass and watched my son play. I said Tehillim and stroked my baby’s cheek. I watched costumed kids march down the street, packages swinging from their arms.

I stayed in the moment.

When I finally got into the house, I didn’t panic. I felt surprisingly centered.

For half an hour that Purim, I had touched what really counted.

Hard But Good

Purim in our small out-of-town community was boring, my mother claimed, and she wanted to enjoy the family seudah with her siblings. So every Taanis Esther, we drove into Brooklyn to spend Purim with my grandparents.

As a kid, I had fun with my cousins, running around my grandparents’ home. As I got older, I’d help my grandmother deliver her mishloach manos and set the table, folding napkins into fancy shapes and wondering which of my classmates were knocking on my door at home, leaving a mishloach manos on the doorstep.

By the time I hit my 20s, the yearly pilgrimage had become a chore rather than a treat. I longed to be home, where I could bring my own mishloach manos to friends, coworkers, and mentors.

Each year I had to announce to my elementary school class that I wouldn’t be home on Purim. Some geshikt mothers managed to send mishloach manos with their daughters on Taanis Esther; others left packages at my door, regardless. But it hurt, because I wanted so badly to prepare personalized pekalach and greet my students with a smile when they knocked shyly on my door. Instead, I was an accessory, bored out of my mind in my grandparents’ home — my aunt was now hosting the family seudah, and my grandmother was distributing fewer packages as she aged.

The years marched on, each Purim a little more painful, a little more lonely.

As I watched, I felt growing pride swell within me. This bochur was now my husband. If his enthusiasm and his friends’ were matched in the beis medrash, then we were in good shape

I was 25, then 26, and my younger sister had gotten married, leaving me to make the yearly trip alone with my parents.

At home, my life was full, but in Brooklyn, the stark reality of my singlehood stared me in the face. I tried to spend time davening, but the hours stretched on.

This past year, I made my first Purim seudah in my own home. We invited three other families and some bochurim; the seminary girl who was supposed to come help didn’t show. I could hardly keep my breakfast down — the first trimester is always hard for me. Exhausted, I struggled to keep my children from tearing apart each mishloach manos that arrived and stuffing themselves with junk whenever my back was turned.
Every single one of the neighbors in our large building knocked on the door at one point or another with their mishloach manos, which I valiantly returned. My two-year-old, frightened out of her wits by an enormous elephant that had appeared at our door, refused to let go of my skirt. My husband would be arriving home soon with our guests, and the house was nowhere near presentable.

As I answered the door for the umpteenth time and then raced back to the kitchen to stir the soup, I caught myself and stopped.

I thought back to those Purims where the clock seemed to slow down just to spite me. Now, I was racing against time. I thought about the quiet in my grandmother’s house. Now I was surrounded by noise — and by the noise of my own children, no less.

Was I overwhelmed?

For sure.

But I was also filled with a gratitude so intense it brought me to tears.

My life was full, and it was good. (excerpted)

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