A good Jewish answer to the question would be – yes, and no. The holiday of Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees, will be upon us shortly, followed by none other than, Purim! Though it seems that some people are big fans of Purim, and some people could do without it, Purim has a grab bag of treats for everyone – the serious-minded, as well as the levity-minded.
While costumes, schpiels, and food and beverage, do seem to guide Purim’s celebration, it is not complete without a seudah/”feast,” tzedakah/”donations to those less well off,” and mishloach manot/schlachmanot/”sending of gifts to friends.”
And, what about those tasty cookies known as hamantaschen? It seems that they were originally mohntoschen – a Yiddish word for poppy-seed filled cookie pockets. The name was changed by a folk custom to hamantaschen – referring to Haman’s 3 cornered hat. In Hebrew they are called, oznei Haman/”Haman’s ears.”
Where do hamantaschen figure in? Why do we eat them? Are they just cookies that taste good? If we think about it, each Jewish holiday has its requisite food, which seems to be about more than just the food. For example, eating Rosh Hashana’s sweet apples and honey signifies our hope for a sweet New Year, while enjoying Hanukkah’s oily latkes reminds us of past and everyday miracles. What is really going on in that little, sweet, crunchy and delicious, flaky pocket of dough that we call hamantaschen? Is there more to it? What do you think?
It is said about the megillah we read on Purim that it is either the most religious or the most secular story of all. Why? G-d never appears in the story, which either means that G-d is simply not around, or that G-d is indeed around, but just hidden behind the scenes. Relating to hamantaschen, are they just good cookies, or, are they loaded with more than calories, even, meanings? What does it mean after all, to eat a representation of the hat of the antagonist of our story? Is this a Jewish version of gobbling up the bad guys? Or, is it perhaps our attempt to eat that which eats away at us, first, before it gets to us?
The hamantaschen is the original fortune cookie. Much of the Purim story revolves around chance, luck, and good fortune, and the cookie reminds us of this. And, it has the potential to simply make us smile and even laugh. Is this really a serious take on a cookie, or is even this letter meant to really make us smile and laugh? Either way you cut the cookie, one rabbi ties laughter and levity back to faith in a way that I really appreciate. He writes, “Faith is a vision of a truth that will come into being, backed by a commitment to make it happen….Humor is the most appropriate way to express this faith – by simultaneously affirming and admitting the present limitations” (The Jewish Way, R. Irving Greenberg, p. 256) Perhaps the ancient rabbis knew, even way back then, the importance of laughter in the balancing of our lives. They anticipated the serious words of wisdom penned by the singer, Jimmy Buffet, “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane….”
M’sheniknas Adar marbim b’simcha/”When the month of Adar arrives, joy is increased” –
May we embrace the months to come with joy, laughter, good health and some fortuitous cookie crumbs.
P.S. – I’d love to read your favorite recipe for hamantaschen and share it on our blog – please email me your recipe at firstname.lastname@example.org