Why do we celebrate Purim in such close proximity to Pesach? Why must they always be linked in time?
The Talmud (Megillah 6b) explains, in the name of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, that it is “preferable to connect [one] redemption to [the other] redemption.”
In other words, the two redemptions – the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt and the salvation of the Jewish people from the genocidal designs of Haman in the Purim story – are naturally related and require commemoration within the same period of time.
What do hamentaschen and matzahs have in common? What connection could there be between Pharaoh and Haman, Moses and Mordecai, Miriam and Esther?
Actually, it is a pattern in the Jewish calendar that there should be a 30-day period of preparation before a major observance. The High Holidays have the month of Elul before them with preparations and soundings of the shofar. Pesach also has its preparatory season, with the Fast of Esther and Purim to set the tone for a spring of commemoration and celebration.
But there is more. The main part of the story in Esther took place on Pesach. Haman cast the infamous lot to set a date for the destruction of the Jews on the 13th of Nisan (Esther 3:7, 12). The third day, when Esther went in to see the king, would have been 15 Nisan. Thus, the Jews of Shushan fasted through Pesach in that year!
Both Pesach and Purim occurred outside the land of Israel, in Egypt and Persia. Both involved the near extermination of the people of Israel. Moses and Esther both appeared before kings to rescue their people. Pharaoh’s army and Haman both perished.
Now that Purim is over we are on to the next holiday. According to Jewish law, we begin studying the laws of an upcoming holiday 30 days before that holiday begins. The holiday of Purim precedes Pesach by just 30 days so in addition to learning the laws there is much to prepare. In a very practical sense, Purim and Pesach, and all of the days in between, are connected.
In addition to Purim and Pesach being connected, they also have something very important in common. Jewish children had a great influence on what happened to the entire Jewish people at both of those times in Jewish history.
Concerning Purim, the Midrash tells us that Haman’s wicked decree was abolished in the merit of the Torah study and prayers of the Jewish children. G-d accepted their pure and heartfelt prayers and brought about the Purim redemption. Regarding Pesach, the Talmud tells us that despite the bitter slavery they endured, the Jewish people raised a very special generation of children. This is best illustrated by what happened at the splitting of the Red Sea. Our Sages teach that the children recognized G-d first – even before the adults.
What significance does this have for us today? Since Pesach is the time of freedom and redemption, Jewish children and the Jewish child within each one of us must use these days between Purim and Pesach to prepare for Pesach in a manner that shows true “freedom.” This can be accomplished by freeing ourselves of our limitations (the Hebrew word for “limitation” – “maytzarim,” is etymologically related to “Mitzrayim” – “Egypt”). We will then be able to fulfil mitzvos with joy and tranquility.
Both of these holidays celebrate the redemption of the Jewish people. And both teach lessons about the relationship between survival and tolerance. One similarity between Purim and Pesach is the emphasis on charity. For both holidays, there are specific charities to ensure that the poor can celebrate the holiday properly. On Purim, the book of Esther directs people to give “matanos l’evyonim,” gifts to the poor, which the poor can use to celebrate Purim properly. On Pesach, the Mishnah (Pesachim 99b) tells us that even the poorest person was outfitted with four cups of wine for the Seder. Even though wine is a luxury item that we wouldn’t normally distribute to the poor, we provide it to poor people on the eve of Pesach so they can celebrate the Seder properly. There is also a custom to collect “maos chittim” “money for wheat”, which was distributed to poor people to supply them with wheat for matzah and money for the Pesach Seder. Another similarity is that both holidays emphasize the involvement of children. On Purim, there is a custom to bring young children to hear the Megillah reading (Tur 689). Children dress in costumes and make noise with groggers when Haman’s name is mentioned. On Pesach, the entire Seder is structured to get the children to ask questions ( Pesachim 109a, 115b). The “four questions” which start the Seder, are recited by the youngest child present. The afikomen game, where a piece of matzah is held “ransom” by the children of the home, is meant to keep the children involved and excited throughout the Seder. What is the meaning of these similarities? Since both Purim and Pesach celebrate survival and redemption, we have large, festive meals. Great care is taken to include all members of the community. On both holidays, hospitality is featured. Even though children are not expected to participate in these holidays until they are older, an exciting, child-friendly atmosphere is created to involve them. The needy, who normally cannot afford these lavish holiday meals, are provided with all their needs. This is because survival includes the entire community, no matter what age or tax bracket. And when celebrating survival, we want to make sure we celebrate as a community, uniting everyone together.
May all our preparations for Pesach be happy and fulfilling.