You might think it odd talking about Yom Kippur just days before Purim. But actually that is exactly why I am thinking so fondly of our holy fast day. Because as holidays go – Yom Kippur has become the easiest to prepare for – and the least taxing on both the body and the pocketbook.
Even Purim has become stressful, exhausting and expensive – not quite like Pesach, of course, that’s in a class of its own – but literally no longer “a piece of cake.”
Purim used to be easy – and user friendly. You prepared a few food baskets with three or four items, like a chocolate bar, a fruit, a drink and maybe homemade hamentaschen and gave them out to a few friends and relatives – as did your children.
Costumes were often a sheet wrapped around a boy’s shoulders to look like a royal mantle; a moustache or beard was painted on his face with black magic marker; and tin foil was wrapped around a stick and instantly became a scepter.
The girls put on a hand-me-down outfit from a cousin who wore it at her big sister’s wedding, some bright red lipstick, and an old shaitel and voila - they were transformed into Queen Esther.
My mother, a”h, told me that in her town in Poland, she remembers Purims where an orange circulated through the day from one family to another. Apparently, oranges were a luxury item in Poland during the winter and someone who could splurge, bought an orange and give it to an esteemed friend or relative in their mishloach manot – who then passed it on to another relative/friend who would also gave it away.
Eventually, the orange would end up in the possession of the original owner – recycling in its purest form that left everyone feeling special.
But that was then and this is now – and Purim has become as time-consuming, expensive and exhaustive as Pesach. And our other holidays are quickly catching up, with Chanukah and its catered parties – not just latkes anymore – and a week full of expensive gift giving.
Even Tu B’Shevat has its elaborate fruit and nut gift baskets, some costing enough to feed a family for a week. What happened to a plate of dried fruit and carob?
These days a simple costume or food basket for Purim will no longer “do.” The mishloach manot have to be elaborate and artfully arranged, containing expensive bottles of wine, and high-end chocolates and candy etc. And for “shalom bayit” you have to give one to just about every breathing person you know - you neighbor, cousin, friend, in-law, teacher, colleague, handyman, doctor, sheitel macher etc. It’s not unusual for the average household to prepare 50 or more (a conservative estimate).
Costumes can no longer be just make-belief outfits, but themed works of art - and must be homemade – buying them is deemed a cop-out.
The problem isn’t in doing all these things. It’s the feeling that you HAVE to. There is an unspoken expectation and thuspressure to produce; a sense that you have to give fancy (read expensive) mishloach manot - and the belief that if you didn’t make your children’s costumes – you somehow are an inadequate mother – and you children are to be pitied.
For that reason, overburdened, harried mothers – many who work outside the home, have a household full of children and limited time for necessary chores – feel obligated to spend money they need for basic necessities, to make dozens upon dozens of “wow” food baskets and costumes.
Again, if this gives you pleasure – then that’s great. Holidays are to be enjoyed. But for many, Yom Tov has become a burden.
Recently at an Emunah event, renowned radio host and speaker Dennis Prager spoke about being happy. At one point he mentioned that if you aren’t enjoying your religion (he speaks to people of various faiths) – then you are doing something wrong. He then asked the mostly female audience how they felt about the upcoming Pesach holiday and there was a loud collective groan. That is not the response a Yom Tov should elicit.
Our holidays are supposed to be joyful, fun, occasions, not days to be dreaded because they exhaust us and deplete our energy and our finances.
Some community rabbonim have set limitations on wedding expenses. Why not set limits on our Purim spending and mishloach manot giving, as well?
I myself have told my friends, relatives and machatunim, etc. that I am mochel them not giving me mishloach manot. I will not give them any – thus they will not feel obligated to give me (I hope). I see this as a mutual favor. I certainly don’t need tons of nosh to tempt me and raise my blood sugar or cholesterol. Nor do any of us need a month’s worth of chametz to take up space in the kitchen cabinets and fridge. My “mishloach manot” will be verbal as I wish them two good things - such as good health and nachat – at the very least.
So going back to Yom Kippur.
Besides a meal that isn’t that different from what is usually prepared for Shabbat – (less spicy perhaps) there is little preparation or financial strain involved in observing it – and it’s certainly not fattening. What could be more enjoyable than that?