It’s interesting how the rabbinically instituted holidays are related to women. Both Chanukah and Purim have strong female heroes, at a time when women were not key players in history. As we live in a time of much debate about the roles of women, it is crucial for us to look back at our own heritage and see where the source of our Jewish femininity comes from. We are lucky to have a role model like Esther HaMalka, who embodied the virtues we hold dear and is such an integral part of the story of Purim that the megillah is named for her.
We are obligated to hear the reading of the megillah twice on Purim, and we must hear every single word. We should try to focus on the reading and not make it just another chore to cross of our list before mishloach manos and the seudah.
So, how can one truly take advantage of megillah reading?
Well, as with all good things, you must prepare in advance by learning the story and themes. Megillas Esther is a fascinating sefer, and there is a tremendous amount to learn about it. If you have time to go to a shiur before Purim, by all means, do so. Learning together with a group of like-minded women will give you a great deal of satisfaction and a sense of community. However, if you cannot arrange the time to do so, we are lucky enough to have many wonderful shiurim in every language available either online, via podcast or by calling into a phone line. Torahanytime.com, a regular Olam Yehudi contributor, has a treasure trove of shiurim listed by topic, and you can listen at your leisure while commuting or cleaning.
One of the strongest themes of the Purim story is that of hester panim, that Hashem hides Himself from us while controlling everything. A great way to prepare for Purim, other than by stocking up on every nosh on sale, is to begin to integrate the lessons of hashgacha pratis around you. Talk to your children and spouse about where you have seen the hidden hand of Hashem. Once you start, you will see it more and more.
Our family has a tradition that we learned from Lori Plotnick. Every Friday night, we share something that happened to us that week in which Hashem’s hashgacha was clear. My kids love to share their stories. It’s a truly wonderful feeling to see Hashem in our daily lives and the story of Purim can be a true catalyst for doing so.
Once you have come to appreciate the story of Megillas Esther, it’s time to figure out how you can attend a reading and focus on the story without being disturbed by your little ones. The best idea to trade off with either your husband or a friend. Although there are often megillah readings arranged in private homes for women, being in a shul setting will give you a much more authentic experience. During the reading, if you do not understand the words of the megillah in its original Hebrew, make sure to use a megillah with translation, so you can follow along as the miraculous story unfolds.
If you can’t find someone to trade off with, or a babysitter at that time, you will have to bring your small children with you. Depending on age, it is possible for a young child to stay quiet for the thirty to forty-five minutes required, especially if you come prepared with snacks that take a long time to eat. There are also quiet games children can play with such as sticker mosaics and easy puzzles. If your child begins to disturb the congregation, you’ll have to leave, but hopefully by doing your part, you will be granted a meaningful and enjoyable megillah reading.