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Why Do We Give Gifts at Purim?

The book of Esther tells the tale of Esther and Mordecai, two Jews who saved the Jewish people from annihilation in the Persian Empire. During the holiday, many who celebrate the holiday dress up in fun costumes, hold fun traditions and give gifts to others in celebration of God’s redemption. Why is this a time of giving to others in need?

 

GIVING GIFTS FOR UNITY

The book of Esther in chapter nine speaks to the 14th of Adar, the day Purim is celebrated in “gladness and feasting and sending gifts of food to one another”. In traditional Judaism, this giving is called mishloach manot. At the time in the Persian  empire, the Jewish people were a people not of their own homeland. When Israel was captured by Babylon, the exiles of Israel were sent to Persian cities like Susa as a way to assimilate them into the culture of Persia and they were a “scattered and divided nation”. Many Jews lived in the empire and the events of Purim made the Jewish people realize that they had to unite themselves together in order to protect the culture and tradition of the God they served and the land they came from.

The purpose of gift-giving then was two-fold. First, the Jewish people sent each other gifts as a representation of unity and resolve as the people of Israel. No matter where they were in the empire, they were affirming their Jewish family and heritage among one another and standing in conviction as one nation. This is one characteristic that has persevered the Jewish people through every period of history: they stand together in the unity of their faith in the God of Israel.

GIVING GIFTS TO CARE FOR THE POOR

Secondly, giving gifts to those in need is a mandate of the Torah, seen in Deuteronomy 15:11. Giving gifts to each other during the holidays such as Sukkot or Tabernacles, and Purim were normal occurrences. Giving gifts, especially of food, ensured that everyone had the ability to celebrate the holiday, whether rich or poor. Every Jewish person, and those in need were all provided for because of the community coming together to fulfill the mandate of God. In this way, the poor and rich alike were brought together and given a chance to celebrate the redemption of God in the story of Purim.

GIVING GIFTS TODAY

Today, we have the same opportunity to come together in unity with our Christian brothers and sisters. The New Testament speaks over and over again to the same concept of providing for those in need. Jesus asked his disciples in Matthew 19:21 to give up their possessions to those in need so that they would “store up treasures in heaven.” In Philippians 2:4, we are called to “look to the interests of others.” During Purim, we can remember the words of Jesus and give to those who are in need, because the poor will always be with us.

So as you prepare for Purim, how are you considering those in need around you? Take time with your family to recognize the needs of those around you in community and consider some ways you can help and provide for their needs. Do you know a single mom who needs money to pay her rent? Send her an anonymous gift of cash. Is there a family who needs a good meal on the table? Send a grocery gift card, or a basket of food to their door. Is there someone who is single and alone who just needs time in community? Invite them over for a good dinner and a Purim celebration. Let Jesus in this time of the year bring you awareness of the people around you, and bless them in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.