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.
But why gifts?
GIVING GIFTS FOR UNITY
Chapter nine of the book of Esther speaks to the 14th of Adar, the day Purim is celebrated. The people of Israel are beckoned to partake in “gladness and feasting and sending gifts of food to one another.” In traditional Judaism, this giving is called mishloach manot.
At the time, the Jewish people were a people not in their own land. When Babylon captured Israel, the exiles were sent to Persian cities like Susa as a way to assimilate them into the culture. Thus, Israel became a “scattered and divided nation.” For the Jews living in Persia, the events of Purim called for action, and the people united to protect their culture and tradition.
That’s where the gifts come in.
The purpose of gift-giving then was two-fold. First, the Jewish people sent gifts to encourage a sense of resolve and unity. No matter their physical whereabouts in the empire, gifts affirmed their Jewish heritage. The ability to stand together in conviction and faith in God has preserved the Jewish people through every period of history.
GIVING GIFTS TO CARE FOR THE POOR
Secondly, gifts were used to bless people who were struggling. Looking out for the poor and marginalized is so important to God, that He commands His people to practice a lifestyle of looking out for the poor in Deuteronomy 15:11. Giving gifts to each other during the holidays such as Sukkot (Tabernacles) and Purim were normal occurrences. Giving gifts, especially food, ensured that everyone had the ability to celebrate the holiday, regardless of income. Every Jewish person was 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 experience the redemptive power of God through Purim.
GIVING GIFTS TODAY
Think giving gifts at Purim is outdated? Or just for the Jewish community? Thank again!
We have the same opportunity today to come together in unity with our Christian brothers and sisters. The New Testament also speaks 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 generously extend our hands to those who are in need.
So as you prepare for Purim, ask yourself this question: how am I considering those in need around me? Take time with your family to recognize the needs of those around you and brainstorm some ways you can help. 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? A grocery gift card or a basket of food would mean a lot. 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. There are so many ways to show some love.
Giving gifts isn’t just for Hanukkah or Tabernacles, and it certainly doesn’t go out of style. May you be blessed this season as you open your arms and hearts to Jesus and those around you.