Hamantaschen: Symbol of Adar
Adar 5772 begins at sundown February 23rd, 2012 and ends at sundown March 23rd, 2012.
Yes, it’s Adar and I decided to go exactly where you expected me to this month — Purim and Hamantaschen. But as opposed to doing a history of the fabled, and delicious, Purim cookie — I’m going to explore some of the mythic and ritual opportunities these humble cookies offer us.
If you are unfamiliar with the history of hamantaschen, this post from Seforim Blog is a great place to start (thanks to Velveteen Rabbi for the link). For some the triangle shaped cookies represent Haman’s (the villian of Purim) hat, pockets or ears. There are also dozens of different recipes for the delicious cookies, and debates over whether jam or poppy-seed filling is the best. There are yeast dough recipes, regular old cookie dough recipes, and even this cream cheese recipes that seems to merge rugelach and hamantaschen.
But enough about the actual cookie. Let’s talk ritual experience.
Yes, you can just eat the yummy cookie and enjoy it. But if you give yourself the opportunity, there’s a huge opportunity for personal and spiritual transformation wrapped in a delicious cookie shaped package. The rituals of Purim, both the hamantashen and the “Purim Shpiel,” offer us opportunities to to symbolically gain power of our enemies. This is the reason that we shout, stomp, and use noise makers during the reading of the Megillah (Story of Esther) to drown out the name of Haman. This is why we dress in silly costumes and do “Purim Shpiel” plays. The ability to make fun of our enemies and make them ridiculous can give us emotional power over our enemies.
Hamantashen are supposed to be parts of Haman (ears, hats, pockets), enemy of the Jewish people. We literally consume him. We transform him into a delicate, delicious cookie and eat him. The only way he can harm us in this form, is by making us gain weight or raising our cholesterol. (Yes, I know others associate these cookies with the yoni symbol, Esther, and the Queen of Heaven — but that doesn’t help us here…)
Ritual for Purim
You will need home baked or purchased hamantashen in different favors, probably a glass of milk or other beverage to wash it down, candles, copy of Psalms. This ritual can be done as an individual experience or in a group. As with everything in Judaism, communal experience should be preferable.
Take a few minutes to settle everyone down, and take a few deep breaths together.
Casting the Circle / Transitioning to Sacred Awareness
Have everyone stand in a circle and one-by-one, clockwise, intone the word “Shema” (listen). Keep repeating the word until you are all chanting it together, and let the sound grow and grow. Think about who you are commanding to “listen” – yourself, those with you, ancestors, angels, G!d/dess!
Light your candles. If this is a solo ritual, then just light two candles. If you are doing this as a group use two or one candle for each participant. Below are suggested versions of the traditional brachot to use. Please use whatever form is truthful and resonant for you.
- Hebrew (addressing Divine Feminine): Brucha at Shekhina, Eloteinu Ruach HaOlam, Asher Kidshatnu b’Mitzvotav, Vitzivanu L’Hadlick Ner shel Purim.
- English: Blessed are you Holy One, your Presence fills creation, forming the connections between us that are illuminated by holiday lights of Purim.
Give everyone a plate of 6 hamantashen. You want people to eat all six, so make them small if you need to.
- 3 corners on each cookie: symbolic of complete patterns (3 patriarchs, 3 matzot, 3 blasts of the shofar, phrases of priestly blessing)
- 6 is the number of balance or the final step in a process: (magen david, sixth day, Shavuot 6th day of 6th month)
- 18 corners: all the cookies together give you 18 corners. 18 is the numerical equivalent of the word “Chai,” which means life.
Say the blessing over cookies: Blessed are You, Holy One, your Presence fills creation forming many kinds of nourishment.
Say the blessing over wine (if using wine or champagne): Blessed are You, Holy One, your Presence fills creation, forming the fruit of the vine
If you are using juice other than grape juice, please say appropriate blessing over that juice.
Have each person name each cookie for an “enemy” that is oppressing her/him. Be honest — this can be a person, situation, emotion, behavior. You can have fun trying to figure out why you would associate each flavor with that enemy. For each cookie, if you wish, think about what are the three steps you need to take to truly overcome that enemy — or what three resources you already have to overcome that enemy.
If you all wish, cookie by cookie, share what enemy you are trying to overcome and the resources you have or need.
Eating the Hamantashen
After declaring what the cookie represents to you, either silently or aloud, hold the cookie in your hands and say:
- Masculine G!d/dess language: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Ruach HaOlam, Matir Asurim
- Feminine G!d/dess language: Brucha at Shekhina, Eloteinu Ruach HaOlam, Matirah Asurim
- English (neutral): Blessed are You, Holy One, your Presence fills creation, Freeing the Bound
Eat the hamantashen thinking about what it is you are trying to overcome and the resources you have or need to do this. Envision each bite removing all the obstacles and freeing you from what oppresses you.
Finish each cookie with a toast of “Ani Chofshi” (men) or “Ani Chofshia” (women) – I am Free, and drink down whatever liquid you are using.
Closing the Ritual
Releasing the Circle / Returning to Standard Awareness
Have everyone stand in a circle again and intone the word “Shema” (listen) all together – loud. One-by-one, counter clockwise, drop out of the chant until there is silence. Think about who you are commanding to “listen” – yourself, those with you, ancestors, angels, G!d/dess!
Take three deep, cleansing breaths together and say three times: Kein Yehi Ratzon – May it be Your Will!