By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
The word for “weaken” in Hebrew is “Tash.” Take a three-cornered cookie, each representing one of the three forefathers, and you have “Haman tash” – “Haman was weakened.”
The beloved and iconic snack of the holiday of Purim (or for a month before and after Purim!) is certainly the hamantash. The hamantash is a triangular cookie, with a pocket that is filled with any one of a number of fillings. Some of the more popular fillings include prune, chocolate, fruits preserves, caramel, nuts, along with many more options.
It is said that one year, on the day before Purim, Rabbi Yaakov Berlin, father of the famous Rabbi Naftali Berlin (also known as “the Netziv”), went to the market to purchase some Hamantashen for Purim. He went from baker to baker, but there were no hamantashen anywhere. After being let down in a few shops, he decided to ask one of the bakers why nobody had any hamantashen for sale. He was told that due to the recent drought, the price of flour had skyrocketed. As such, bakers were only using flour for making the Shabbat challah bread. Flour was just too expensive to use for “extras” like hamantashen.
Upon hearing this, Rabbi Berlin decided to address all the bakers in the city. At the gathering, he pulled out a large sum of money and gave some to each of them. He told them that the money was to be used to purchase flour so that they could bake hamantashen, explaining that the ancient tradition of eating hamantashen on Purim could not be neglected no matter what the price. A tradition is a tradition!
Rabbi Berlin then went on to explain how hamantashen got their name. In the story of Purim, we find that King Achashverosh neglected to reward Mordechai the Jew for saving his life from an assassination attempt. One night, however, Achashverosh couldn’t sleep and was reminded that Mordechai had not been rewarded. Better late than never, Achashverosh told the evil Haman that he was to parade Mordechai around town on his personal horse, dressing Mordechai in royal garments. This was the beginning of the end of Haman as well as the beginning of the salvation of the Jews from Haman’s evil plan to exterminate them.
The Midrash (rabbinic literature) teaches us that not only did Achashverosh have trouble sleeping that night, but that up in heaven, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob couldn’t sleep either due to the evil that was being planned against the Jews. The three forefathers began to pray for the Jews and pleaded with God to spare the Jewish people from destruction. It was in the merit of these prayers, along with the renewed commitment to the Torah by the Jewish people, that Haman’s plot was foiled.
The word for “weaken” in Hebrew is “Tash.” Take a three-cornered cookie, each representing one of the three forefathers, and you have “Haman tash” – “Haman was weakened.” There are other explanations for the name of this Purim snack as well.
Wishing you a very happy Purim, regardless of what filling you choose for your Hamantashen!