What’s the lesson of hamantaschen and kreplach?
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
One of the major messages of Purim is that God works in hidden ways.
Although Purim, and the salvation of the Jewish people was clearly miraculous, God’s involvement was not apparent. God isn’t even mentioned in the entire Megillah, Book of Esther, once. Indeed, the name of story’s heroine, “Esther,” means “hidden” — as if to imply Jewish salvation came exclusively through her while God “hid” Himself.
But really, there was Something “hidden” behind the miracle – God.
Based on the theme of God and miracles being hidden in the Purim story, traditional Purim foods include “hidden” fillings.
That’s how hamantaschen and kreplach became associated with Purim.
For those who may be living under a rock, hamantaschen, or “oznei Haman” in Hebrew, are a sweet three-cornered pastry originally filled exclusively with poppy seeds but are now available in literally every type of filling imaginable. They’ve also been referred to as “Purim cookies” as the dough is essentially like regular cookie dough.
Hamantaschen were originally filled with poppy seeds to recall Esther’s vegetarian diet in the royal palace, where she secretly kept kosher by living on seeds and the like. So too, it reminds us that Daniel and his friends only ate seeds and the like when they were in the house of the king of Babylon.
The Hebrew “oznei Haman” literally means “Haman’s ears” which gave rise to a myth that Haman’s ears were cut off before he was hung. There is no basis for such a claim, and in many cultures and languages refer to small pastries as “ears.”
In another mistaken play-on-words, it may just be that Hamantaschen have nothing to do with the man Haman, at all.
As mentioned above, Hamantaschen were originally filled exclusively with poppy seeds. The word for poppy seeds in Yiddish is “mohn” and “tasch” means a “pocket.” Hence, it might just be that Hamantaschen is Yiddish for “poppy seed filled pockets!”
There is also an old legend that Haman wore a three-cornered hat which is why Hamantaschen are always made triangular.
Finally, the word “tasch” in Biblical Hebrew means “to weaken.” As such, “Hamantaschen” could be a reminder that “Haman was weakened.” There is also a teaching that Mordechai sent letters to all the Jews about the impending disaster by hiding the letters inside pastries. This gives us yet another connection to the “hidden filling” symbolism.
Kreplach are a close “cousin” to Hamantaschen, though the dough is different and they are usually filled with meat, similar to Italian ravioli or Chinese wontons. Kreplach are most frequently eaten in a soup though they are known to be served as side dishes with a potato filling. Kreplach are also eaten on the eve of Yom Kippur, and Hoshana Rabba.
What’s the Purim-kreplach connection?
On most holidays, it is clear that the day is holy, usually because we are forbidden to do work, similar to Shabbat. However, we can do work on Purim and the day’s holiness is not as readily apparent.
Because Purim’s holiness is also “hidden,” we have an additional reason to eat tasty food with a “hidden” filling.
On a more mystical note, the meat inside the kreplach represents emotions while the outer, white, flour-based covering represents knowledge.
Kreplach are eaten on the eve of Yom Kippur to represent our hope that we will be blessed with “hidden blessings” over the course of Yom Kippur. The mystics explain that Purim and Yom Kippur are very much connected (“Kippurim” / “Purim” – get it?). It is explained that what one can accomplish on Yom Kippur with prayer and fasting can be accomplished on Purim with feasting and celebration.
Therefore, just as on the eve of Yom Kippur we eat kreplach, we do so on Purim as well.
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