Monday, June 05, 2023

A poker player, I’m not. But even I know that “four of a kind” beats “three of a kind.” And that is the story of Purim in a nutshell. It was the diabolical Haman who set out on a three-fold mission to destroy, slay and exterminate the Jews (Esther 3:13). Yet, the best laid plans of mice and men … and infamous anti-Semites often go awry. Thankfully, the Jews were neither destroyed, slayed nor exterminated. Instead, they were accorded four blessings of light, gladness, joy and honor (Esther 8:16). As we prepare to celebrate Purim, it behooves us to look at the Yiddish equivalent of the “four of a kind” blessings that came the way of our Persian ancestors that nullified Haman’s destructive “three of a kind.”

Leichtigkeit (light). Whenever a silent “gh” appears in the middle of a word, it is a safe bet that the word comes from German. Such is the case with the word “light” which is taken from the German “licht.” It was befitting that the Jews of Persia were rewarded with leichtigkeit given the dark clouds of destruction that enveloped them. What better antidote for the expression “finster in die oigen” (literally, darkness in the eyes) than leichtigkeit?

Feyeroong (celebration). True, the Hebrew words “sasson” and “simcha” are typically translated as “happiness” and “joy.” One is hard pressed, however, to explain the difference between “sasson” and “simcha,” just as one is hard pressed to explain the difference between “happiness” and “joy.” I, therefore, take a translator’s license and employ “feyeroong” as the Yiddish equivalent of simcha. Given what Haman had planned for them, the Jews of Persia had every reason to celebrate—now that they could see a bright future—thanks to the leichtigkeit.

Frayd (joy). For those who dabble in psychology, “schadenfreude” is experiencing joy at someone else’s misfortune. We are enjoined not to rejoice at the downfall of our enemy (Proverbs 24:17). Nevertheless, we can experience joy that we no longer have any enemy to fear and that all our energies can be expended for positive purposes. Frayd is the Yiddish version of the German “freude.”

Ehreh (honor). While “frayd” takes on a Yiddish pronunciation of a German word, “ehreh” leaves the pronunciation in the German original. Finding ourselves despised as a people time and time again throughout history, having “ehreh” bestowed upon us was quite a pipe dream. On a personal note, more than once do I recall attending a dinner event with the programs printed in Yiddish. Without fail, those programs would list a ehrengast (guest of honor).

The leichtigkeit, feyeroong, frayd and ehreh known to the Jews of Persia were greatly cherished. Looking back, our sages viewed the verse in Esther 8:16 as a blessing that ought not to have been limited to the Jews in the Purim story. Our sages reasoned that if leichtigkeit, feyeroong, frayd and ehreh were bestowed upon our Persian ancestors, then leichtigkeit, feyeroong, frayd and ehreh should be bestowed upon their descendants as well! Accordingly, this four of a kind was incorporated into our weekly havdala service, chanted at the conclusion of Shabbat.

Rabbi Shawn Zell has recently returned to New Jersey, after serving at a pulpit in Dallas. He possesses certification in teaching Yiddish. Rabbi Zell is the author of three books.

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