For One Day Only, It is Not Your Fault

Which Megillah are you going to this year? Express? Family Megillah? This important decision rides on one central question: How many Hamans are you planning on “Klapping”?

Amazingly, even on a day when we have so many wonderful mitzvos of community and connection to fulfill, somehow, Klal Yisrael has still found controversy in Klapping Haman.

If you find yourself squarely on either side of the debate, know that you are in good company. We’ve been arguing the issue for over a millennia.

Rabbi Shem Tob Gaguine (כתר שם טוב ב ע’ תקמג) relates that on the Purim of 1783, a group of unruly youths came to the Spanish-Portuguese congregation in London with hammers and axes, banging on the chairs and tables during the Megillah; and their “foolish fathers” did nothing to stop them.

Following that Purim, the officers of the Shul ruled that anyone causing any Haman disturbances during future Megillah readings was to be evicted from the Shul.

But the debate goes back far further and it’s worth noting that the Rama codifies both the practice and its value in Shulchan Aruch (או”ח תרצ יז):

עוד כתבו שנהגו התינוקות לצור צורת המן על עצים ואבנים או לכתוב שם המן עליהם ולהכותן זה על זה כדי שימחה שמו על דרך מחה תמחה את זכר עמלק ושם רשעים ירקב ומזה נשתרבב המנהג שמכים המן כשקורים את המגילה בב”ה [אבודרהם] ואין לבטל שום מנהג או ללעוג עליו כי לא לחנם הוקבע [ב”י בשם א”ח]

It is also written that the young children are accustomed to draw pictures of Haman on trees or stones or to write the name of Haman on themselves and to strike one against the other in order to blot out his name according to “The name of Amalek shall surely be erased” ... We must not nullify any custom nor should we ridicule any custom since they were not established frivolously.

In the generations that followed, many Rabbanim and Gedolim attempted to abolish the minhag, for all the obvious reasons; halachik, hashkafic, political and social. Yet the custom prevailed.

Of course, for a minhag to survive this long with such opposition, there must be something hidden beneath the surface.

The Tikunei Zohar famously teaches that “Purim Ki-Purim”; there is a deep connection between Yom Kippur and Purim. Many Sefarim are replete with commentaries and explanations of this connection, and for our purposes, it is interesting to note that both of these days feature some type of “Klapping”.

On Yom Kippur, we hit our hearts with every mention of “Chatanu” and on Purim we stamp on the floor or beat sticks and stones at each mention of Haman.

The Magen Avraham (או”ח תרז ג) quotes the Medrash, explaining the reason for hitting our hearts on Yom Kippur: אַתָּה גָּרַמְתָּ לִי הַחֵטְא – You, heart, caused me to sin.

The Sefer HaChaim (written by the brother of the Maharal) adds further that when when hit our hearts, we are staging a one-person protest, telling our hearts that our hands will not act impulsively any longer.

The simple intention behind this minhag is the notion that we are fully responsible for our actions.

Taking responsibility for our problems is becoming far less popular in the world today. People enjoy passing the buck, ducking from owning our issues and our habits. We prefer to point fingers, blame others and shirk responsibility.

But Yom Kippur is a day that forces us to come to terms with the reality that אַתָּה גָּרַמְתָּ לִי הַחֵטְא – my own heart led me astray; each action driving my further and further from my purpose in life. Teshuva is the heavy process of realizing and verbalizing “I caused this, I did this.”

Truthfully, we observe this practice in every weekday Shmoneh Esrei; we beat our hearts as we admit “forgive us Hashem, we have failed.” We accept that our choices have created the reality of our lives, and we work to do better.

But there is one day of the year where the script is flipped. That day is Purim.

Regarding Purim (as we will hear this Shabbos leading up to it) the Torah commands us: זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק – Remember what Amalek did to you.

Amalek back then did not choose to hate us because of our sins and flaws. Likewise, the nations and groups that embody Amalek today hate us for who we are and what we represent.

This war was done to us, perpetrated against us. In other words, this one fight, the fight against Amalek is not our fault.

In the deepest sense, the hatred that Amalek harbors is rooted in the existence of evil itself. Chazal (חולין קלט ב) tell us that Haman is hinted to in the Torah in the Pasuk in the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil:

המן מן התורה מנין (בראשית ג, יא) המן העץ

They also asked Rav Mattana: From where in the Torah can one find an allusion to Haman? He replied: The verse states after Adam ate from the tree of knowledge: “Have you eaten of [hamin] the tree, about which I commanded you that you should not eat?” (Genesis 3:11). (Hamin is spelled in the same manner as Haman: Heh, mem, nun.)

When we hear the name Haman, we do not beat our hearts, for our hearts did not cause the Hamans of the world. Instead, we blot out the name of Haman / Amalek. Here, and only here, we rightfully point fingers.

Perhaps this explains why it is that the minhag of Klapping Haman is primarily practiced by children. There is no clearer evidence of faultlessness than kids. If a nation hates Jewish children, that’s not because our kids sinned. Their hearts have not led them astray.

When children are attacked, kidnapped and targeted, we can clearly state: They did nothing to deserve it. And by extension, neither did any of us.

For one day a year, we can celebrate knowing that none of this is our fault. Ironically, anti-semitism has nothing to do with us. There is nothing that we did to cause it, and there is nothing we can to end it. The only thing to do is to destroy it.

Purim is a stark reminder to all those presenting their “As a Jew...” monologues.

Purim tells us that “as a Jew” we take full responsibility for our faults, flaws and failures. We own our mitzvos, aveiros and their consequences. But we take no responsibility for the hatred that others harbor against us.

Indeed, Hashem Himself takes the responsibility here, promising כִּי־מָחֹה אֶמְחֶה אֶת־זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם – “I, Hashem, will destroy Amelek from beneath the heavens.” Hashem declares that the war against Amalek is His war. He created the possibility of evil; so He will be the one to end it. All that He asks is that we join Him on that battle field; taking action rather than taking blame.

My feeling this year is that even if you’re not a fan of Klapping Haman, perhaps this Purim we should all Klap Haman a little louder (while remaining respectful).

Every Klap is a tefillah, asking Hashem to destroy His enemies. Every Klap is a message to the rest of our Klal Yisrael that we don’t hold them accountable for the hatred of Amalek either. Every Klap is a reminder to the hostages that we have not forgotten them.

With Hashem’s help, we should soon see the end of evil, and names of our enemies will finally be put to rest.