We are a strange people at times.
I was baking humantashen for Purim (that’s the traditional cookie for the holiday of Purim – which is celebrated this Sunday) using my associate’s fantastic recipe, which you can find on the pizzabagelschmaltz blog - http://pizzabagelschmaltz.tumblr.com/.
I started thinking about the symbolism of this very tasty food. Humantashen are basically sugar cookies filled with poppy traditionally, but now the more modern strawberry, apricot, chocolate or even as I am trying – peppermint patties. They are shaped into triangles. Why triangles? Well, there starts the story.
Humantashen represent Haman.
Haman was a high- ranking minister in the Persian Empire (sometime around the 500’s BCE) who got his eyes set on destroying the Jews apparently because one Jew upset him. Tradition goes that Haman wore a three cornered hat. I guess that style didn’t really catch on until George Washington’s time because this was a feature that made him stand out from everyone else.
Thankfully, Mordecai and Esther were in the right place at the right time and put a stop to Haman’s plans. It turned out that Haman was the one who hanged and no Jews were killed.
So back to our humantashen. The tradition began that we bake and eat these cookie treats on the holiday – every Jewish holiday comes with food. This food, however, represents the enemy – Haman – either because of the reference to his hat, or as the word means literally – his ears. Not sure how ears are three cornered, but maybe someone out there has an explanation for us.
We are literally “eating our enemy”.
Is this a Jewish value? Sure we make sure we are safe and let everyone know that coming after us is not a good idea, but to be eating our enemy 2500 years later? Isn’t that taking retribution a little far?
Maybe there is value in remembering not only our defeats – we commemorate many in our multitude of fast days – and our smaller victories, like Chanuka, but our triumphs. And maybe it’s not childish or foolish to do so through a cookie.
We take the bitterness of an enemy and make it into something sweet.
Leadership lesson: There is a lot to learn from commemorating an enemy’s defeat through a sweet reminder. We cannot dwell on the bitterness of people that try to hurt us. Not personally nor professionally. That would just turn us bitter and vengeful in the end. Nor do we want to “forgive and forget.” You cannot turn your back on the history that defines you. So what to do? Remember, but with a sense of the accomplishment you had in triumph. Now that’s sweet.