Concealed identities and hidden truths are the markers of the Jewish holiday of Purim, both in its exterior celebrations (the costumes) and in its deeper meaning. Much like a Shakespearean Comedy of Errors, on the surface the Megillat Ester is deceivingly simple and seemingly random in its sequence of events. The protagonists are assimilated, “comfortable” Jews living in a foreign land (Persia), afraid to reveal their identity, and it is the only book in the Tanakh (Bible) that makes no reference to God. Purim is the plural of the Persian term Pur (lots),those lots that Haman had cast to determine the fate of the Jews – as if to imply that our fate is a game of chance. On the other hand, this story seemed so relevant to our sages that it was included in the Biblical Canon, while the heroism and miracle of Hanukkah were left out. One of the greatest Torah scholars of the Middle Ages, Rambam (Maimonides) even maintains in his Code of Jewish Law that in the Messianic Age “All the books of the prophets and the sacred writings in the Bible will be annulled, with the exception of the Book of Ester” (Hilkhot Megillah 2:18).
The story of Purim is not easy to decipher: adding to the tease is the fact that the Queen’s name itself, Ester, comes from the word “saiter”, ‘conceal’, while the name of the book, Megillah, derives from the root “galal”, which means ‘to roll’, since we read it in a scroll, but also “to reveal”, as if to say that the very act of wrapping, concealing, was really meant to reveal some mysterious truth. Talking about concealments: even the Hebrew name for ‘World”, olam, comes from “alum“: ‘hidden’. The traditional interpretation is that all these apparent riddles playing with the idea of concealment are meant to remind people that it’s up to them to discover the true miracle of God’s presence in apparently random events and everyday things. In this sense, Ester’s fasting and finding the courage to reveal her identity to the king and ask him to save her people – was just as big a miracle as the parting of the Red Sea. The fascination with this motif was always so strong that Jewish culinary traditions all over the world have mirrored it in their holiday dishes, creating foods that hide (usually pleasant) surprises below the surface.
One of our Italian answers? Of course… ravioli! I am posting a version with ricotta both because I always prefer dairy, and because there is a custom to skip meat on Purim: the Talmud relates that that was what Queen Ester had to do in the palace of Ahasuerus, since she had no access to kosher meat (her husband the king was not Jewish). However, the carnivores among you can just scroll down toward the end of the recipe, and see how to make a meat version.