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Gunpowder Purim

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JewishTreats.org

There are many ways to thank God for saving your life. Many people donate extra tzedakah (charity) as a means of demonstrating their gratitude. In situations that were particularly harrowing, some people host a seudat ho’da’ah, a feast of gratitude. There is even a special prayer that is recited in synagogue for people who survive life-threatening events; it is known as birkat ha’gomel.

If you were a rabbi who witnessed the miraculous survival of yourself and your family, you might just declare a personal Purim, as did Rabbi Avraham Danzig (1748-1820). Rabbi Danzig was born in what is known today as Gdansk (Poland), formerly known as Danzig. Most of his life, however, was spent in Vilna. Though Rabbi Danzig did not accept an official rabbinic position (he was a merchant), he was known as one of Vilna’s most venerable poskim (plural for Jewish legal decisor). Additionally, he wrote several highly regarded books on halacha (Jewish law). The Chayei Adam (and its companion the Nishmat Adam) and the Chochmat Adam (and its companion the Binat Adam) both present in-depth reviews and summaries of sections of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law).

On the 15th of Kislev, 1804 (18 November), a terrible fire broke out in Vilna. As nearby buildings were collapsing and being consumed by the flames, Rabbi Danzig and his entire family gathered in one room in their home and prayed. That night, the Danzig home was engulfed in flames. Even the walls collapsed. Incredibly, Rabbi Danzig and his family were unharmed. Thereafter, each year, on the 16th of Kislev, his family (and eventually his descendants) lit candles, recited Psalms, had a feast of thanksgiving and gave charity in honor of their remarkable survival. Rabbi Danzig called this day the “Pulver Purim” (Purim of the Gunpowder).

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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