There is an ancient and widespread custom that when Haman’s name is mentioned during the Megillah reading on Purim, the congregation (especially the children) spin groggers, bang, shout, stamp their feet, and generally make a ruckus.
This custom is recorded already by Rabbi David Avudraham (14th century, Spain), who notes an earlier custom for children to draw a picture or write the name of Haman on wood or stones and then bang them together to “erase” Haman’s representation. This is in line with the verse, “You shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Devarim 25:19), as Haman was a descendant of Amalek. This custom, Rav Avudraham writes, later evolved into the practice of banging and making noise when the name of Haman is read. Today, this is often accomplished by spinning groggers.
Some have discouraged this custom, but both Rav Yosef Caro (the Mechaber) and Rav Moshe Isserles (the Rama) reference it, adding, “One should not dismiss any custom or belittle it,” as there is deep meaning behind it.
Although the basic reason for making noise stems from the requirement to “blot out” Haman’s name, there are additional meanings behind the custom, as well:
Reluctance to Mentioning Haman
The Chasam Sofer (Rav Moshe Sofer, 1762–1839, Central Europe) explains that the Torah commands us to obliterate the name of the nation of Amalek, to ensure it is never remembered – but there is no greater “remembrance” of Amalek than with the reading about Haman in the Megillah. We therefore raise a ruckus after hearing Haman’s name, to show that we do not really want to hear his name, and are doing so only because of the mitzvah to listen to the entire Megillah, which includes Haman’s name. (It should be emphasized that in order to fulfill the obligation, one must hear every word – so do not start your noisemaking until the reader finishes saying the name Haman, and stop as soon as the reader or the rabbi signals to stop!)
The Levush (Rabbi Mordechai Yaffeh, 1530–1612) cites the verse in the Torah (Devarim 25:2), which speaks of flogging sinners (“vehaya im bin hakos harasha”), and he notes that the final letters spell out the name “Haman.” Accordingly, we bang when we hear the name Haman, following the Torah’s allusion to “flogging” this evil villain.
After the Jews fought Amalek in the desert, Gd said to Moses, “Inscribe this [as] a memorial in the book, and recite it in Yehoshua’s ears, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens” (Shemos 17:14). The Midrash explains the phrase “I will utterly blot out” to mean that Gd will eradicate the remnants of Amalek even “from wood and stone.” Thus, the custom evolved to write (and subsequently erase) the name of Haman on wood or stone.
Furthermore, the words “I will utterly blot out” (macho emcheh) have the same numerical value as the phrase “zeh Haman” – “this is Haman” (107), and Rabbi Pinchas of Koreitz (1726-1791) explains that the word macho is sometimes translated as “strike.” We therefore bang upon mentioning Haman’s name in commemoration of Gd’s pronouncement, “macho emcheh,” to “strike” Haman.
If Haman’s plans were realized, Gd forbid, then we would not exist. Haman thus posed a threat to every generation of Jews, and must be combatted anew in every age. Rabbi Chaim Palagi (1788–1868, Turkey) explains that when we bang during the reading of Haman’s name, Haman is beaten once again in the underworld, fulfilling our responsibility to fight against him.
When to Bang
Many have the custom to make noise each time Haman’s name is mentioned, while others bang only when there is some honorific attached to his name, or when it is mentioned in the context of his downfall.
The mystics explain that the spiritual war with Amalek continues throughout the generations, especially in the waning days of the present exile. When we fulfill the mitzvah of obliterating the spiritual Amalek, the world comes that much closer to the time when Gdliness will be manifest to all with the coming of Mashiach. May it be speedily in our days, amen!
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin serves as content editor at Chabad.org, and writes the popular weekly Ask Rabbi Y column.