Tonight begins the festival of Purim, the most powerful day of the year. Most people associate the holiday with the customs of dressing up in costume, the parties, and the L’Chaims. However, behind the physicality and traditions of this holiday there is a spiritually charged lesson and message. A message so relevant for us today in the midst of a world broken, plagued by terror, darkness, and a tangible spiritual heaviness that begs the question, “Is Hashem still with us?”
“According to the Oral Tradition, this holiday – unlike others – will be celebrated even after the final redemption. The Purim story and the message it conveys will not pale in the light of the ultimate truth revealed in the messianic age and the awesome events that will happen then. What could be so important about the book of Ester that it equals the importance and value of the Torah? Purim is a terrific holiday, by why does it hold such great significance for the Jewish people that it seemingly outshines (and will outlast) the other holidays?”
Before answering those questions, let’s look back at parsha Beshalach.
The Torah tells us about Am Yisrael in the midbar:
“The entire Jewish People traveled… they rested on Refidim and there was no water for the nation to drink… the nation thirsted there for water and the nation complained about Moshe, and said, ‘Why did you bring us up from Egypt to kill me and my sons and my cattle with thirst’… And Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Pass before the nation… and you shall strike the rock and water will come out of it’… Moshe did so in front of the Elders of Israel.” (Shemot 17:1-6)
Chazal say that Refidim alludes to rifyon yadayim, the Jews’ weakening in Torah. The Torah is likened to water so when the Jews slackened off in their Torah learning, it was physically manifested by a lack of drinking water. (Or Hachaim).
The Torah’s account of this incident ends with:
“He called the name of the place Masa U’meriva because of the Jews’ fight (riv) and their trying Hashem (nassosam es Hashem), as they said, ‘Is Hashem among us or not?” (Shemot 17:7)
“The Torah specifies that the Jew’s sin was their doubting of Hashem’s presence, their questioning “Is Hashem among us?” In the midbar, the Jews were on a high spiritual level. The ananei hakavod surrounding them didn’t merely offer physical protection from wars and dangerous reptiles – they also represented the Jews’ spiritual standing. The Jews were on a lofty – “heavenly” – level, meriting the constant revelation of the Shechinah. EVEN SO, THERE WERE TIMES THAT THEY ENJOYED GREATER SPIRITUAL HEIGHTS AND TIMES OF SPIRITUAL WEAKNESS. HASHEM DIDN’T CONDEMN THE JEWS FOR THEIR SPIRITUAL DECLINE – AFTER ALL, HE PURPOSELY RUNS THE WORLD IN SUCH A WAY THAT EVERYONE EXPERIENCES UPS AND DOWNS, AND THESE TRIALS HELP US GROW AND DRAW CLOSER TO HIM; RATHER, HE REBUKED THEM FOR QUESTIONING IF HASHEM WAS AMONG THEM. They felt that at times of spiritual weakness, Hashem wasn’t with them, chas veshalom – and for that they were faulted.”
“The next topic in the parshah is Amalek’s battle with the Jew’s in Refidim. As a rule, the Jews’ exhile always takes place within a nation that embodies the spiritual flaw from which they themselves suffer, so as to help them overcome that negative trait.”
“Amalek, who now waged war against the Jews, also characterized a flaw that they had to correct. What was Amalek’s defining character trait?
On Shabbos Zachor, we read in the maftir:
“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you left Mitzrayim, that he met you (karcha) on the way and attacked all the stragglers behind you and you were tired and weary, and he did not fear G-d.” (Ki Seitzei 25:17)
“Amalek struck the Jews’ stragglers, the weaker among them. The tribe of Dan worshipped idols and was therefore excluded from the clouds’ protection – and it was them who Amalek struck. The Clouds of Glory, were a symbol of the Jews’ spiritual heights, but there was a minority among the Jews who were not on that high level, and Amalek “cooled you off on the way (the word karcha is also explained by Chazal as related to kar – cold). They wanted to show the Jews that they weren’t as holy as they thought – look, there was a straggling minority, too!”
Hashem sends us an antagonist from the outside when there is problem on the inside.
The essential yeshuah (salvation) always comes from the very thing that was lacking.
“Hashem set Amalek against the Jews because to some extent, they, too, shared some of this characteristic of Amalek. They had doubts: “Is Hashem among us or not?” Are we truly close to Hashem, or do the times of spiritual decline or the weaker among us distances us from Hashem? It was when the Jewish nation was “tired and weary” – in a low spiritual state – that Amalek, who “did not fear G-d,” attacked them. Since they Jews doubted Hashem’s presence, they were confronted by a nation that did not fear G-d – that claimed that Hashem wasn’t among them.”
“THE TORAH DOESN’T TELL US HISTORY THAT DOESN’T APPLY TO OUR GENERATION. THE TORAH COMMANDS US TO REMEMBER WHAT AMALEK DID TO US BECAUSE VESTIGES OF THAT INCIDENT STILL REMAIN WITHIN US AND HASHEM WANTS US TO IDENTIFY THEM. HASHEM COMMANDS US TO DETECT THE AMALEK WITHIN US.”
“WHATEVER AM YISRAEL AS A WHOLE EXPERIENCED IN THE MIDBAR HAPPENS TO EVERY JEW IN HIS PERSONAL LIFE…. The nisayon of Amalek – the feeling that Hashem is not with us, chas veshalom – is a formidable one.”
Haman HaRasha was a descendent of Agag, the king of Amalek. At the time of the Purim story, too, Hashem brought against the Jews an enemy who embodied the trait they were faulted with, in order to help them correct their failing.
In the Purim story, there are no miraculous divine interventions such as we saw in the Passover story. There are no supernatural plagues and no splitting of any seas. In fact, G-d’s name is not even mentioned once in the entire Megillat Ester. But the miracle of Purim is actually greater than the miracle of Passover because the ultimate revelation of G-d’s oneness happens when He does not have to openly interfere. This is the meaning of Megillat Ester – the revelation of hiddenness. Hidden within the natural world, within the free choice of people, G-d’s plan is being completely fulfilled, step by step.”
“The events of Purim are a higher revelation of G-d’s truth, illustrating how G-d works through humanity and within nature. Within nature we see harmony and cooperation. Rather than crushing all the forces that are against us, G-d uses them toward our future good. Because G-d is one, there is no confrontation between G-d and humanity, between the divine and the natural. Nature and humanity are not violated by G-d’s oneness but included within it and filled with it.”
“The hidden miracles of Purim reveal that His ruling power works through the choices of humanity and that His love for us is hidden within every occurrence and challenge of our lives. Therefore, we can trust that G-d’s love and care is concealed even in the worst times of our lives. On Purim we acknowledge that G-d’s love for us is not only unconditional but also ever-present and eternal. On Purim we celebrate trust in G-d.”
“One of the greatest feelings of joy is to know and experience life in holy harmony with G-d. Because of G-d’s all pervasive oneness and love, we can never really go off course. We are always on target. Our task, however, is to know and feel this in our daily lives.”
How do we accomplish this? How do we KNOW and FEEL this in our daily lives?!?!
The key to our source of strength is this…
“A Jew is a chelek Eloka mima’al, a part of Hashem. We are inherently good and want to do good, and Hashem always has nachat from us. That “good” within us is so basic and intrinsic, so much “us” that we barely notice that it is there.”
“Haman told Achashveirosh, “There is one nation that is dispersed and separated… and they do not keep the king’s laws; it is not worthwhile for the king to let them be.” Haman said this because this reflected the Jews’ feelings at the time. The Purim story happened at the end of the seventy-year exile between the first and second Beit Hamikdash. The Jews were on a low spiritual level and felt that their mitznot were worthless, and that Hashem didn’t desire them or their avodah Hashem, chas veshalom. Haman expressed this feeling when he said, “It is not worthwhile for the king to let them be.”
“Haman boasted to his wife Zeresh and to all his friends of his great wealth and many children, and that Queen Ester had invited only him to the party with King Achashveirosh. Then he said, “And all this is worth nothing to me whenever I see Mordechai.” Haman discounted all the good things in his life, focusing instead on the one negative element. This is Amalek’s middah and the flaw that we correct on Purim. Mordechai stood strong and “would neither kneel nor bow” and “neither rose nor moved because of him.” Mordechai Hatzaddik, like Moshe Rabbeinu in his time, empowered us to stand unflinchingly and not bend to Haman/Amalek.”
“Queen Ester begged King Achashveirosh to annul Haman’s evil plan. She asked, “May my soul be given my request and my nation my appeal.” She intimated that as long as Amalek’s middah is active inside us, we lack the very soul of life – our Jewish identity, the recognition of our inherent holiness, the chelek Eloka mima’al and intrinsic goodness that is our essence. Ester said, “If it pleases the king and if I have found favor before him and the matter is proper before the king, and I am good in his eyes, let it be written to rescind… Haman’s thought.” WHAT OBLITERATES HAMAN/AMALEK? THE FEELING THAT WE ARE GOOD IN THE EYES OF THE KING OF ALL KINDS, AND THAT WE FIND FAVOR BEFORE HIM.”
“Megillat Ester ends with the words: “For Mordechai Hayehudi was viceroy to King Achashveirosh and great among the Jews… seeking the good of his nation and speaking peace to all their progeny.” The Jews learned to listen to the tsaddik who “seeks good” – who finds and reveals the good within them, creating peace between them and their Father in Heaven by instilling in them the faith that Hashem finds them desirable.”
On a personal level, the custom to dress up on Purim teaches us that when, chas veshalom, we find ourselves behaving incorrectly, it is really only an external “costume,” a momentary “foolish spirit” that overcame us. Our eternally pure soul inside us is “dressed up.” We only have to learn to recognize the “face behind the mask.”
On a larger scale, “On Purim we celebrate that everything in the world goes according to G-d’s plan – whether we see it or not. On Purim we read the Megillat Ester and celebrate the revelation of G-d’s hiddenness within the choices of humanity. To emulate G-d, the Master of Disguise, we too dress up in disguises. G-d’s plan disguises itself and plays out even through the evil people in the world. But on Purim we actually see that it is a disguise! THERE IS ONLY ONE ACTOR, PLAYING A MYRIAD OF ROLES. G-D IS ABSOLUTELY ONE AND ONLY.”
Purim reminds us, “G-d has written a script, and we are the actors in that drama. The question is not whether we are going to pay our parts, but HOW we will play our parts – consciously and willingly or resisting all the way. We can choose to work for G-d’s plan of growth, love, and oneness, or we can choose to work against it. But G-d’s will WILL be done on earth as it is in heaven – always.”
“Mordechai was teaching Ester the great secret of choice when he said, “If you don’t do it, the Jews will be saved anyway, but you’ll lose the starring role.” In terms, of G-d’s great plan, it does not make a difference what you do. But in terms of your own life, it makes all the difference in the world. Do you want to actively, consciously participate in G-d’s plan or not?”
“Purim is a busy day. Melachah is not forbidden, so we find ourselves juggling mishloach manot, costumes, making Purim seudahs, and more. We are occupied with a lot of trivialities – and that is just the message if this Yom Tov. Purim infuses us with the faith that within all the trivialities and pressures, Hashem loves us. Amid this mundane hustle-bustle, our essence is purely good.”
Hashem may we merit to have the koach and clarity to obliterate the middah of Amalek from within. Help us to see the yeshuah (salvation) that comes from the nisayon (trial). Help us to be able to say and fully believe the words, “Ribono shel Olam, You love me any way; You have nachat from me the way I am.” Increase our joy and the clarity that comes from our awareness that You, Hashem, love us and are always with us. AMEN!
Chag Sameach Purim,
*The content of this post is mostly loosely paraphrased quotes from two books I studied this week and highly recommend, Inviting G-d In: Celebrating the Soul Meaning of the Jewish Holy Days by Rabbi David Aaron and My Soul Desire by Avraham Tzvi Kluger.