The Many Faces of Purim

 Purim has many faces. It is the one chag that has more ways of celebration than any other.  On Passover, for example, there is a central form which includes the Haggadah and Seder night. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur or Chanukah also have basic forms. Of course, these chagim have different characteristics to them, but the point is there is a common base.

Purim, however, is celebrated in a variety of different forms.  I remember an event, nearly 30 years ago, when I was a student in Shiur A in Yeshivat Har Etzion. At the Yeshiva, the chag was celebrated in a very elevated manner distinguished by inspiring prayer, a wonderfully exact and spiritually uplifting Megillah reading, a Purim feast for the whole Yeshiva, and afterwards a party in which everyone felt the tremendous closeness to and love for G-d.  It was at this celebration that we also experienced a kind of inner connection among friends and desire to ‘hug’ G-d.

“As the deer longs for brooks of water, so my soul longs for You, G-d. My soul thirsts for G-d, for the Living G-d: When shall I come and appear before G-d?” (Psalms 42:2-3), “Yearn, and indeed, my soul does pine, for the courtyards of G-d, my heart and my flesh pray fervently to the Living G-d.”(Psalms 84:3).

The Purim party ended very late. After just a few hours of sleep we prayed Shacharit, heard the Megillah again, and then I traveled to a Purim feast in Tel Aviv, together with my parents, obm. When I alit from the #5 bus on Dizengoff Street, a lighthearted, rejoicing, noisy and wild group of youth approached us. They sprayed foam on all the passengers. I was sunk in that greatness of Purim in the Yeshiva, in that feeling of “Your Presence, G-d, do I seek.” (Psalms 27:8), and suddenly ‘I landed’ into a different Purim. To a lighthearted, wild and baser Purim.

I don’t believe there is one model of Purim. There is a place for both spiritual elevation, like that of the Yeshiva, and also a simple and pure happiness with costumes, parades, words of happiness and rejoicing, and even of gentle unruliness.

But we do need to take care not to lose the essence of the day. We need to remember the day’s miracles and wonders, remember and be grateful for G-d’s providence over us in every generation.  And among ourselves, we need to sense a greater connection to the Nation of Israel (one principle of Mishloach Manot), and to reach out and help the needy (expressed by Gifts to the Poor).

When we embrace the essence of the day, then even amidst the happiness and perhaps wanton rejoicing, we can achieve spiritual elevation, where we feel closer to G-d than at any other moment and where our souls are set free and can approach the Holy Throne.

With G’d’s help, this week we merited to publish a book on Purim. In this book we place emphasis on the essence of the miracle of Purim. In addition, we explain important foundations in the Megillah integrating both the intellectual and emunah side, as well as the simple explanation of the text.  We shed light on surprising parallels in the Megillah which illustrate that G-d’s hand can be found everywhere.  We engage the reader in considering certain key questions: why Mordechai was not willing to bow down to Haman, despite the fact that he was endangering the Nation of Israel; why Esther did not request the salvation of the Jews already at the first party, what is the essence of our struggle with Amalek, the significance of the hidden miracle and why G’d leads us with these miracles. There is much more in the “Purim” book.

There is a major chapter on the issue of happiness, an issue that has consumed generations of leading thinkers and philosophers for hundreds of years. What is happiness? How do we achieve happiness?  We examine a number of answers to these questions, and attempt to offer our readers  help in achieving true happiness.

Another important chapter in the book is, of course, the one on Halacha.  This chapter offers a summary of the laws of Purim, not an anthology, but rather the major sources. In this chapter there are references to Parshat Zachor, the Fast of Esther, the laws of reading the Megillah, Mishloach Manot, Gifts to the Poor, the Purim Feast, and more. G-d willing, we hope to publish an expansion of this chapter in the future.  We believe that by offering our readers a more comprehensive understanding of all the laws of Purim, we can celebrate the Purim holiday in a more elevated and spiritual manner.

Chag Purim Sameach.