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Joining Forces on Purim


Written by the rabbi

Dedicated to the memory of
Asher Ben Haim

As Purim approaches, we feel as if we, and all of what we have managed to accumulate over the course of the past year, have received an invitation to the palace of unique unbounded joy. We enter its chambers "in costume," and exit them unmasked and illuminated.

It would seem that the fact that the salvation and the miracle which took place on Purim came about indirectly and comprehensively (the entire Jewish people were made targets of the decree "to destroy, kill, and exterminate..."), and that the salvation and miracle appeared in a manner which reversed the situation completely (even those tools which were intended to serve the purposes of the wicked - the clothing, the horse, the tree, the ring, and the lottery - were transformed from instruments of destruction to instruments of joyous victory) caused the Sages to ordain unique laws to be carried out on this day. These laws may be categorized into two levels. One is more revealed and includes the aspect of publicizing the miracle of Purim and emphasizing the unity of the Jewish people. The second level consists of transcendent joy, lofty mystery, and a loss of discernment ("Ad DeLo Yadah"). And these two levels are connected to one another.

The reading of the Scroll of Ester along with the traditional Purim Feast are, quite simply, commandments that are meant to express, as fully as possible, our indebtedness to the Almighty for the astounding salvation which we merited on Purim. The public reading of Ester takes the place of the customary Hallel psalms of praise, while the Purim Feast is no less than a feast of thanksgiving. In this sense, too, we recognize the fact that the source of salvation is in the immutability of Israel, for the month of Adar was transformed from sorrow to joy. Rabbi Yehudah Liva, the Maharal of Prague, explains that because Adar is the last of the months of the year in the Hebrew calendar, it represents a potential end for the Jewish people, Heaven forbid. On the other hand, Adar can be seen as embodying an aspect of eternal existence for the Jewish people, for God represents the "end" - the beginning and end of all - and inasmuch as Israel is likened to God, they possess eternal existence.

It is from here that the aspect of unity which is so illuminated on Purim is born - complete blurring of the various levels within the Jewish people and a removal of the barriers - the sending of foodstuffs to one another, and gifts for the needy. These matters help us to grasp that we are not, as such, concerned with expressing thanks over the miracle that took place at that time; rather, our joy stems from the sanctity of the very existence of the Jewish people, a fact which was uncovered by virtue of the miracle. It was this factor which served as the foundation for the miraculous reversal of events, "the collective body of the Jewish people, which, in the depths of its being, is not separate from Divinity at all" (Rabbi A.I. Kook, Orot Yisrael) is capable of reversing even the deepest and most complete evil, and rectifying it completely. This force is hidden away within us, and it flows from one Jew to another. Every Jew constitutes an actual part of this collective force, and only by joining all of the forces together will the nation appear in its full glory, such that the resulting joy flows throughout. This aspect of Purim - the revealed aspect, wherein joy and thanks arise from seeing things in light of the evil decree, and the salvation from it - acts as an introduction to the more lofty aspect of Purim - the aspect of "One must become intoxicated" which is a kind of apex of the day. Here, extreme joy flows forth from the unique Israeli life force which shines so brightly on Purim - "For the Jews there was light" (Ester 8:16) - "Light signifies Torah." "They took [the Torah] upon themselves once again in the days if Achashverosh" and here the Torah is revealed in the fullest and most illuminating sense, as it is in its essence: "the spirit of the true life of the collective existence of Israel" (Rabbi A.I. Kook, Orot HaTorah chpt. 2).

The true radiance of lifes stature is set and fixed within us. It is by illuminating the collective community of Israel and creating a bridge between the hearts of Jews on this day that we merit uncovering the uniqueness of our perseverance. "All of the holidays," say the Sages, "will be nullified in the future, but the days of Purim will not be nullified." Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah explains: "for the luminance of Purim is great...and neither Sabbath nor any other holiday possessed such light. Only Purim...for this light will remain fixed at the appointed time of Purim and will not be nullified...for it is an illumination unlike any other" (from Rabbi Tzvi Yehudahs comments on Olat Raayah).

Here, the concepts of life are clarified through inner truth which ordinary ways of understanding tend to restrict. The soul and body illuminate as one, small and large, heaven and earth meet. One who prepares his heart and merits experiencing these lofty feelings is fortunate indeed.

Humor serves as a gate and an introduction to these two aspects: first, to that aspect which drives at removing partitions and eliminating the differences which separate Jew from fellow Jew; second, to the aspect of the "inner chamber". Rabbi A.I. Kook expresses a similar idea when he writes that humor is that which sometimes results as one looks upon our tottery mundane world from the perspective of its glorious and wonderful ideal. The two have not yet been united and illuminated together, and when one considers the great rift between them, to the point where each seems to occupy an opposite pole, humor results. Yet, eventually, when an unqualified spiritual upheaval and ascent takes place, and the thirst for the Divine grows, the soul will derive pleasure from the light of God and goodness and holy splendor will shine upon it - the light of inner independence, the power of the collective community of Israel (see Ein Ayah, Shabbat ch. 8, sect. 8).

These dear hours, the days of Purim, which are illuminated by the profundity of that which is beyond ordinary rational understanding, are valuable indeed. They elevate us to a level which is free of the weaknesses of monotony, and they provide us with rations of life, the illumination of which continues to effect us the whole year through.



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