Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Purim is Not Jewish Halloween! - Essay & Shiur on Purim by R' Boruch Leff

Click on THIS LINK to get a shiur by Rabbi Boruch Leff called "Purim is Not for Men Only." See also his essay on the topic, "Purim is Not a Jewish Haloween!":

The upcoming holiday of Purim is a real struggle. On the one hand, we know that the Arizal stated that Purim is an even holier day than Yom Kippur. Yom HaKippurim is Yom kePurim which means that it is a day like Purim, meaning Purim is greater. Purim is holier. Purim then is perhaps the holiest day of the year.

Is that how you feel on Purim? Do you feel more focused and closer to Hashem than you do on Yom Kippur? It’s very hard to experience Purim this way. After
all, no one gets dressed up as clowns on Yom Kippur. No one would ever mistake Yom Kippur with a Jewish ‘Mardi-Gras’ or describe Yom Kippur as a Jewish Halloween. But sometimes this is said about Purim. After all, that’s the way Purim appears externally.

I am fully aware that there are legitimate sources which justify all of the fun and frolic of Purim. The miracle of Purim occurred through hester panim, which means that Hashem directed the salvation in a hidden manner. The custom to wear masks and costumes (see Remo in Shulchan Aruch O.Ch. 696:8 for one source) is based on this.

I do not wish to be a party pooper. I love Purim parties. I do not say that the standard emphasis we have on cute mishloach manos, fun costumes, and even more fun Purim shpiels and parties are forbidden. I too have engaged in my share of them.

But I ask one question: is the way we celebrate Purim the ideal way to truly spiritually experience Purim? Is the way we experience Purim a testimony to the Arizal’s comment that Purim is a holier day than Yom Kippur? Should we spend more time on our Purim plays, preparing our costumes and delivering our creative mishloach manos theme or more time learning and davening on Purim?

When we learn the following I believe we will have our answer.

Rav Moshe Wolfson writes (Parshas Tezaveh, Emunas Itecha 5752) that the month of Adar is a special eis ratzon (a propitious spiritual time). He quotes the Zohar who says that the four months of Adar, Nissan, Iyar and Sivan are more favorable for prayer than any other time of the year. The Zohar writes that the entire month of Adar is on the same level as mincha on Shabbos Kodesh, a time of extreme spiritual power, when we say v'ani tefilasi lecha Hashem eis ratzon.

Furthermore, we find a remarkable halacha concerning tzedaka on Purim. "Whoever stretches out their hand on Purim should be given tzedakah" (Talmud Yerushalmi, Megilah 1,4) The Shulchan Aruch (694:3) paskins this. Whoever asks on Purim receives. Many sources (Toras Emes, Divrei Yechezkhel, Rav Mordechai of Lechovitch) say that this alludes to our prayers as well. Just as on Purim we give tzedaka to any supplicant in need, so too on Purim does Hashem give to all who entreat Him in prayer. Although Hashem listens to tefilos all year round, there are aspects of our tefilos that may prevent them from being answered. On Purim, however, we may be confident that our prayers will be answered and we will not be sent away empty- handed. We should recognize the power that sincere prayer has on this day, and utilize it to its maximum. Many seforim and rabbanim suggest that we rise early on Purim morning and daven slowly, with proper concentration.

This is said regarding tefila and Purim. There is another element associated with talmud Torah and Purim.
Purim is the holiday in which we express that HaKadosh Baruch Hu is with us even in hester panim. We do this through a full Kabalas Hatorah as Klal Yisrael did at the time of Purim. Rav Yaakov Weinberg, ztl understood that all of the mitzvos that we are required to perform on Purim relate to Matan Torah.

The mishloach manos and matanos l'evyonim exist in order to create achdus-unity which Klal Yisrael had and must have in order to accept Torah. We are part of an Am; not individuals. We realize that we must learn to appreciate everyone in the nation. Vayichan sham Yisrael neged hahar-k’ish echad b’lev echad.

This is the concept of 'Ezehu Chacham HaLomed Mikol Adam'- every person has something we can learn from and if we are true seekers of truth we will seek out truth wherever we can get it, even if it is from those we consider lower than us.
In order to accept Torah we must be extremely modest-this is why Moshe was the one who gave us Torah, he was the 'Anav Mikol Adam'. We have to realize
that we don't know everything and we are 'Lo yodim'- as in the mitzvah of drinking on Purim-ad de’lo yada. This is the only way we can accept the authority of Hashem and be’ mekabel Marus’ to Him. The explanation in the ad de’lo yada on Purim is that the only way we can be mekabel Torah is through being mevatel our daas to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Just as in Naaseh Venishma, we need to become "Lo Yodim"-we do not know anything without HaKadosh Baruch Hu. We must re-accept the Torah on Purim in this way.

This explains why we are supposed to get drunk until we 'don't know' the difference between Mordechai and Haman. We must become 'lo yodim', eliminating all of our preconceived notions and make ourselves like a midbar, as Chazal say, in order to accept Torah. The Seudas Purim is a seudas hodaah, thanking HaKadosh Baruch Hu for bringing us close to Him to accept His Torah.

Rav Yaakov Weinberg explained that the lashon of Chazal is a person should be "Lebesumei". It does not say "Lihishtakurei". It does not mean that one should get drunk as if getting drunk were the goal. Rather, "Lebesumei" means to indulge, to enjoy, to be involved in physical pleasure with an ambiance. The drinking is an obligation to drink until you reach a level of Ad Delo Yada. . . But you do not have to get there. You just keep drinking and enjoying and if you happen to get to Ad Delo Yada you become exempt. This is why the Rambam says that you drink until you fall asleep and then you're 'Lo yada'. But you don't have to and you shouldn't get drunk until "Shichruso shel Lot". We see that the 'Lo Yada' is a status which comes before you are totally 'out of it' because you are still aware in general but just not aware of the difference between Haman and Mordechai. So one should drink and indulge but one should not just get drunk-it's the atmosphere that counts-'lebesumei'.

Having learned all this, we ask again how we can treat Purim as the holiest day of the year and yet emphasize Purim shpiels, cute jokes, and clowns? (Not to mention inappropriate drinking, smoking, and worse.)

I’ve worn silly costumes before on Purim. But have you ever seen a Gadol wear a silly costume on Purim? If we are trying to grow with passion on Purim, can we do it wearing a silly costume and engaging in the standard Purim fun fare? I wonder.
You are welcome to e-mail any comments or questions.

Click here to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail Inbox or here to subscribe in Google Reader.


Neil Harris said...

This is giving me a lot to think about. Usually I only wear my costume when I delivering Shaloch Manos....
Thanks for posting this.

Isaac said...

Isn't the whole point that Purim shouldn't be overly taxing for our minds?

pc said...

>>Having learned all this, we ask again how we can treat Purim as the holiest day of the year and yet emphasize Purim shpiels, cute jokes, and clowns?

Haman represents ga'aava - unadulterated. We are in danger of being influenced by haman. The way we stop this is by laughing at ourselves.

Laughter is the best medicine

pc :-)

arnie draiman said...

very well said - but...i do think that a 'gadol' should (must) wear/do something funny/cute for purim. it is part of the spirit of the day.

drinking is a real problem. way too many teens and others simply drink too much, while under 'rabbinic supervision'. that MUST stop. hardly a holy act.

arnie draiman

make your tzedakah meaningful:


Boruch Leff said...

Laughter is wonderful and we can be very creative in darshining how everything fits in very well and some seforim do dasrhin.

My struggle is how to 'shtim' the holiness and parallels to Yom Kippur with the way we celebrate Purim. Let's be honest, most of what we do is not really l'shem shamyaim is it? We don't have holy kavanos when we wear our costumes and do Purim shtik, do we? It's just good fun. But good fun is not really what Purim is supposed to be about if you learn the seforim hakedoshim. Hence, my conflict.

In the audio shiur here I suggest that Purim is the 'Yom Kippur' of bein adom l'chaveiro. If true, this helps somewhat to explain our hanhagos but still there's way too much silliness, drinking, etc. that goes on on Purim and it's very difficult to do it for the right reasons.

Anonymous said...

Some of the following may not be acceptable to Torah Jews, at first read, though I think it can fit. Either way, it may shed some light on the subject.

Purim, Parody and Pilpul [1]
Like all the festivals of the Jewish calendar, Purim as we know it today is the product of a long history of development.
Ostensibly a commemoration of national deliverance from danger, we should have expected solemn ceremonies of thanksgiving such as characterize Passover and Hanukkah. The victory over Haman is, however, distinguished by a unique mood of high-spirited frivolity, coloured by high alcoholic content and a general tendency to make light of matters which would be treated more reverently at other seasons.


Original Solemnity
The earliest descriptions of Purim celebrations, from the Second Temple and Mishnaic eras, offer no indication of the irreverence that we associate with the festival. The emphasis is on the formal reading of the Scroll of Esther, which was to be conducted with great care and seriousness.
To the best of my knowledge none of the familiar themes of drinking, parody, etc., are mentioned in Talmudic sources emanating from the Land of Israel. In fact the chief Palestinian rabbinic exposition of Esther, the midrash Esther Rabbah, seems to take every possible opportunity to emphasize the dangers of wine, incorporating a lengthy tract on the virtues of temperance.

The events of the Megillah are interpreted as reflections of the religious behaviour of the Jews of the time, and within the context of broader historical themes, especially the destruction of the First Temple and the beginnings of the building of the Second (which the Rabbis believed was delayed by Ahashverosh and Vashti).

It was the Jews of Babylonia who seem to have introduced some of the more frivolous customs into the observance of Purim. Two main factors can be traced to the Babylonian Talmud: "Purim-Torah" and the encouragement of drunkenness.


In the Babylonian Talmud
An exceptional passage in the "Bavli" (Hullin 139b) serves as a model for subsequent "Purim-Torah"--that is, playfully using some of the far-fetched methods of talmudic logic and Biblical exegesis in order to reach absurd conclusions.
The passage in question relates how a visiting rabbi was challenged to find references to Mordecai, Esther, Haman and Moses (!) in the Pentateuch. The sage responds to the riddles with audacious, clever puns. For example, ignoring the traditional vocalization, he finds an allusion to Haman in Genesis 3:11: "Is it from (hamin) the tree..." (also hinting at the villain's hanging); and to Esther in Deuteronomy 31:18, where God says, "I will surely hide (haster 'astir) my face" (recalling Esther's refusal to disclose her origins to the king).

Typically, some of the later commentators approached the talmudic passage without full appreciation of its humorous intent. Thus Rashi gravely tries to justify the need to find an "allusion" to Moses' name in the Torah.
Or to take another example, the later custom of donning masks and costumes on Purim--a practice which is first reported in Provence in the early fourteenth century, and later achieved popularity under the influence of the German Fastnacht celebration and the Italian carnivals--was afterwards tied to the idea of God's "hiding his face" as found in the Talmud!

Anonymous said...

In contrast to the approach taken by the Palestinian sources, the Babylonian Talmud records the famous dictum of the noted sage Rava (Megillah 7b): "A man is obligated to get drunk on Purim to the point where he can no longer distinguish between `Cursed is Haman' and `Blessed is Mordecai.'"

Here, too, later authorities had trouble accepting the ruling at face value. For an arch-rationalist like Maimonides it was unimaginable that the halakhah could be condoning such actions; hence he re-interpreted the ruling to refer to drinking only enough to fall asleep. Some authorities understood that the statement was rejected by the Talmud, a view which it indicates by juxtaposing to it an incident wherein Rabbah slaughters Rabbi Zera while under the influence (Rabbah is able to revive his colleague, though the latter politely refuses an invitation to the next year's festivities).


Medieval Parodies
From these Talmudic beginnings we can trace the development of a whole genre of Purim parodies, wherein Jews would affectionately poke fun at the world of Talmud and halakhah. From the 12th century, Jews in Italy, southern France (Provence) and elsewhere were producing parodies on the Talmud, liturgy and other familiar pillars of Jewish life.
A typical "Purim Tractate" (Masekhet Purim) might follow the form of the Tractate Pesahim which deals with the regulations of Passover, except that all the stringent laws concerning the removal of leaven are now applied to water and non-alcoholic beverages, which are not to be tolerated on the holiday.

A special roster of biblical and rabbinic authorities populates these works. Alongside such drunkards as Noah and Lot we might encounter the prophet Habakbuk ("the Bottle"); as well as Rabbi Shakhra ("Drunkard"), or the commentary of Rasha ("Wicked"). In modern times especially, the format has been used to satirize a variety of social phenomena, from American Judaism to Israeli politics

It might be my imagination, but I have noted that in recent years it has become almost impossible to find these parodies, which used to be routinely reprinted before Purim. This might be indicative of an excessively defensive mood that has overtaken religious Jewry.

Particularly among German Jews there also developed the institution of the "Purim-shpiel," a rowdy play on the Megillah story (or other theme) traditionally performed on Purim. Absorbing a number of different traditions, from the German theatre as well as from Jewish exegesis, these productions took great liberties with plot and characterization, such that Mordecai might appear as a pathetic buffoon, Haman as a tragic figure, and so on. Such irreverence could of course be tolerated only at Purim time.

To German Jewry we also owe the adoption of the Hamantasch, an adaptation of the German mahn-tash ("poppy-pocket") pastry, given a new meaning for the occasion.

Our custom of sounding noisemakers at the mention of Haman's name is also a version of an old practice, which took on different forms through the generations. The earliest sources (from the writings of the Babylonian Ge'onim) speak of burning effigies of Haman on a bonfire. In medieval Europe children would write Haman's name on stones or wood blocks, and bang them until the name was erased.

In our observance of Purim we are thus drawing from a long line of historical precedents and developments.

This article and many others are now included in the book
Holidays, History and Halakhah



Return to Index

My e-mail address is elsegal@ucalgary.ca

pc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pc said...

Correctness does not intrinsically have more kedusha than fun. A person has to serve Hashem with all their techunos hanephesh.

pc :-)

Boruch Leff said...

The bottom line seems to be the Me'iri brought in the second Biur Halacha in Siman 695 who says that hollelus and shtus and shichrus is not permitted on Purim. Only drinking and fun which brings to ahavas Hashem fits with a real avodas Purim.

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Anon 3:39,

I appreciate you bringing that source but it's author seems to have a very small perspective. Regardless of the particular order of historical developments, everything that happens is Hashgacha Pratis. There is a Hashem and He runs the world. It is not a coincidence that the Torah says "hasteir astir es panai," that the Divine Intervention in the megillah took place in a hidden way, and that we hide our faces with costumes on Purim. "Im ein Nevi'im heim, bnei nevi'im heim," the gemara says. The minhag to wear costumes on Purim has been posheit throughout the Jewish people so there's a message in that. It's a shame when rationalists like that author limit themselves to such a narrow perspective.

I heard a givaldig story from the Chidushei Harim about the Baal Shem Tov with a fantastic moshol for Purim, "ad d'lo yada," "kol haposhet yad, nosnim lo," and the simcha of Purim. If I can, I'll try to make a post on it. Gevaldig!

Reb Boruch,

"Shichruso shel Lot," no. But shichrus, yes! It's ratzon Hashem. The Rema's "yoser milimudo" provision was not stated as a lechatchila. People certainly shouldn't drink improperly. But they also shouldn't refrain from the Ratzon Hashem of drinking just because others may do it improperly.

Boruch Leff said...

From Rav Yakov Horowitz

“It is an Aveira to Get Drunk on Purim,” was a direct quote from Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky shlit’a, who took precious time from his busy schedule and shared his da’as Torah with hundreds of participants worldwide last week during a Project Y.E.S. conference call, titled, “Purim Parenting: Keeping Our Children Safe and Sober.”

I had intended to keep the scope of the conference call limited to practical advice that my dear chaver Dr. Benzion Twerski and I would offer parents on setting appropriate limits on Purim activities and to teach their children how to resist negative peer pressure to engage in hard drinking. However, as soon as we announced the conference call, we were inundated with questions from many people who asked me to clarify the words of our chazal (sages) “Chayav einish l’besumei be’puria ad deloi yoda bein arur Haman l’baruch Mordechai” which loosely translated says that one is obligated to drink [on Purim] until he cannot discern between Haman and Mordechai. With that in mind, I asked the Rosh Yeshiva shlit’a, who has served as our posek in Project Y.E.S. since its inception thirteen years ago, to take a few precious moments from his busy schedule and share his da’as Torah with our listeners.

“Chas v’shalom (Heaven forbid) that our Torah would consider getting drunk to be a mitzvah,” said Reb Shmuel. He explained that the word l’besumei is derived from the root word which means to sniff something – and said that this means that one should have only “a whiff” of drinking.

The Rosh Yeshiva also shed light on the words “ad deloi yoda bein arur Haman l’baruch Mordechai” and said that when one sings a song when he is in a heightened state of simcha (joy) he occasionally will sing the verses in incorrect order – meaning that he will sing the verse of Arur Haman in the place of the verse of Baruch Mordechai. It is inconceivable, he stated, that the words of our chazal condone the type of drunkenness which render a person incapable of performing the mitzvos of our Torah.

Reb Shmuel shlit’a is hardly a da’as yachid (a lone voice) in this matter. There is a kol korei issued by Agudas Yisroel and disseminated by my dear chaver Elly Kleinman signed by 26 leading gedolim, admorim, rabbonim and mechanchim that states in unequivocal terms that “chayav ainish...” only refers to wine and not whiskey. And it states that “free use of whiskey” is entirely inappropriate and contrary to da’as chachamim. Obviously, the term “free whisky” was used to denote hard drinking as opposed to a moderate amount of drinking. (A hard copy of the kol korei can be downloaded from my website www.rabbihorowitz.com. Just click here.)

Boruch Leff said...

Part 2

Responsible vs. Irresponsible Drinking

To be perfectly clear, the Rosh Yeshiva shlit’a was discussing irresponsible drinking – and not the moderate drinking which allows a person to break free of his day-to-day inhibitions and arrive at the type of exalted “neshama yeseira” that allows him to connect to Hashem and all that is beautiful in Yiddishkeit with “soaring spirits” (pun intended).

My brother, Reb Yehudah shlit’a, who is the Mashgiach in Yeshiva South Shore, drinks along those lines on Purim. It would be fair to describe him as being above the legal drinking limit during the latter hours of the Purim Seudah. He would never think of driving home from the seudah on Purim, not should he, for it would be illegal, and he would be putting his life in sakana as well as the lives of others. So in technical terms or legally for driving purposes, he certainly could be classified as “drunk” during that time. But the words that would come to mind when observing him in that state would be, “Kedusha, elevated, hisorirus, simcha shel mitzvah, … perhaps even funny.” My brother sings “gramen,” gives brachos to all he speaks to, tells them how wonderful they are, talks about Mashiach and how he needs to do teshuvah. Honestly; I make sure my wife and I, and all our children and now our grandchildren go to him for a bracha when he is in this spiritual high. Far from being “drunk,” he has the “whiff” of intoxication that the Rosh Yeshiva was referring to.

However, the flat-drunk state that some adults and bachurim are engaging in under the guise of Purim which is in a very different category. This is the type of hefkarus (frivolity) that does not lead to any of the attributes of one who is drinking with true Simchas Purim, and that is the aveira that Reb Shmuel s’hlita was discussing. And Reb Shmuel firmly added that “It is an aveirah to say it [hard drinking] is a mitzvah.”

Some point to people of generations past who engaged in serious drinking on Purim and use that to support their claim that getting drunk on Purim is “a mitzvah.” However, I propose that it is illogical to bring proof from anyone who allowed or condoned Purim drinking back then and apply it to today’s climate. That would be like saying that one need not wear a seat belt today because someone in the 1950’s (before it became the norm and the law) didn’t wear one.

© 2010, Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

As I hinted a couple of times, I wasn't discussing teenage irresponsible drink or excessive drinking. I made those points specifically to avoid that kind of misunderstanding.

Anonymous said...

Maase Rav
On Purim, Rav Wolbe would go about his Avodas Hashem as usual. Many close Talmidim and family came by to give him Mishloach Manos and receive a L'chayim and a warm blessing in return. He would sit in his place with his face shining from true Simcha, and far from the commonly found drunken meaninglessness.
He would speak about the extreme nature-like form by which the miracle of Purim took place, and how it was conducted via a vessel of extreme modesty, Esther. He emphasized how the highest levels of Avodas Hashem can be reached specifically in secrecy, doing acts of righteousness that are hidden from the eyes of others, Emes for the sake of Emes - Hashem.

Baruch Miller said...

Agreed. I personally do not dress in costumes on Purim.

"Rather, "Lebesumei" means to indulge, to enjoy, to be involved in physical pleasure with an ambiance."

The Nesivos Sholom brings the same understanding, and extrapolates a very nice idea regarding what "l'besumei B'PURYA" means.