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.
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