Next week, Jews all around the world will be celebrating the festive holiday of Purim. On the surface, Purim appears to be a day of fun providing children with an excuse to dress in costumes and adults with an excuse to imbibe. However, in keeping with the theme of the Purim, there are many deep ideas beneath the mask of the joyous festivities.
Purim shares a connection to the holidays of Shavuot and Yom Kippur. It also is the holiday most associated with the era of Moshiach, the final redemption in which the world actualizes its potential for holiness and peace and unity reign. Let’s examine each connection individually.
Shavuot: This holiday celebrates the most momentous occasion in Jewish history and the event that made the Jewish people a nation – the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. However, the Talmud informs us that nearly one thousand years were to pass before our covenant with G?d was sealed. The Torah teaches that prior to the revelation at Mount Sinai the Jewish people stood underneath the mountain (Shemot 19:17).
Why does the Torah say we stood underneath the mountain? The Talmud explains that G-d had to coerce the Jewish people to accept the Torah by literally holding the mountain over their heads and telling them that if they accept the Torah all will be well, but if they do not, the mountain will be dropped on them and they will all perish.
According to Jewish law, a contract is invalid if one of the parties agreed to it under duress. However, Megillat Esther (the book of Esther) tells us that “the Jews fulfilled and accepted upon themselves…to observe these days of Purim” (Esther 9:27). The Talmud in Shabbat 88a reads the verse as follows: they ‘fulfilled and accepted’- they fulfilled (on Purim) that which they had already accepted back then (at Sinai). The events of the Purim story demonstrated that the Jewish people had willingly accepted upon themselves the Torah law without Divine coercion and thus proved the validity of the covenant.
Yom Kippur: A mystical play on the words, Yom Kippur can be read as saying: ‘A day like Purim.’ This implies that in some way Purim is in fact greater in holiness than Yom Kippur. What does this mean? We observe Yom Kippur through fasting, praying, and repenting. This sort of repentance, or teshuva is likened by our Sages to doing teshuva out of fear. Purim is celebrated in totally different manner – through feasting, drinking, and merrymaking. This is representative of doing teshuva out of love. While the first mode of teshuva i.e. repenting out of fear and awe of G-d rectifies all our past misdeeds, the second approach to teshuva, repenting out of love for G-d is actually a higher form of repentance that has the power to not only cleanse us of our sins, but to transform them into mitzvot!
Moshiach: As stated above, Purim is celebrated by feasting, drinking, and merriment in contrast to the fasting and refraining from physical pleasures that constitute the observance of Yom Kippur. In this way Purim celebrates human involvement in the physical world. The highest actualization of G-d’s will is to be involved in the physical world and to spiritually elevate it.
There may be times when we have to withdraw from physicality in order to reorient ourselves toward more spiritual goals, but when we reveal G-dliness within physicality we fulfill G-d’s ultimate purpose in creating a physical universe. Purim is connected to the idea of Moshiach because, in the times of Moshiach, G-d and holiness will be openly revealed in our physical world. What was hidden for so long will again be revealed. Chasidic philosophy teaches that our job as Jews is to reveal the sparks of holiness within Creation in order that the inherent unity of G-d and His universe be revealed and G-dliness permeate every level of our existence. On Purim we enjoy physical things, but rather than get caught up in the façade that the universe operates independently of G-d, we remain cognizant that everything is in fact constantly being animated, recreated, and overseen by G-d.
Keeping these insights in mind should enable us to get more meaning out of Purim and to celebrate the day more joyfully. The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that the word, yismach (they will rejoice) shares the same Hebrew root as the word, Moshiach. On this he teaches that we will only be redeemed through serving G-d with joy. Have a freilechen (joyous) Purim and may the veil of Divine concealment of G-dliness be lifted now!