Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Purim 5768

This week on Thursday night/Friday day, we celebrate Purim.Of all the festivals, this one is most beloved of little children.  After all, they get to dress up, make a noise in shul, play games and get fed ice cream, chocolate and other goodies in shul!  Many adults are also inordiantely fond of Purim as an excuse to get intoxicated…

Beyond all the frivolity, Purim has a very serious message.Of all the books in the Tanach, Megillat Esther (The Book of Esther) is the only one in which the name of G-d is never mentioned. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story here is a very brief synopsis:

The Jews are in exile in Persia.  King Ahasveros looks for a new wife to replace the one he has just had executed (Vashti) for refusing to dance naked before his court (something she had done previously).  He chooses Esther, the daughter of Mordechai and Nasi of the Sanhedrin (basically the leader of the Jewish people) as his new wife.

In the meantime, the King’s adviser, Haman, a descendant of  Agag, King of the Amelikites that Saul allowed to live, takes umbrage at Mordechai’s refusal to bow down to him.  He goes to the king and gives Ahasveros a large sum of money for the right to kill the Jews.He casts lots (thus the name Purim) and it is on 14 Adar that he will kill the Jews.  In the meantime, Mordechai foils a plot to assasinate King Ahasveros.

Mordechai hears of Haman’s plans to kill the Jews, and approaches Esther to get her to get Ahasveros to change the decree.  Esther fears to approach Ahasveros without being summonsed first (if Ahasveros objects, he gets to sentence her to death…) and she, and the Jews, fast for three days  .(Nowadays we just fast for one day, the day before Purim, in memory of this).  She approaches Ahasveros and Haman and invites them to a feast.  Ahasveros comes, but she feels he is not yet receptive and makes no request, inviting him and Haman back the next night.

That night, unable to sleep, Ahasveros reads through his chronicles and finds the fact that Mordechai stopped the assasination plot but was never rewarded for his action.  Quickly he summons Haman and asks “What should be done for one whom the King wishes to honour?”

Thinking that the king wished to honour him, Haman states “Dress the person in the King’s own clothes, put him on the King’s own horse, and have him led through the streets by a high minister who proclaims ‘So shall be done for one whom the King wishes to honour’.”  The king has Haman do this for Mordechai, incensing Hama even more!  Haman’s wife sees in this the proof that Haman’s plans are doomed to failure and that just as he has been humbled before Mordechai, so he and his compatriots will be destroyed before the Jewish people.

The next night Ahasveros and Haman return to Esther who this time tells the King she is Jewish (she hid this from him before) and that Haman’s plan means that she must die.T  he king leaves the room to think and Haman falls on Esther to beg her for mercy.  The king enters, thinks Haman is trying to rape Esther, and orders him immediately hung on the gallows meant for Mordechai that Haman had built.  The king makes Mordechai as his Prime Minister and gives him the royal signet ring to draft any communication he wants.

The Jews are saved, and with the King’s permission, they kill the people who had sought to kill them turning all loot over to the king.

So, what is the message of Purim?  Why dress up, have fun and games?  In essence it teaches us the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people while we are in exile.  G-d is still there, G-d still watches over us- but he is not seen, he is hidden.  It shows that G-d works through hidden means thus the dress up.  Just as G-d hides himself, we celbrate the fact that though he is hidden, he is present through dressing up on Purim.  Why the fun and games?  The Persian empire at the time basically encompassed the entire Jewish world.  If Haman’s plan had succeeded, then all the Jews would have been killed.  Why drink till inebriated?  There is a saying “In wine, there is a revelation of secrets.”  In other words, when somebody is drunk, then their true nature is shown.  Once again, it is related to the fact of revealing what is hidden.  On this note: I once spent Purimat Yeshiva Gedolah and listened to Rabbi Goldfein zts”l give a derosha (religious sermon) on Purim.  I don’t drink, so I was able to fully comprehend what he was saying, and it was amazing.  Here he was, inebriated, yet what came out of his mouth was pure Torah.  Even in that state, his true nature radiated Torah and love of G-d.  There was no disparity between the inner and outer person:  What he showed the world was what he was.  For most that is not the case, when they get drunk they get maudelin, angry, joyous whatever, their personality and thoughts change.  The true tzadik (righteous person) should be like HaRav Goldfein zts”l- the same, inside and out.

So, while rejoicing on Purim, while enjoying one glass too much or shouting down Haman’s name in shul, don’t forget to the true point of the day.  That even now, while we await Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash, G-d is with us and protecting us.

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June 24, 2008 - Posted by | Chagim, Torah | , , ,

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