The Gra (Shulchan Aruch O.C. 695:2) deftly avoids this paradox by offering a totally different explanation of what it means to differentiate between baruch Mordechai and arur Haman. He explains as follows: “This means [one must get drunk until one cannot differentiate] between the revenge against Haman and the greatness of Mordechai. As Chazal say, ‘Great is revenge that was placed [between two Divine names] and great is da’as [that was placed between two Divine names].’ Once intellect is removed [through drunkenness] one does not know [the difference], etc.”
According to the Gra, the purpose of drinking is not to forget who was blessed and who was cursed. Rather, the purpose of drinking is to confuse us to the point where we cannot tell the difference between the Kiddush Hashem caused by Mordechai’s blessing and the Kiddush Hashem caused by Haman’s curse. We must realize that the revenge taken against the wicked is no less evidence of Hashem’s greatness than the da’as (the supreme level of knowledge) achieved by the righteous person’s involvement in Torah and mitzvos.
Two Minuses make a Plus
How does the Gra prove this from the sources?
The Gemora (Berachos 33a) says, “Great is revenge that was placed between two letters [between two Divine names] as it was said, E-l nekamos Hashem (Hashemis a G-d of revenges)… Great is daas that was given between two letters as it was said, Ki E-l de’os Hashem (Hashem is a G-d of knowledges).”
By placing both “revenge” and “da’as” between two Divine names, the verses hint that there are two ways to create awareness of Hashem in the world – a way of good deeds and a way of wickedness.
“Great is da’as.” Of course, it is greatwhen a righteous person gains knowledge of Hashem through Torah and good deeds. This leads to perfection (tikun) of the world, for da’as is placed between E-l and YKVH, the first name denoting chesed and the second denoting mercy (a blend of chesed and judgment that denotes the world’s tikun). Yet “revenge is great” also. It is great when Hashem takes revenge against a wicked person, for “revenge” too is placed between the names that denote chesed, mercy, and world perfection.
You might ask, how do tikun of the world and Kiddush Hashem result from punishing the wicked?
The medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 2:5) says as follows: “At the beginning of the creation of the world, the Holy One looked at the deeds of the righteous and at the deeds of the wicked… [A person] would not know which of them He desired, the deeds of this one or the deeds of that one. But once it said, And He saw that the light was good – the light referring to the deeds of the righteous – we see that He desires the deeds of the righteous and does not desire the deeds of the wicked.”
This is astounding! Could the medrash initially suggest that Hashem desires the deeds of the wicked more than the deeds of the righteous?
We find an answer to this puzzle in the medrash (Shemos Rabbah 7:4), which says that just as Hashem created barren trees for firewood for bathhouses and ovens, so He created the wicked who are punished in Gehinom. “For just as the praise of the Holy One rises from Gan Eden from the mouths of the righteous, so it rises from gehinom from the mouths of the wicked [when they praise Hashem’s judgments].”
Because we may have thought that Hashem desires the Kiddush Hashem that arises from the wicked’s punishment more than He desires the Kiddush Hashem that arises from the good deeds of the righteous, we need the verse about light to tell us otherwise.
However, we will never truly comprehend the benefit of punishment and suffering of the wicked except in Messianic times. Only then will we understand that Hashem’s punishment and revenge are truly based on chesed and mercy. We do not pronounce the name YKVH in our time as we cannot fully appreciate the mercy that it represents in every feasible situation. Only when Moshiach comes will we understand that “whatever the Merciful One does is for the good” (Berachos 60b).
A Day of Insight
Purim alone is the one day in the year when we get some inkling of the real state of affairs. For this is the month that changed for them from sadness to joy and from mourning to Yom Tov (Esther 9:22) and all Haman’s plans to destroy the Jews turned into a gigantic kiddush Hashem.
On this day, the Gra says, we get tipsy not to forget that Haman was cursed and Mordechai was blessed. Rather, we get tipsy to forget which Kiddush Hashem was greater, the one arising from Haman’s punishment or the one arising from the greatness of Mordechai. Indeed, the expression for becoming drunk, libesumei, also means to sweeten. For we sweeten the punishment of the wicked by understanding that its principle purpose is to lead to Kiddush Hashem.
You might ask, if it is so important to reach this understanding, why do it through becoming drunk and befuddling our consciousness? Why not achieve such knowledge through conscious effort?
The answer is that having conscious knowledge of the good that arises from evil can lead to danger. We might ascribe positive value to evil and decrease our hatred of its existence. Therefore, evil’s benefits are best appreciated while in a less than coherent state of mind.
This too is why we precede Purim by remembering the mizvah of destroying Amalek. We must remember that evil is disgusting. Only afterwards can we call to mind the truth of Mishlei (16:4), Hashem did everything for His purpose and also the wicked person for the day of evil.