Friday, May 14, 2021

Purim – a Time to Know

In consequence, the Gra says that the moments of Purim closest to Yom Kippur are not when we read the Megillah, not when we give our friends gifts, and not when we give money to the poor, but when we eat and drink the Purim meal. He begins with the Gemora (Pesachim 68b), which lays down a rule that every Yom Tov must be devoted half to “you” (to physical enjoyments) and half to ‘Hashem.” If so, asks the Gra, what about Yom Kippur that is called a Yom Tov (Taanis 30b)and is yet completely devoted to fasting and prayer. Where is the half of Yom Kippur devoted to “you?”

 

His answer is surprising but simple: We fulfill the “half for you” of Yom Kippur during the festive meal of Purim. Until Yom Kippur one day switches from inui to oneg, its oneg is meanwhile provided by the seudah of Purim that cannot be eaten on Yom Kippur.

 

Chazal (Medrash Mishlei 9) tell us of yet another connection between Yom Kippur and Purim; all Yom Tovs will be nullified in the Messianic future except for Purim and Yom Kippur. The Maharal (Tiferes Yisroel chap. 53) explains that these days gained their permanence by ensuring the survival of Klal Yisroel. Yom Kippur saves the Jews from perishing in their sins while on Purim they were saved from Haman’s holocaust.

 

But it still remains to explore the inner connection between Yom Kippur and Purim. What common denominator links the spiritual self denial of Yom Kippur to the physical orientation of Purim? Also, where in the physical oneg of Purim do we find the concept of complete separation from evil embodied in Yom Kippur?

 

All this may be answered by studying a third question. The first chapter of masseches Megillah includes much information that has nothing to do with Purim. After telling us that “there is no difference between the first Adar and the second Adar except reading the Megillah and gifts to the poor,” the last six Mishnayos of chapter one go on to list many other cases where similar things have differences between them. What has all this detection of “differences” to do with Purim?

 

The Thrice Received Torah

 

We can answer all this by considering another very obvious connection between Purim and Yom Kippur. Both are days when the Jews received the Torah a second time. Mar son of Ravina fasted the whole year except for Shavuos, Purim, and erev Yom Kippur because all of these days are connected to kabalas haTorah (Pesachim 88b). After the sin of the golden calf the Jews received the Torah a second time on Yom Kippur when Moshe brought down the second luchos, and on Purim they received the Torah a third time with utter joy and acceptance. Therefore, Yom Kippur commemorates receiving the Torah in a mood of repentance, while Purim exemplifies the receiving of the Torah with joyand celebration.

 

Viewing Purim as the epitome of accepting the Torah explains its heavy involvement with Amalek. The foundation of holiness is daas (clear knowledge), as Chazal (Nedorim 40) say, “If a person has this (daas) he has everything and if he does not have this he has nothing.” Daas intimates the clear knowledge of Torah and wisdom that leaves no room for doubts as Chazal comment on the pasuk, “Say to wisdom — you are my sister” (Mishlei 7:4): “If something is as clear to you as your sister being forbidden to you say it, and if not, do not say it.”

 

Now we know that good always has a counterpoint in evil as the verse says, “Hashem made this corresponding to that” (Kohelles 7:14). What evil corresponds to daas?

 

The gematria of Amalek is sofek, doubt. Whatever a Jew regards something as the ultimate knowledge and truth, Amalek throws into doubt, as the Torah says, Asher karcha baderech (Devorim 25:18). Amalek’s argument is that everything in the world is keri (coincidental) and not according to Hashem’s fundamental truths.

 

Even when all nations were convinced of Hashem’s might after we left Egypt, Amalek leaped into the boiling bath by attacking Klal Yisroel and issuing his eternal challenge, “So what! Don’t confuse me with the facts.” As the ultimate source of evil, Amalek is called the “first of the nations” (Devorim 24:20) for he began all evil with his giant skepticism. Indeed, Amalek only attacked us at Refidim after our conviction (daas) wavered and our hands weakened (rafu) [and let go] from words of Torah.

 

Thus, by celebrating the destruction of Amalek, Purim is a celebration of daas. This is why the first chapter of Megillah delves so deeply into the subject of detecting “differences,” for Chazal say, “If there is no daas, how can there be havdallah (differentiation)?” (Yerushalmi Berachos 5:2). Only clear knowledge enables us to differentiate not only between good and evil, but also between the nuances of the Torah itself. The Purim victory was a destruction of Amalek that eradicated all doubt and led to a level of clear daas and such joyful reacceptance of the Torah that even the people of the land were becoming Jews (Megillah 8:17).

 

This gives us a clear spiritual link between Yom Kippur and Purim. Just as Yom Kippur is the epitome of holiness, so Purim is the epitome of daas the foundation of holiness, for Chazal (Nedorim 40) say, “If a person has this (daas) he has everything and if he does not have this he has nothing.”

 

Charity and Wine

 

The halachos of Purim also express the highest levels of daas and closeness to Hashem.

 

The Rambam (hilchos Megillah 2) writes that it is better to give a lot of money on Purim than to splurge on mishlo’ach manos and on the repast because someone who brings joy to the poor emulates the Shechinah as it says, To give life to the spirit of the lowly and to give life to the heart of the oppressed (Yeshayahu 57:15). Why does the Rambam mention this praise of charity being in emulation of the Shechinah only in hilchos Purim and not in the laws of charity itself? Perhaps to hint that that the tzeddakah of Purim is not merely to benefit the poor but also to bring its donors to the ultimate level demanded by the day itself, drawing near to the Shechinah.

 

The seudah of Purim, too, is eaten in a fashion never dared on any other day. The Rambam writes (Hilchos Megillah 2:15): “What is the obligation of the repast? That one eats meat, etc., and one drinks wine until one becomes drunk and falls asleep in one’s drunken state.” This implies that the drunkenness is an integral part of the seudah. On Purim we “eat” in this special way because the Gra writes that the receiving of the Torah is not only to observe its mitzvos but also to unite us as one with Hashem and the Torah, (The Holy One, the Torah, and Yisroel are one) and this guarantees our existence. Only this enabled us to escape Haman after the supernal beis din had sealed our destruction.

 

We celebrate our unity with Torah by drinking wine, for wine leads to the highest level of daas as Chazal say, “When wine enters, the secret (of Torah) comes out.

 

Paradoxically, even though both Purim and Yom Kippur are connected with daas, the highest level of knowledge,both of them are also intimately bonded with the idea of lotteries whose blind chance seems the very antithesis of daas. For Purim is named after the lots of Haman that ultimately fell in our favor, and a seminal part of the Yom Kippur service is casting lots on the two identical goats.

 

Perhaps this teaches us that the highest level of daas is to know our limits. The more you know, the more you realize how little you know. As the Medrash puts it, “Rabbi Elazar said in the name of Ben Sira: Do not seek what is too great for you, do not investigate what is too powerful for you, and do not know what is too marvelous for you. Do not ask of what is covered from you. Ponder over what is permitted to you. Have no dealings in hidden matters.”

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