Thursday, Apr 18, 2024

Purim Koton: A Day of Solace and Connection

 

 

Klal Yisroel has no minor days. Of course, some are de’Oraisa, Biblical, and others derabbonon, instituted by the rabbis. Some have many specific mitzvos, such as Sukkos; others rather few, such as Shavuos. However, each is unique in its own way and offers us spiritual opportunities not available anywhere else or at any other time.

Next Friday, the 14th of the first Adar, is known as Purim Koton, literally the small Purim. According to the Mishnah (Megillah 6b), there is actually “no difference between the first and second Adar except the reading of the Megillah and gifts to the poor.” The Ran (ibid.) adds that mishloach manos are included in matanos la’evyonim. In any case, it is clear that Purim Koton has some significance, but it is not at all clear what that might be. If Purim was celebrated solely during the second Adar of a leap year, there would be no halachic ramifications for the first one at all. However, we know (see Mishnah Berurah, end of 5737) that we do not recite Tachanun and fasting is prohibited, so Purim Koton is not merely a hava amina (rejected consideration), but a real day of kedusha. Some Chassidic Rebbes conduct a tish (a formal commemoration) but it seems difficult to define exactly why. I believe that especially this year, this unusual and somewhat rare Yom Tov can offer us a great deal of chizuk when we need it.

Rav Dovid Kohn, the Toldos Aharon Rebbe (Hadeia Vehadibbur, “Purim Koton,” page 30), provides us with a fascinating and useful tool for spiritual growth this coming week. He cites “holy works” that teach that every time we encounter differences between kodesh and chol – the holy and profane – there is a middle level that serves as an intermediary between them. He lists Chol Hamoed and Motzoei Shabbos as primary examples, because each is connected to days that are holier, but they, too, retain a certain madreigah of kedusha. He sources this idea in the writings of the Arizal (see Pri Eitz Chaim, end of Shaar HaShabbos) that, for instance, the neshomah yeseirah, the enhanced Shabbos soul, does not leave until after melava malka, and that this special time has both halachic and hashkafah distinctions from the mundane days of the rest of the week.

So what exactly is Purim Koton? He cites the Gemara (Megillah 13b) that when Haman threw his famous lottery, from which Purim itself derives its name, he was overjoyed that the day that he hoped to destroy us on fell in Adar. As we are aware, he knew that Moshe Rabbeinu passed away during Adar, but he was unaware that it was also his birthday. We should add that the Maharal (see commentary to the siddur on Al Hanissim) explains that Haman was certain that attempting his evil plan of genocide would work during this month because “he would make an end to us at the end [of the year].” The Toldos Aharon Rebbe goes on to point out that “Mordechai in his generation was like Moshe in his generation” (Esther Rabbah 6:2). Therefore, just as during Moshe Rabbeinu’s time the enemy was Bilam, who was Moshe’s nemesis in greatness on the evil side, so did Mordechai have to overcome the power of Haman and his plot during his generation.

The rebbe demonstrates that just as Moshe Rabbeinu was the antithesis of Paroh and thwarted him on his own turf, growing up in his palace, so did Mordechai triumph over Haman even after he had been handed the power of the royal signet ring with the full of assent of Achashveirosh the king. Moshe Rabbeinu overcame the sorcery and necromancy of Paroh and Egypt, and Mordechai was ascendant over Haman even though he had been empowered by the king. The rebbe sees Purim Koton as commemorating the “turnabout” (Esther 9:1), where it became clear that Hashem makes Klal Yisroel prevail over nature by means of His supernatural powers.

The reason that this is reflected in Purim Koton is that the leap year was established to regulate the lunar (Klal Yisroel) months and solar (secular) calendar. This is how the intermediary madreigah of Purim Koton allows for the connection between the natural and the supernatural, making a havdalah between them, but also allowing the holy to triumph over the profane. The rebbe cites the Rambam (Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh, chapter 4) that in order for Pesach to always fall during the spring season (chodesh ha’aviv), it was necessary to add a month of Adar. This was done according to the halacha so that the geulah of Purim would fall just before the redemption of Pesach. The rebbe concludes that, therefore, Purim Koton carries all the spiritual energy of the regular Purim, but only in microcosmic form. He teaches that this periodic arrangement, every few years, reminds us that Klal Yisroel is never under any other power (no mazalos, constellations), even when there are no open miracles happening. We may add that this is truly the essence of Purim itself.

We are in a time of hester ponim, when Hashem is hiding His face from us and we don’t always feel His steady Hand guiding history and our nation. But of course, He is with us every step of the way. This is the message of Purim Koton. It is not only when the miracle has occurred and we have been saved that we celebrate. As we saw, the Mishnah Berurah rules that we should have a small seudah on Purim Koton, because here, too, there is kevod Shomayim and Hashem’s intervention for us. In fact, it is so appropriate that only Purim periodically carries a second “sister Yom Tov,” because Purim itself was fashioned to look like teva/nature to the world, while we are well aware that it is as miraculous as the splitting of the sea.

Although this should be enough to uplift our spirits this Purim Koton, we will turn to another Chassidic source for a bit more. The Sochatchover Rebbe (Sheim M’Shmuel, Tetzaveh, page 163) teaches that “Purim was a double miracle constituting the rescue of Klal Yisroel and the destruction of thousands of Amalekites.” Corresponding to these two nissim, we were given two distinct mitzvos, the reading of the Megillah and the Purim seudah. The Gemara (Megillah 10a) tells us that the reading of the Megillah is in place of Hallel, which thanks Hashem for our rescue, whereas the seudah, says the Sheim M’Shmuel, celebrates the downfall of our enemy. The disagreement between various opinions whether or not the main Purim falls right after Shevat or right before Nissan revolves around the question of which miracle was the most important. The prevailing opinion that Purim is celebrated mainly in the Adar closest to Pesach reflects the idea that our geulah from Mitzrayim was the main thing and the downfall of Egypt was only incidental, since it was necessary. However, the opinion that the main Purim is during the first Adar takes the position that since the month of Teves and half of Shevat belong to Eisav and Purim represents the triumph over Eisav, our victory over Amalek would be the most important and therefore Purim would have been placed in the first Adar. Nevertheless, even now that we celebrate Purim during the second Adar, the first Adar still retains the lesser but still important element of gratitude to Hashem for our partial eradication of Amalek, with the finality coming with Moshiach.

I believe that we can now look at Purim Koton with new eyes. It is true that we are living at a time when Klal Yisroel has suffered terrible and brutal losses. However, Purim Koton reminds us that there is an interim time when much is accomplished for kevod Shomayim as well. First of all, as this paper and this column as well have pointed out, there is a tremendous kiddush Hashem happening in Eretz Yisroel today. A prominent Torah author and speaker told me recently that he cannot remember such a wonderful time in Eretz Yisroel of achdus and return to Torah. Furthermore, with Hashem’s help, we will hopefully have more victories over enemies, despite political and other pressures. Purim Koton also reminds us that while other nations live and exist only by the laws of nature, our power is not limited by nature at all, since we are guided by the Creator of that nature. He utilizes it and overrides it at will.

Purim Koton also helps us make the important connection between the geulos, that of Purim and that of Pesach. Purim’s was couched in the appearance of a natural story – hester ponim – while Pesach was the open and stunning overcoming of all the laws of man and nature. We need Moshe Rabbeinu and we need Mordechai, for both are the agents of Hashem’s Hashgocha. May it be His will that we should soon see the double yeshuah of Purim Koton and Purim Gadol with Moshiach Tzidkeinu bimeheirah beyomeinu.

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