Wednesday, Jul 17, 2024

The Incredible Partnership of Purim and Yom Kippur


One of the most unusual yet enduring analogies in the Torah is the juxtaposition of Purim and Yom Kippur. The Tikkunei Zohar (Tikkun 21) states that the name Purim is connected to Yom Hakippurim. The seforim hakedoshim that interpret the Zohar add that the words themselves indicate that in certain ways Purim is even greater, since it is Yom Kippur that is likened to Purim and not the reverse. On the surface, it would seem that no two days could be more diverse. On Yom Kippur we fast, are somber, and make sure to refrain from various pleasures. On Purim there is a mitzvah to drink and have at least one seudah, and we often dance and sing. Where is the affinity between the two? Furthermore, the Chida (Sefer Devash Lefi, Maaracha 80:2) writes that Purim includes all the Yomim Tovim. Surely that, too, is an astounding statement, since it means that a Yom Tov derabbonon includes all the de’Oraisa Yomim Tovim.

Let us begin this exploration with the Chida’s elaboration upon his assertion. He enumerates the way Purim is all-inclusive: On Pesach, we went from slavery to freedom. On Purim, we were saved from death and received life. On Shavuos, we received the Torah, but on Purim we accepted it again willingly, not with the mountain looming over us. On Rosh Hashanah, the books of life and death are open before Hashem. On Purim, we were being judged whether or not, G-d forbid, the decree of Haman for our destruction should be fulfilled. On Yom Kippur, our sins are forgiven, and on Purim we were forgiven for the sin that we committed at the feast of Achashveirosh. Finally, Sukkos is in memory of the Clouds of Glory that enveloped us, and on Purim we entered under the wings of the Shechinah.

Still, it is difficult to absorb the fact that Purim is so great that it seems to encompass all the Yomim Tovim and moadim in Klal Yisroel. To be sure, Rav Aharon of Karlin, the author of the beautiful and profound Kah Echsof, writes (Bais Aharon) that “according to the pleasure and energy one experiences and receives on Purim, so is it at his Seder and so is it on Yom Kippur.” In other words, once again, the source of much of our spiritual life and uplift for the year comes from Purim.

My rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner (Pachad Yitzchok, Purim, Kuntrus Reshimos, No. 5), once said on Purim that a certain gadol disliked a popular song that used to be sung in some circles on Purim. It began its refrain with the words, “Today is Purim, tomorrow is not.” He, too, indicated that singing this niggun robbed Purim of its power to extend its kedusha, simcha and hisorerus onto the entire year.

Rav Aharon Taussig used to quote his grandfather, the Mattersdorfer Rov, that in the Chasam Sofer’s fabled city of Pressburg, the gabba’im had the custom of standing around the bimah at the reading of the Megillah with giant lit Havdalah candles. This symbolized the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai, where the Torah says (Shemos 19:18) that “all of Har Sinai was smoking because Hashem had descended upon it in fire.” Again, we see that tzaddikim sought to enhance the Purim experience as a connection to colossal earlier events, but we haven’t yet discovered the depths of this connection. Other Chassidic giants, particularly the Divrei Chaim of Sanz, used to ask people who couldn’t be helped in their problems or predicaments the rest of the year to return on Purim, which was the greatest eis ratzon, a day propitious for answered prayers.

This last power of the Purim day was explained by the Apter Rebbe, author of the Oheiv Yisroel, as follows. We find (Sukkah 52a) that the greater a person is, the greater is his yeitzer hara. This must be so to fulfill the edict of bechirah, so that the giant, too, will be able exercise his free will. The Tosafos Yom Tov (beginning of Yoma) explains that for this reason, so many safeguards are built into the Yom Kippur avodah so that the kohein gadol should be successful. Since he is so great, the day is great and the place is great, the dangers of failing are great as well. The Apter concludes: “On Purim, when ‘whoever extends a hand must receive,’ the opportunity is tremendous, but the perils are great as well. For this reason, he explains, we drink and dress up in masks and costumes so that the Soton does not recognize us and certainly feels that we are not exhibiting kedusha and taharah. We, however, on our part, must be very careful to utilize the moment only for its intended purpose, to elevate ourselves to the holiest madreigah possible. That is one approach to the greatness, but also the acute spiritual danger of every moment of Purim.

Rav Moshe Landinsky, the rosh yeshiva in Radin, told an amazing story about the Chofetz Chaim in this regard. A bochur drunken with the spirit of Purim but also inebriated with a bit of chutzpah he would never have mustered on any other day, asked the Chofetz Chaim to assure him that he would be with the great tzaddik in Gan Eden. Although the family and somewhat more sober bochurim were aghast, the Chofetz Chaim treated his request seriously. “I am happy to promise you that will be with me, but only on the condition that you commit never to speak lashon hara. I myself have been careful of this all of my life and I would ask the same of you.” The bochur sobered up very rapidly, responding sheepishly, “Rebbe, I am sorry. I cannot make that commitment.” Later, the rosh yeshiva commented that this poor bochur had “the keys to Gan Eden in his hand, but threw them away.”

This is both the wonder and danger of Purim. We are offered so much – in fact, every spiritual request – but we must make the effort and the commitment necessary to follow up.

The Gaon of Vilna (Likkutei HaGra, Warsaw, 5649, page 308) offers us a metaphor and approach to understand the Purim/Yom Hakippurim connection. He writes that, in general, every Yom Tov is divided between the chatzi laHashem and chatzi lochem – half for G-d and half for ourselves (Beitzah 15b). We eat and we daven, we drink and we learn. But two Yomim Tovim are different. On Yom Kippur, all is for Hashem, but on Purim, we, so to speak, make it up and all is for the pleasure of the body. These two special days complement and complete each other. However, as we saw, in certain ways Purim is greater. This preference is explained by Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev in the following way: It is actually easier to fulfill the mitzvos of Yom Kippur than those of Purim, and therefore, those of Purim receive a greater reward. On Yom Kippur, we are totally removed from all gashmiyus – material corporeal things – and so we can concentrate on our spiritual needs. But on Purim, when we drink much wine and seem to lose our daas – our intellectual selves – completely, we are in danger of sinking rather than rising. Therefore, if we seize the special moments of Purim, elevate the body to the soul and love every one of our brethren, Hashem listens and answers our tefillos positively.

My rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner (Pachad Yitzchok, Purim, No. 8), adds a crucial dimension to this idea. He cites the words of Chazal (Shabbos 89b) that Yitzchok Avinu offers to “share” the burden of defending Klal Yisroel by declaring to Hashem, “Please take half and I will take half.” He cites the interpretation of Rav Yitzchok Blazer that Yitzchok Avinu is echoing the words of Chazal (Brachos 17a) that “we deeply want to do the will of Hashem, but the yeast in the dough and the oppression of the nations won’t let us.” Rav Itzele explains that these two factors withholding Klal Yisroel from completely fulfilling Hashem’s will correspond to the partnership Yitzchok Avinu suggests. The sourdough is the metaphor for the yeitzer hara, which internally inhibits us from performing mitzvos properly. On the other hand, the oppression of the nations comes from Eisov, for which Yitzchok takes responsibility.

On Yom Kippur, we are free of the yeitzer hara, which is, so to speak, Hashem’s contribution to our salvation. But on Purim, Eisov has lost all his power, as the posuk states, “The fear of the Jews had fallen upon them” (Esther 8:17). This is what the Vilna Gaon meant when he asserted that Purim and Yom Hakippurim are essentially one Yom Tov with two sides to its coin. We triumph over external enemies at the same time as we overcome our internal ones as well. This, then, is the secret of Purim’s power. It represents at its zenith the totality of our triumph over evil. Therefore, it generates such great simcha and potential for achieving greatness. Purim is the senior partner to Yom Kippur because the reward must fit the effort. On Purim, when we seem totally obsessed with our physical selves, we are given the ability to turn all gashmiyus into ruchniyus, a feat worthy of the great efforts we will expend on this beautiful and productive day.

A freilichen and lichtigen Purim.





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