Thursday, Jul 18, 2024

The Joy of Clarity

Purim will live on for eternity as a day of joy and festivity. After the arrival of Moshiach, the other Yomim Tovim will no longer be celebrated, other than to be remembered as part of the golus past.

Even estranged Jews appreciate the awe of Rosh Hashanah and listen to the cry of the shofar, but they have a hard time with Purim. They wonder how this can be a holiday. And what is the deal with the alcohol, the clowning around, and the lack of decorum?

The closer we are to the source of joy, the more joyous we are. When we attend a simcha, the better we know the people who are celebrating, the more joyous we are and the more we participate. People who complain about attending simchos demonstrate that they are incapable of having strong relationships or caring enough about other people to add the joy to their lives.

The more we are able to appreciate the source of the happiness of Purim, the happier we are and the longer we are able to experience that joy. People privileged to live Torah lives, connected to the meaning and flavor of life, experience Purim joy with added delight.

What is it about Purim that generates so much joy and elation? Even today, when people are dangerously apathetic, and so many hearts are numb and without emotion, we can still sense the simcha. There is a mitzvah to be happy on the Yomim Tovim. On Purim, it is so much easier for all to feel it.

The message of Purim is something everyone can identify with and appreciate.

Like a beacon of light on a dark, stormy night, Purim shines into our world. Everyone has struggles. We have days when events threaten to engulf us. We encounter people and situations that we find intolerable. We can feel lost and abandoned. We wonder why there is so much hate in our world and why people seem intent on destroying others. It bothers us and brings on a certain sense of despondency. We pine for proper leadership to fill vacuums and right wrongs. We need so much money to survive. Most of us endure many struggles to make ends meet. Every penny we earn is swallowed up, and now inflation is taking an even larger bite out of our wallets, making our struggle much more difficult. There are also many who are sick or suffering in other ways and eagerly await a yeshuah.

Yet, when Purim comes, worries are set aside and everyone joins in the celebration.

The Baal Shem Tov traveled through a tiny, forlorn town consisting of a few farmhouses and fields. The residents there were suffering from a severe drought. The lack of rainwater threatened the crops, and their livelihoods were in jeopardy. If the drought would continue, they would all starve.

When the Baal Shem Tov went into the shul, he saw the entire town –men, women and children – gathered there, listening respectfully to the words of a visiting maggid. The preacher was castigating the people for their misdeeds, telling them that their offensive behavior was causing Heaven to withhold the blessing of rain.

When the maggid finished, the Baal Shem Tov rose to speak. “What do you want from these people?” he asked the maggid. “They work long, hard hours, laboring under the blazing sun all day. When they have a few spare minutes, they rush to the shul to daven and learn a bit. What do you want from them? What type of message are you giving them?”

Turning to the crowd of farmers and their families, the Baal Shem Tov said, “Tayere Yidden, this is what you must know. We have a Creator with unlimited abilities, and He can do whatever He wants. He loves us and wants to shower us with blessings. So come, Yidden. Let us dance.”

The Baal Shem Tov led the simple townspeople in joyous dance. The circle of Jews began singing their thanks and praise to the Master of the Universe.

When they were done and left the shul to return home, they were greeted by a driving rain that turned the roads and fields into mud.

It rained and rained, drenching the happy townspeople as they danced their way home.

The Baal Shem Tov gave them reason to dance. The Creator loves us and wants the best for us. He can do anything.

This knowledge is like a bolt of lightning that lights up the night.

Throughout the year, we are confronted by various types of people and the vast spectrum of human behavior, from righteous and noble to incorrigibly evil and the many shades in between.

We live in a world where up is down and down is up. We have to resist being bowled over and led astray. No matter what comes over us and the world, we must maintain our equilibrium and faith.

Rav Yitzchok Hutner told of two men who were lost overnight in a forest. To survive in the thick blanket of darkness and terror, one man figured out how to see in the darkness, while the other sharpened his hearing to be able to perceive when danger was approaching.

Which of the two learned a more valuable skill?

Rav Hutner answered that it was the one who developed the ability to perceive sounds and identify them who possessed the more crucial expertise, because in the morning, when the sun comes up and the world is bathed in light, that skill will still be helpful to them as they remain lost in the forest.

When Moshiach comes, the ability to see in darkness will no longer be necessary, as the world will be filled with light. But the ability to hear the knock of Hashgocha and understand that every sound is an announcement of Hashem’s Presence will always be useful. Purim won’t ever go away, as it is the Yom Tov that teaches us to listen and hear the deeper message.

The story of Purim occurred in hester. What was really happening was hidden behind a façade of what appeared to be happening. What everyone saw and believed and read about and discussed was far removed from reality. What they perceived as darkness was actually light concealed.

We all have ups and downs. Sometimes things happen that cause us much sadness and pain, because we see them bringing us insurmountable financial loss, physical illness, or senseless aggravation we feel we don’t deserve. We fret and worry and despair. But when the fog clears and we are able to properly understand what happened, many times, in hindsight, we are able to appreciate that what happened was a blessing in disguise.

Other times, after davening and placing our faith in Hashem, believing that He cares for us and does what is best for us, we are spared from the calamity we were sure was headed our way.

When good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people, the Megillah reminds us that appearances are deceptive. The Megillah reminds us that everything that happens is part of a Divine plan, which we can’t expect to understand until the entire story has unfolded.

That message resonates wherever Jews find themselves. As we masquerade about exchanging mishloach manos with friends and distributing Purim gelt, we tap into the holiness and message of the holy day.

It is a message that never loses its timeliness.

Each year, as we study the Megillah and the story of Purim, we gain a new appreciation of what took place during those critical times and its relevance to us today. We gain a new perspective on life.

We have been close to the brink so many times yet have always been allowed to climb back up. How can we not rejoice?

One year, on Purim, surrounded by multitudes of chassidim hanging on to his every word, the Chiddushei Horim began speaking. This is what he said: “When we start reading the Megillah, we might wonder why we are being told stories about some Persian king. Why do we care that he feasted for three years after being crowned? We continue reading and are told stories about a queen who refused to attend a feast and her punishment. Then we read about the procedure of finding a new queen. And we wonder: Why do we need to know this?”

The rebbe was quiet, deep in thought. He sat up and answered his questions. “In the time of Moshiach,” he said, “many strange things will happen. Nobody will understand what is happening. And then, suddenly, they will realize that it was all tied to the geulah.”

To say that strange occurrences are taking place in our day is an understatement. We are confounded by the daily happenings, so many of which seem to make no sense. Soon the day will arrive when everything will become clear. For now, we have Purim.

Over the past couple of years, the world has had a string of extraordinary occurrences. As soon as one was gone, another popped up. Most prominently, a pandemic circled the world, killing too many people we knew and sickening many others. Some have not yet recovered. Schools were closed and then children were forced to wear masks. Who knows when they will catch up on what they missed?

Some people became very wealthy from the pandemic and government largesse, but many more lost their businesses and sources of income. Stocks plunged along with New York City real estate. Not everyone came back whole from the experience.

Who can forget the calamitous tragedy of Lag Ba’omer last year in Meron, so many lives taken in an instant, so many lives changed, upended. So much sadness in one small, holy place.

A couple of weeks ago, Russia, in a move many see as irrational, invaded a neighboring country and began waging a fierce war. The general peace that has reigned in Europe since the Second World War has been shattered, and it is possible that the world order has been changed. The war can have serious repercussions for hundreds of millions of people, and besides the terrible human toll it has already extracted, it has many other repercussions for people everywhere.

We hope and pray that these and the other tragic occurrences are stirrings of Moshiach, as Hashem prepares the world for the unveiling of the great light of geulah.

We all have stuff going on in our lives that we would love to wish away. There are many problems awaiting solutions. Life isn’t always perfect. We can get down. We can find it impossible to laugh and hard to learn Torah. There is an urge to withdraw from other people, pull down the shades, and cut ourselves off from the rat race.

But on this day, we all become Purim Yidden, connecting with each other, smiling, and exchanging gifts, drinks, hugs, and good vertlach. The stronger and more faithful among us endeavor to hold on to the day and maintain their Purim belief, enabling them to live wholesome lives.

On Purim, we disentangle from our usual habits, urges, appetites and things we think are life’s necessities, and are enveloped by Purim, its joy and its spirit. We get energized. We smile, laugh, sing and dance, because on this day, we have it all figured out and nobody can touch or harm us.

Esther is repeatedly tested throughout the period in which the story takes place. Each time, it appears that there is no way she can outmaneuver the evil facing her. She is galvanized by her hopes rather than her fears. She relies upon the sage counsel of her uncle, the Rosh Sanhedrin. With Mordechai’s support, fear can’t paralyze her.

Faced with situations from which we think there is no way we can extricate ourselves without getting hurt, we should remember Queen Esther and gain strength from the knowledge that by doing the right thing, she saved her people from certain destruction. By following Mordechai’s instructions, she became immortalized in the consciousness of the Jewish people as a righteous and strong woman who put the fate of her people ahead of her personal safety and happiness.

The Jews of Shushan taught a message that is passed down through the ages. They felt doomed. The lot was drawn and they thought their fate was sealed. And then, thanks to the leadership of Mordechai and Esther, Hashem heard their tefillos and accepted their teshuvah. A day marked for sadness and death was transformed into a day of celebration and deliverance for all time.

We can barely imagine what Purim was like in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1941. Many people there made their way to Rav Klonimus Kalman of Piaceczna, searching for direction. Looking around and sizing up their situation, they wondered how they could be expected to smile on this day, or if they were obligated to.

He looked at his brethren with his holy eyes and told them that the Zohar states that Purim is compared to Yom Kippurim. He said that just as on Yom Kippur we are commanded to fast whether we would like to or not, so too, we must be joyous on Purim, no matter who is marching around outside and how bleak things appear.

The Rosh Hashanah l’shonim, the first day of Tishrei, is preceded by a month of teshuvah. The first day of Nissan is Rosh Hashanah l’regolim, marking the beginning of the annual cycle of Yomim Tovim. The Sefas Emes suggests that just like the teshuvah in Elul prepares us for Rosh Hashanah, the month prior to the Rosh Hashanah l’regolim, Adar, is a teshuvah period.

But there is a marked difference between the two periods of repentance. During Elul, the teshuvah is brought on by fear of the impending judgment. During Adar, it begins as teshuvah mei’ahavah, repentance brought on by love, joy and anticipation.

On Purim, we are reminded that just as our ancestors were delivered from despair, so may we be spared of our burdens.

The simcha of Purim returns us to Hashem and sets us back on the proper way. We are reminded that there is no reason for despondency, and that negativism and pessimism are deleterious not only to our physical health, but also to our spiritual health and general wellbeing.

Even when it appears dark, the sun is shining somewhere, though it is not apparent to us. We must know that just as the sun will shine again over us, so will the clouds and darkness dissipate and things will straighten out for us.

It’s Purim. Dance, smile and be happy. Look at the positive. Be optimistic.

Purim is not an escape from reality. Purim is reality. Purim is a reminder of the reality that empowers the Jewish people with the clarity and awareness to continue on.

When we permit the spirit and lessons of Purim to remain with us after the sun has gone down, we become changed, happy, holy and blessed.

Permit the spirit of Purim to overtake you.

Before tekias shofar, the Jews of Salant would marvel at the change in the features of their rov, Rav Zundel. As he grasped the shofar, his face would radiate such holiness that it was difficult to look at him.

The Salanter Yidden asked him about the change that had come over him. Upon hearing what they said about his shining countenance, he sighed. “My rebbi, Rav Chaim Volozhiner, looked this way every morning as he lifted his tefillin out of the bag. Alas, I only experience this raised level of kedusha once a year.”

On Purim, look at the faces around you. At least on this day of the year, we see the truth. Look at the faces and you’ll see inner joy. You will see the happiness of belief. The joy of clarity. All year round, people have various looks on their faces, but the look you see on Purim is the truest face of all.

Let us resolve this year to do our best to maintain that level of holiness and joy, rooted in faith, all year round.

Ah freilichen Purim. Ah gantz yohr freilach.




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