Purim is somehow connected to Yom Kippur – in the Torah it is called Yom Hakippurim and the play on words is not lost on the Rabbis. They say that in a sense, Yom Kipur is a yom k’Purim, meaning a day like Purim, so in some way Purim is seen as a paradigm of something that Yom Kipur emulates. What’s that all about? On the face of it, the two days couldn’t be more different. Purim is all body and Yom Kipur is all soul.
Purim is about revealing the hidden Hand Of God in events. God isn’t referred to by any name in the Megillah at all, and only through putting together all the events could his workings be seen. Through doing so, we see it as a battle of good against evil, where each receives his just deserts. We see how God engineered each individual event according to an intricate plot to upstage the evil.
How ironic is it then that the mitzvos of the day ask us to drop our sense of right and wrong and just open our hearts and minds to the goodness within everything and everyone. We give mishloach manos to help us come close to others, we give gifts to those who need without reserve and without enquiry as to their righteousness. We revel in physical pleasures of eating and drinking more than usual. We even drink purposely to blur the line between good and evil – until we cannot tell the difference between the blessedness of Mordechai and the cursedness of Haman.
Isn’t it odd that on a festival whose essence is about the victory of good over evil, that we do all we can to overlook the evil and bring ourselves to a state of happy acceptance of everything and everyone?
Let’s think about the drinking aspect (my favourite mitzvah) a little deeper. What is this business of making it hard to tell between Mordechai (the epitome of good) and the monstrous Haman? How can this be desirable at all?
In the classical mussar work, the Orchos Tzaddikim discusses the ills and the benefits of drinking alcohol. The main benefit as the author sees it is in helping a person through a distressing time to lift his spirits and get him back on track both physically and spiritually. It’s no coincidence that the section on drinking is placed in the middle of the book’s chapter on simchah and in fact is used to make the transition in the chapter between the negative type of simchah and the positive.
Immediately after the piece on alcohol, Orchos Tzaddikim goes on to explain how simchah is achieved ultimately by totally trusting in God that everything that ever happens is God’s doing and happens for a reason that you will one day (not likely in this world) understand and truly rejoice in.
It’s with this kind of superhuman faith that a person could truly recognise that Haman’s evil is as much a part of God’s work as Mordechai’s good. From the perspective that everything that happens in this world is by God’s design, you can truly accept that Haman is as necessary as Mordechai in bringing about the ultimate redemption.
But the Orchos Tzaddikim, in telling us that a little drunkenness is a great way to get over a rough patch (if done with responsible friends and not in excess), he’s teaching something very significant: You have to realise that this is an extremely high level of faith and you’re not expected to reach it without a lifetime of effort. A little drink really can make you feel that things aren’t as bad as you thought they were, and that really does allow you to view the world as if you really believe God is leading the way.
In short, drunkenness is a very good simulation of the way the world would appear from a high level of faith.
So a little more wine than usual on Purim can bring you to a fleeting experience of that kind of faith that God is the Creator of both Light and Darkness, the Doer of Good and Evil.
But that’s the vital word: FLEETING!
The world you see when you’re drunk, where everything is just great, is really not something you’re supposed to experience in this world. The idea that things that seem bad are really good for you is an other-worldly concept and you can’t live in this world with that idea at the front of your mind.
The very fact that the mitzvah of the day requires you to drink to reach that conclusion is a lesson that you shouldn’t miss. The point is that it’s neither desirable nor really possible to look at the world in those terms on a daily basis.
Living in this world requires you to be acutely aware of what’s going on within you and around you, and in particular to be on guard against doing wrong or even witnessing wrong without protest.
Purim, as I said, is about the victory of good over evil. On the other hand the very essence of the day’s activities take us to a plane of existence in which evil is revealed as nothing other than God’s tool.
It’s a day of irony. The idea is to get that fleeting glance of a perfect world but to do it in such a way that emphasises that it’s beyond our reach and supposed to stay that way.
In this sense, Yom Kipur is very similar indeed to Purim. Yom Kipur also takes us to a plane of existence on which we feel the nearness of God and our ability to reach Him, only this time it’s through a complete negation of our physical needs. It too is a day full of irony, but yet different from Purim. Here, we do not negate the essence of evil, in fact we focus on it sharply and objectify it in an effort to expel it from ourselves and draw close to God.
Here too, the lesson is that yes closeness to God and cleanness from sin is a wonderful thing, and we need that glance of spirituality. But here too, it’s a one-off event and you shouldn’t even think about living permanently in that way. The mitzvos of Yom Kipur of fasting and refraining from other physical pleasures are there to get us to reach that unattainable plane, while teaching that it’s essentially unattainable to normal people.
The mitzvah of drinking on Purim is there to get us to another unattainable place, while teaching that it’s essentially unattainable to normal people!
But Purim and Yom Kipur are also polar opposites. The level of Yom Kipur is one of complete Din – Justice, where evil is evil and must be eradicated in all shapes and forms. Purim is overwhelming Chesed which actually reveals all evil to be essentially good.
The lesson of these days is that neither of these poles are a desirable place to inhabit as a way of life.
In real life, it’s not possible to distill pure evil and objectify it and then throw it off the cliff in the way we do on Yom Kipur.
Equally, it’s not possible to accept evil in it’s many guises as simply being God’s will and leave it be.
Real life entails complexity. Our mission is to use the tools that we have to view the world from a perspective of faith, while protesting evil and ridding ourselves and our world from it.
Purim and Yom hakippurim open up a brief window onto a simpler, more perfect world, but they do so in a way that reminds you that the window has to close at the end of the day.
Simplicity is wonderful but it’s for the next world!