When I first came to yeshiva in Israel it happened to be this time of year leading up to the holiday of Purim. There was an interest and an excitement amongst the students and Rabbis. Since I didn’t really know what it was all about, I was kind of keeping it at a distance from myself in my mind and focusing on my studies. I had come to yeshiva seeking the answers to life’s most important questions and I had found a happy home there delving into the meaning of life, morality, and spirituality.
I noticed leading up to Purim that more and more people were saying to me how much I was going to enjoy the holiday and how much fun it would be. The implication was that since I was secular, and secular people like parties, I would like Purim because it’s a party. However, as Purim got closer, and the holiday was not really being explained to me, I forced an older student to go through the Megillah with me so I’d know a little bit more what the holiday is about.
Once Purim descended upon us I understood it to some extent, but I was highly unimpressed with the party aspect. You see as far as secular parties go it wasn’t much. Sure some costumes were interesting and it was different seeing the Rabbis more relaxed, but I was there in yeshiva for spirituality, not to party. In fact, since it was hyped so much by people it was even more of a let down.
Maybe all the guys had loved Purim their first time and thought I would too. Or maybe they forgot what it was like the first time. There are many good reasons for their enthusiasm and assumption I would enjoy the Purim parties. But my experience was flat and unexciting. My feeling was they were cheapening my search for spirituality by assuming I would love to drink cheap wine and dance in a circle.
Now that I’m frum and don’t watch T.V. or go to secular parties, the Purim parties are a lot of fun. And I’ve learned to appreciate the spirituality that’s hidden in the party.
But with my students, I try not to get there hopes up about the partying because for most of them, they could go to a party that’s a lot more fun and intoxicating. And I try to give them the benefit of the doubt that the reason they are studying with me is to get more spirituality in their lives. So I try to educate them about the deeper meaning behind the masks.
And then I pour them a glass of cheap wine.
Originally published March 6, 2006
Well, you can also drink DECENT wine. Kosher wine has come a long way from the days of thet nasty Carmel Grenache Rose (we used to call it “Greenish Rose”).
Also, the Megillah includes a lot of bloodshed, not the usual secular party fare. You have to be knowledgeable about Amalek and have a love of the Jewish people to appreciate the killing of Haman’s followers.
What I find remarkable is how secular Jews have turned purim into a remake of achashverosh’s banquet, replete with half-naked dancing and all the crassness of college partying. Venahapoch hu indeed.