The Month of Adar – A Time of Happiness

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.
Download a number of Drashos on Purim

The Month of Adar – A Time of Happiness

We are now in the month of Adar, with the help of Hashem. (In a leap year, we merit to have two months of Adar). It is a well-known fact which power is revealed during the month of Adar: it is the month where there is more simchah/happiness. The Sages state, “When Adar enters, we increase happiness.”[1] To be more specific, the power which describes the month of Adar is known as sechok/laughter.[2]

Let us reflect, with siyata d’shmaya, on what the roots of sadness are, so that we can learn how to remove sadness and reveal happiness in our life.

Reflecting On the Roots of Sadness

In whatever we think about, we can always discover details and roots. Either we can see the details involved in a matter, or we can see the roots of the matter. Therefore when it comes to analyzing sadness, either we can contemplate on the many different details that cause it, or we can look into the roots and see what brings one to that emotion.

Here we will try to analyze the roots that cause sadness, as opposed to studying the many ‘branches’ that can bring it on. There are several “root” causes for sadness.

Two Sources of Sadness – In the Body and In the Soul

Man is comprised of four physical elements: fire, wind, water and earth. These four elements are in all of Creation as well as in man. Earth is the heaviest of the elements. When it is left unbalanced by the other elements, the element of earth will weigh one down, which will ultimately cause one to feel sadness.

Thus, sadness can stem from the heaviness that is found in our physical body. Our body was fashioned from the earth. Man comes from dirt. When one’s element of earth is imbalanced, this heaviness can breed sadness. This is the first source for sadness: the element of earth contained in the physical body.

When one commits a sin (Heaven forbid), and certainly if one commits more than one, one’s soul becomes sad because it does not want to be in a situation of sin. When a person sins and does not immediately do teshuvah,[3] the soul becomes sad.

Solving Sadness Due To Heaviness

As we discussed in the month of Shevat, generally speaking, one should focus on eating a healthier diet. Our body becomes heavy from the “earth” within us, so we need to be careful what we put in it. When we overeat, this makes us feel heavy – heaviness causes us to be sad, since heaviness is a trait of earth, the root element for sadness. Therefore, we should become accustomed to eating foods that will not make us feel heavy.[4]

In addition, when someone is extremely drawn towards lethargy, he needs to start doing things enthusiastically. This will combat the nature of the ‘heaviness’ within him that is causing him to feel sad. He should work on this by practicing doing things energetically. For example, he could resolve upon himself that for three times a day, he will do something quickly and with enthusiasm.[5]

This is the two-part solution that resolves the sadness that comes from feeling physically lethargic and sluggish. The first part of the solution is to get used to a healthier diet. The second part of the solution is to try to do three things a day with enthusiasm. This will enable one to acquire the trait that is described in the Mishnah in Avos, “as light as an eagle”, and to avoid the lethargy and sadness that is produced from the ‘heaviness’ in the body.

Solving Sadness of our Soul

The second source for sadness that we mentioned is when sadness comes from the soul. The soul becomes sad when a person commits sins. The solution for this kind of sadness is to do earnest teshuvah from the depths of one’s heart.

Our Sages wrote that there are four main times to do teshuvah: before going to sleep at night, on Erev Shabbos, on Erev Rosh Chodesh and on Erev Yom Kippur – which is the most important time to do teshuvah. These are the “general” times to do teshuvah, but if a person lives a more inner way of life, he does teshuvah whenever he feels sadness coming from his soul, and he does so from the depths of his heart.

The teshuvah should not be done monotonously, but truthfully and earnestly, until one feels that one’s teshuvah is genuine, to the point that “The One who knows all secrets (Hashem) can testify on him that his teshuvah is truthful.”[6]

This is an internal way of living, wherein one trains oneself to react immediately when one feels an inner sadness by concentrating deeply and resolving to live as a more sincere Jew: to resolve that one will truly submit oneself to the Ribono Shel Olam.[7]

If one does teshuvah earnestly, one will find that one’s sadness will subside, either totally, or at least to a very large extent.

Identifying Your Sadness

From the two above possible reasons for feeling sad – feeling a physical heaviness of the body, or feeling sad due to a sin – one should try to identify which sadness it is as one is feeling it.

If one feels a sense of ‘heaviness’ in one’s body, if one is feeling somewhat sluggish and lethargic, then this stems from the body’s element of earth. The solution for this kind of sadness as we said is to get used to a healthier diet as well as to do things enthusiastically. But often one will feel that the reason for this sadness is deeper than just a general sense of feeling lethargic. Such sadness is not stemming from a heaviness of the body, but from a deeper source. It is coming from the depths of the neshamah/the soul, due to sins, which feel painful to the soul. When that is the case, the solution is to do earnest teshuvah.

If one reflects and has become a more internal kind of person, one will be able to keenly identify if the sadness one is feeling is coming from a heaviness of the body (the element of earth in the body), or if it’s coming from sins. And after identifying which kind of sadness it is, one should use the solutions above, accordingly.

We have so far mentioned two root causes for sadness, how they can be rectified, and how one should go about identifying them.

A Third Cause for Sadness: Lacking a Sense of Purpose in Life

Until now we have explained, with siyata d’shmaya, two kinds of sadness – a sadness that comes from a feeling of ‘heaviness’ in the body, which is rooted in the body’s element of earth; and a sadness that comes from the soul, due to sins and improper actions. Now we will speak about a third kind of sadness, which is very common. This is when one is living without any sense of direction, when one doesn’t know what one wants from oneself nor what one’s purpose in life is.

Many times, when one experiences failures in the external aspects of life, or when one has time to think quietly about one’s personal situation, one will discover that one has no clear-cut direction in life. When a person is living without a sense of clear direction in his life, he is filled with all kinds of doubts about what to do and what not to do. In a broader sense, he is filled with doubt about his entire life. This is the most common example of sadness. The world is full of this kind of sadness.

We have so far given a general description of it. Now let’s explore this deeper so that we can have a clearer understanding.

There is a well-known statement, written by the Rema, who says, “There is no happiness like the clarification of doubts.” [8] These words imply that when there are no doubts, there is happiness. Thus there will be sadness whenever a person has doubts. When one is trying to make a decision but is filled with doubt, the soul becomes sad.

(A hint to this is that the Hebrew word for sadness, which is atzvus is from the word (etzev), which is from the words , which hints to the term “two options of advice – in other words, when a person faces two conflicting paths of advice to take, he has atzvus/sadness.)

Sometimes a person is sad due to a particular doubt about something that he is going through. For example, if he isn’t sure whom to marry, if he doesn’t know which house to buy, where to live, or if he’s not sure what kind of job he needs to take. In these cases, one knows clearly the doubt that is plaguing his happiness. But in many cases, one cannot name a particular doubt which is bothering one. He is just feeling doubtful about his entire life and which direction it is taking. This makes him feel a general lack of clarity in his life. These are the kinds of doubts that fill the lives of many people resulting in the world being full of this kind of sadness.

Lack of Centeredness

If we ask any believing Jew, “What are you living for?” he will surely answer that he is living in order to fulfill the will of Hashem and to fulfill the mitzvos. However, if we would look deeper into what’s going on inside most people, we would discover that they – while certainly saying that this is what they live for, and that they know in their minds what they must do – are not directed towards any one point. Their souls are scattered over many different situations that they are involved with. When the soul is so spread out and is not aiming towards any one point in particular, this lack of direction towards anything clear, results in a deep sadness to the soul.

We see that there are many people who are working towards a goal. Sometimes they have materialistic goals, and sometimes they have spiritual goals, but in either case, they are striving towards one point. They are centered and focused on attaining a particular goal that they have which generally keeps them from falling into the pit of sadness.

Based upon this observation, we can uncover the solution for the deep sadness that fills most of the world – a sadness that stems from the lack of clarity and direction in life – by learning how to stay focused on a particular goal. The goal that we want to develop, however, will be of a spiritual nature, and not of a materialistic one. Yet, we can still learn a lesson from the materialistic goal-oriented people of the world and can use their method of success, when it comes to our own spiritual potential. With the help of Hashem, we will explain this.

Having a Spiritual Goal

There are many observant Jews who learn a profession, whether it is to become a doctor, lawyer, or whatever profession they choose. They are juggling many different aspects in their life, yet they are focused on attaining a certain goal. By going to school to study, this helps them stay centered as they aim for that goal. The mere fact that they are working towards a goal gives them a sense of happiness, whether the goal is a worthy one or not.

Just as actively striving towards a particular goal can be a means for success in the material world, so too it can work when we have a spiritual goal to strive for. There are some people who actively pursue spiritual goals from which they gain satisfaction and happiness.

For example, there are people who feel that doing chessed for others is their spiritual goal in life. They open up a gemach/an organization that helps people, and are focused solely on this one goal. Some people help by giving/loaning money, some help by offering their advice and some people help others by lending their possessions. There are many ways in which to help others. In all of these scenarios, the person is focused on a spiritual goal of chessed.

Whether the goal is materialistic or spiritual, as long as one can stay focused and concentrate on pursuing this goal, one’s soul will feel connected to something. He will be less prone to sadness, and will find it easier to be happy.

Most people are actively doing many good and wonderful things, but they are not striving for any one goal in particular. For example, if a woman is a housewife, she does many good things every day; she takes care of the house, she is constantly nourishing her husband and children with food – each of these acts involves countless achievements. In addition, a woman does many other constructive acts yet this doesn’t necessarily make her happy, even though she is doing all of these good things.

Why? It is because she doesn’t see how it all connects. She may feel very ‘spread out’ all over the place with all of these things that she does. She would be very happy if she would just consider how all of these acts really connect into one piece. If she considers chessed to be her goal, then she would derive happiness from this. But when a woman doesn’t consider all of what she does as part of a general goal that she is striving for, then in spite of all her many actual achievements, she will not be happy.

Every Jew, man and woman alike, needs to aim for a spiritual goal in their life. No matter how many countless wonderful acts a person is doing each day, one will not actually be happy from all of this unless there is a particular spiritual goal that he/she is striving for.

Each person can have a unique goal to strive for; it is not the same for everyone.
Figuring Out Your Personal Spiritual Goal in Life

In the secular values of the material world, people seek wealth, status, and nice houses to live in -that is what drives them to stay focused on their goals. But when we speak about the inner, spiritual world, the focus must be on a spiritual goal, on a certain inner point which we aim towards, as we go about our day-to-day living.

Every person will have to sit alone in a quiet place and try to figure out, as best as he can, a spiritual goal that will speak to him and which he feels is attainable. One needs to think: “What is a worthy, spiritual goal that I would want to aim for and direct my whole life towards?” The point is to be focused on utilizing one’s own potential, which lies dormant within you.

Once again, let us emphasize that there is a difference between how the secular world pursues their goals as to how a Torah Jew needs to pursue his goals. When a gentile speaks of having goals in life and on being focused and concentrated on working towards a goal, the attitude is to lay down the desire that you really want and how to get to what you want the most; how to attain that which you want badly. But when we speak of spiritual goals, the goals that a Torah Jew needs to have, which utilize the potential of our neshamah/Divine soul, the way of knowing our goals is a different process.

It is about how to actualize the potential that is within me, as opposed to getting what I want out of life. It is about figuring out which point speaks to me and is close to home, as opposed to something that my nefesh habehaimis/external, animalistic layer of the soul wants, which is expressed in the gentile world. It is a clarification about the innermost point that I currently identify with. It is that point which a Jew needs to strive for and to figure out how to realize this potential.

If one succeeds in uncovering the spiritual point that speaks to one the most at one’s current level, one is engaged in utilizing his potential, and one will succeed in removing the deep sadness of the soul, the pain of the soul where there is a lack of clarity and direction in life.

However, it is not an easy feat to figure out what the goal is – it will definitely not just take a few minutes. One needs to sit alone,quietly and delve deep so as to clearly recognize oneself, until one can see what one’s deepest spiritual ambition is. Often we will need to speak to someone else for help with this.

One will also need to daven to Hashem for help so that one should merit to discover a spiritual goal that can be aimed for. If we can cry to Hashem for this, we should do so. But even more so, we must understand that we will not get to it immediately. But at one’s own current level, one can try to figure out a spiritual goal that speaks very clearly to oneself, and to aim towards it in one’s day-to-day life.

Slowly as time goes on, one will gradually be able to uncover an even deeper spiritual goal and then direct oneself accordingly so as to actualize that goal.
The Prerequisite to Happiness

We need to understand the following point, which is a prerequisite to simchah/happiness. It is the very root of the solution and an essential point to be aware of: simchah is not just based on that which I want to attain but have not as yet attained, it is primarily based on whatever I have attained thus far.

If one is not focused on any one goal in particular, one will not be clear as to what one wants to achieve – neither will one be clear of what one has already achieved.

These two points are unclear when one does not have a goal. Upon having a goal, we first need to clarify what we wants to attain. At the same time, we must also be aware of what we have already attained. We need to always remind ourselves of this: to be clear in what we want to reach, and to be clear in what we have so far gained. That which you have already attained is actually the root of your simchah, and that which you are aiming for, which you haven’t yet achieved, is the factor that takes away sadness.

Thus, simchah is comprised of two factors: the removal of our sadness, and the revelation of happiness itself. Anything you have attained thus far is included in your aspect of “someach b’chelko”, “being happy with one’s lot” (which is the revelation of happiness). Anything which you have not as yet achieved but which you are aiming towards, takes away sadness.

Let’s review this again so that we are clear about it: there are two parts to simchah – the removal of sadness, and the revelation of happiness. When I am focused on attaining a certain goal, this removes my current sadness [because the soul will feel like it is moving forwards]; to be more specific, it removes the doubts that create sadness. And where do I derive simchah from in the present? From that which I have attained thus far; this is the “someiach b’chelko” that reveals happiness in one’s present state.

Now we can understand the following. We mentioned earlier the difference between the gentile and the Torah approaches of being goal-oriented. The way of the gentiles, which is especially the case in our current generation, focuses on what you should want out of life, and how to get it. It is about “getting what you want”. When you get it, you are happy, because that was what you wanted, you aimed for it, and you got it. That is Western mentality. By contrast, the Torah has a different approach to being goal-oriented: it is about actualizing the “I”. For we need to wonder: What is the “I” in us that wants things?

If “being happy with my lot” means that I got what I wanted, that would mean that I partially have what I want and partially I don’t. There is a rule, “He who wants a hundred, will want two hundred.” We are never completely satisfied when we attain what we want, because the next day we will want something else, and then we are back to where we started. There is no “lot” to be happy with here.

But if I tried to reach something which my “I” wanted – if it came from a very deep inner drive – then when I do attain that which I want, it is not simply that I have received what I wanted, but that it is a part of my very “I”, something that is a part of me. The resulting happiness is coming from the actualization of the “I” – the happiness that comes when one utilizes one’s potential.

We need to understand this clear, deep point. When a person wants something, and attains it either partially or completely, the happiness that results from this is just superficial; it is an incomplete happiness. The happiness will be fleeting, and sadness will soon follow.

The only genuine happiness which exists is not when I simply attain what I want, but when I reveal my “I”; when I actualize the potential of my “I”. That is simchah. For if something is not a part of me and it is only external, reaching it will not give me true and inner simchah, even if it is a wonderful thing to attain; whether it is a physical attainment, or a spiritual one. By contrast, if I achieve something that is small but it actualized my “I” in the process of getting there, then the happiness I will experience is coming from my “I”. You can only have real simchah in something that is a part of your “I.”

The meaning of someiach b’chelko/being happy with one’s lot, means that even if my “lot” is small – like when I compare myself with others and I see that others have more than me – I can still be someiach b’chelko.

How indeed can one be happy if one sees that others have achieved more? The depth of this is because simchah does not come from what I acquire. If it would come from what I acquire, then I can never be happy, because in comparison to others, I may have acquired very little. Simchah comes from actualizing the potential of my “I.” When my “I” is actualized, when I have reached something which is “me”, there is resulting simchah.

For this reason, if a person does not have true self-recognition, he will not be aware of any actualization of his potential, and will find nothing to be happy about. When he reads these words, he will not be satisfied, and he will feel, “In the end of the day, I don’t have much to be happy about. Even the things I do have in my life are minimal compared to what others have. Others have much more than I have to be happy about. So how can I be happy with what I have, when I see that everyone else has more than me both physically and spiritually…?”

When one finds it impossible to be happy with what one has, it can only be because one is out of touch with one’s “I”. One is unaware that the only thing which truly gives us happiness is when one utilizes his personal potential. If he would be aware of his “I” and he would be aware that only actualizing his potential is what provides happiness, he would have a whole different perspective towards life, and he would not need answers because he would be above this question.

When one lives superficially, one will remain with the question resulting in a lot of pain. We will not be able to be happy with what we have. But when a person comes out of superficiality and realizes that happiness does not come from acquiring things, but from actualizing the “I”, he will feel that everything he attains is a part of his “I”, and the simchah that he experiences will be a happiness in his very “I” as it is.

We are speaking about a totally different perspective of simchah here! It is not a simchah that comes from getting what you want, where you remain dissatisfied by the things you have not as yet achieved -it is a simchah that one has in one’s very “I”.

It is difficult to explain it any more than how it has been explained here, but herein lays an entirely different and deeper perspective of simchah.

Summary

In summary, we have explained three main underlying reasons for sadness.

The first source of sadness comes from our body, when we have a feeling of ‘heaviness’ that dominates us and makes us lethargic. This can be counteracted with watching what we eat, together with doing things enthusiastically each day.

A second source of sadness comes from our soul, when there are sins that we have not as yet done teshuvah for. The solution for this is to train oneself to doing teshuvah on a regular basis, from the depths of the heart. A person should awaken himself to teshuvah for every time that he feels a deep and inner sadness.

The third cause of sadness, which is the most common kind of sadness that people have, is when people do not feel fulfilled in their lives, and lack a sense of direction. The solution for this is two-fold: to realize what we have already gained so far in our life, as well as to be focused on a certain spiritual goal that speaks to us. Unfortunately, most people in the world are suffering in their souls from this kind of sadness – they feel like they are not aiming for any particular goal in life.

In Conclusion

All that we have explained here until now, understandably, is only the introduction for one to get to the complete and true simchah, which is described in the verse, – “The righteous rejoice in Hashem.” We did not discuss this kind of simchah, but that is the desired goal of all that has been explained here.

May we merit from Hashem to feel true happiness in our life – by being happy with even the parts of ourselves that we have not as yet actualized, as well as by being happy with the parts of ourselves that we have actualized; and that all of us together should rejoice in the Creator – as it is written, “The righteous rejoice in Hashem.”

[1] Talmud Bavli Taanis 29a

[2] Sefer Yetzirah 5:5 [see Rosh Chodesh Avodah_013_The Power of Laughter, for how to use the power of sechok/laughter in the month of Adar].

[3] repentance

[4] This was discussed in the shiur of Rosh Chodesh Avodah_011_Elevated Eating; see also Fixing Your Earth_010_Countering Laziness

[5] Editor’s Note: It is said about Reb Yeruchem Levovitz zt”l that he would practice doing things against his will 5 times a day, in order to counter the nature of laziness (and another note, the Rav explained this in terms of getting used to bittul haratzon (nullifying one’s will). Perhaps the reason for the Rav’s recommendation of doing this 3 times a day, as opposed to 5 times a day as Reb Yeruchem did, is so that even simpler people (like us), who are not on the level of Reb Yeruchem Levovitz, can also practice it.

[6] A quote from the Ramban

[7] Master of the world

[8] Toras HaOlah

A Happier Purim

Happiness is a feeling of completion. When a person feels like they’re missing something, and then they get out of their lacking situation, they’re happy. The missing something can be a new house, a car, a vacation, or even that piece of chocolate that you want now.

A deeper sense of happiness is when we feel the completion with what we already have. That’s the happiness that comes from being with family, being with a loved one, or sitting in the Shul that you love.

The deepest level of happiness comes totally from within, it comes from a sense of being, not from having. It’s when we sense our own innate existence and we connect our existence to all of existence, and to the Creator of all existence. That’s the ultimate feeling of completion and happiness and it’s not dependent on anything we have or don’t have.

It’s hard to connect to our being, because in our world we are so focused on what we have, what we want, what we don’t have. The Purim story opens with the King of Persia throwing a massive 180 day party for all the people. The purpose of the party was to usher in a new world order of “having”, to replace a world of “being”. This is the world we live in today, one focused on “having” and not “being”.

On one level, the triumph of the Purim story is the defeat of the genocide promoting anti-Semite, Haman. The deeper victory is the fact that the Jews reconnected to a life of “being” and connecting to the Creator. As you know, G-d’s name is not written once in the entire Megillah, because His presence was not obviously manifested in the world. We live in that same world, where it’s often difficult to sense G-d’s presence and generate the joy of connecting to G-d, the source of all existence.

So when we hear the Megillah on Purim, we can connect to a deeper happiness. The Megillah helps us understand that there are no coincidences, only a Creator who is directing the crazy events in the world and in our lives, for our ultimate benefit. That ultimate benefit will come when we can connect to our own existence, and connect to the innate existence of others, and collectively connect to The Source of all existence. That is the ultimate happiness and completion, and we can all take a collective step in that direction in Shul this week.

Chag Someach – Happy Purim

The Joy of Purim – Arriving at True Happiness in our Souls

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.
Download a number of Drashos on Purim
Download the Drasha on Purim posted here

The First Simcha Was Between Adam and Chava In Gan Eden

The month of Adar, as is well-known, contains the special power of simcha (happiness). The happiness already starts from the beginning of the month – “When Adar enters, we increase our happiness”[1] – and it continues until it reaches its climax, on Purim. The joy of Purim is described in many verses in Megillas Esther[2]: “And the city of Shushan was joyous and glad”; as well as in the verse, “To the Jews, there was light, gladness, joy, and honor.” There was “happiness and gladness to the Jews, festivity and a day of celebration.”

Let us delve into the root understanding behind the joy of Purim, so that we can arrive at true happiness in our souls, with the help of Hashem.

Where do we find the first mention of simcha in the Torah? Who was the first person to rejoice? When we bless the chosson and kallah during Sheva Berachos, one of the blessings is: “Rejoice, beloved friends, as your Creator gladdened you in Gan Eden of old.” We are blessing the chosson and kallah that just as Hashem rejoiced Adam and Chava in Gan Eden, so should the chosson and kallah reach this level of simcha. The first simcha mentioned in the Torah was Adam and Chavah as they rejoiced in Gan Eden, and Hashem Himself, in all His honor and glory, was the One who gladdened them.

Different Expressions of Simcha

The Sages[3] list ten different expressions of happiness: sasson, simcha, gilah, rinah, ditzah, tzahalah, alizah, chedvah, tiferes, and alitzah. Six of these are mentioned in the blessings we give to the chosson and kallah: sasson, simcha, gilah, rinah, ditzah and chedvah.

We have already explained earlier about the different joys of sasson and simcha. Now we will reflect on the other four expressions which we bless the chosson and kallah with: gilah, rinah, ditzah, and chedvah.

The words rinah and ditzah contain the letters yud and hey, which spells a name of Hashem, while the word chedvah has the letters vuv and hey.

Let us try to understand the difference between these different expressions of simcha.

The word for “man” is Hebrew is ish, while woman is ishah. The word ish contains the letter yud and hey, while the word ishah contains the letters aleph, shin and hey, which spells the words “aish Hashem”, the “fire of Hashem.” When man and woman are unified through marriage, the happiness of gilah, rinah and ditzah are created. The letter yud of ish\man and the letter hey of the ishah\woman come together and form these three kinds of happiness – gilah, rinah, and ditzah, which all contain both the letters yud and hey.

If we reflect into the words of Megillas Esther, we see that the joy of the Purim miracle was actually brought about by Haman’s plan to annihilate the Jewish people. Haman was the descendant of Amalek – whom the Jewish people have endured much suffering from. The Sages said that from the time Amalek attacked the Jewish people, the Name of Hashem is incomplete; the letters yud and hey have been split apart from the other two letters, vov and hey, in Hashem’s Name – ever since Amalek attacked. The Name of Hashem will be incomplete until Amalek is erased.[4]

As long as Amalek exists, our simchos (happy celebrations) are never complete – although it appears that we are making simchos. Some simchos are like chedvah, and some simchos are like gilah, rinah and ditzah [but each of these is incomplete, for they each represent only half of Hashem’s Name].

In order to see how the joys of gilah, rinah and ditzah differ from chedvah, we need to see the contrast between these different kinds of happiness.

Chedva – Joy Based On Unifying With Others

The word of “one” in Hebrew is echad, and in Aramaic, “one” is “chad.” In the Aramaic version, the letter aleph is taken away from the word echad, which spells “chad”. The first two letters of the word chedvah – the letters ches and daled – are related to the word yachad, “together”, which connotes unity. When we add on the last two letters of the word chedvah – the letters vov and hey – we have essentially unified the letters vov and hey. Chedva is thus a concept of unifying that which was used to be apart; Chedva takes two separate parts and unifies them into one.

It is thus fitting that chedvah should be one of the expressions of joy found in the blessing given to the chosson and kallah, because man and woman, who were previously separated, are now being united through marriage.

We also find a usage of the term chedva by Yisro, who rejoiced when he heard about all the miracles of the Jewish people, and he was thus drawn to the Torah; it is written, “Vayichad Yisro”[5], “And Yisro rejoiced” – “Vayichad”, from the word “chedvah.”

This is the joy of Chedvah – when one succeeds in unifying with something that used to be apart from him. Unity causes joy, and there is thus joy between newlyweds, for the single man and woman used to be apart, and now they have unified.

Gilah, Rinah and Ditzah – Joy Based On Unity Within

But the other kinds of happiness – Gilah, Rinah and Ditzah – are a different concept than Chedvah. These are kinds of joy that one attains when he connects to his own self.

Most people are not always happy. Why?

It because most of us are in a situation of “half a body” – we are split apart inside our own self, and this is due to our many doubts that plague us; our doubts give us no rest, and this makes us disconnected from our own inner self.

Our sefarim hakedoshim state, “There is no happiness like the clarification of doubts.”[6] When a person succeeds in removing his doubts, he attains somewhat of a connection to his inner self, and he feels a certain joyous satisfaction from this. These are the joys of gilah, rinah and ditzah.

We have thus seen two kinds of happiness: joy upon connecting with others – such as marriage between man and woman – and the joy of connecting to oneself.

Joy From The Outside Is Superficial

The joy of chedvah is thus when we unify with something that was apart from us, while the joys of gilah, rinah and ditzah are when we attain unity within our own soul.

Let us reflect: Is most of our happiness coming from within ourselves, or is it coming from something outside of ourselves? Upon a little thinking, we will discover that most of our happiness is coming from externalities, such as: buying a new house, buying a new car, buying a new suit, getting married. Most of our simcha is coming to us when we “get” something from the outside. For this reason, most of our happiness is not complete, because as long as out happiness is coming from something external, it is only temporary. The happiness we are often experiencing is often temporary; the things that are making us happy come and go.

How can we reach complete happiness? It can be reached if we succeed in unifying the parts of our soul together; this will cause us to have an inner joy, and it will lead us to attaining a complete kind of happiness.

Most of us have disparity in our soul; we are constantly full of desires that contradict each other. A person has many things he would like to do each day, and the day simply isn’t long enough to fulfill of these desires. He is left with no choice but to prioritize what he wants the most and give up pursuing some of his desires. We are all full of many retzonos (desires), and these retzonos are all contradicting each other! We are sensible people who possess daas (mature thinking) and therefore we are able to choose what our priorities are. But we are still left with many contradicting desires within us, and this prevents us from attaining any complete happiness.

“When Wine Enters, Secrets Come Out”

If a person succeeds in attaining his inner happiness, he reveals a whole new depth to his soul, as we are about to explain. The words of the Sages are well-known: “When wine enters, secrets come out.”[7] Wine bears a connection with revealing our innermost secrets. It is also written, “Wine gladdens the heart of man.”[8] Wine bears a connection with happiness. Wine reveals our secrets, and this somehow brings out our happiness. What is the connection between our secrets and our happiness?

We first need to reflect into what this means. When the Sages said that wine reveals secrets, what kind of secrets were they referring to? Were they referring to us a secret that our mother told us when we were children, which we never told anyone before, and then on Purim we get intoxicated and then reveal those secrets…? Any sensible person knows that such secrets have nothing to do with the wine of Purim. So what kind of secrets were Chazal talking about, that wine can come and reveal?

Chazal were telling us that wine reveals our innermost secrets. They were revealing to us that through wine, we can reveal our innermost secrets – the depths of our soul.

What is a secret? If Reuven tells a secret to Shimon and he tells him not to tell anyone, even this isn’t considered a total secret. Theoretically, Reuven can give permission to Shimon to reveal the secret, so the secret isn’t considered to be a total secret.

If someone is sitting in his house and daydreaming, nobody else knows what he is thinking. But is that called a secret? If it is, then the whole world is full of secrets…! So this can’t either be the meaning of “secret.”

What is a true kind of secret? A true secret is something that is concealed from a person. A secret is when a person isn’t aware of himself, when he’s not aware of what’s going on deep down inside himself. This is a secret, because the person is living with himself all the time and he thinks that he knows himself, while he really doesn’t know himself at all. That’s a secret.

Is there any person who can say that he understands what is going on in the depths of his heart?! Anyone who thinks that he knows himself well is someone who really doesn’t know himself at all! Anyone who has a little bit of self-awareness is well-aware that the soul is full of so much depth, layer within layer – and that more depth to our soul is being revealed with the more and more we live our life. Nobody can say that he really knows what’s going on deep down inside himself.

“When wine enters, secrets come out” means that wine can reveal an additional depth to a person about his own soul – things that he was previously unaware of.

The Secrets Which the Wine Reveals

We can now reach a new understanding in this statement of Chazal, “When wine enters, secrets come out.” From where are our secrets coming out from? A superficial understanding is that our secrets are coming out of our mouth; that when a person gets intoxicated, secrets come forth from his mouth. It’s clear to all that this is not what Chazal mean. According to what we explained above, wine can get our consciousness (in Hebrew, hakarah or muda) to become aware of what’s going on in our sub-conscious (in Hebrew, tat-hakarah or tat-muda). Wine can serve to reveal our innermost depths of the soul – depths which we had been previously been unaware of.

“When wine enters, secrets come out.” Our subconscious desires, which used to be a secret to us, can be revealed to us through the wine, and thus, the wine reveals to our “secrets.” When our soul becomes revealed to us, this causes us to have an inner happiness.

This is a kind of happiness which is totally different that the regular kind of happiness we are familiar with, which is when we get new things. It is a happiness that takes place internally, and it is called the joy of chedvah: when our soul unifies with itself.

What takes place when our soul becomes unified within ourselves? Let us reflect about this.

When a person has doubts, these doubts are found within a certain layer of his soul. How can a person solve his doubts? The superficial way to solve doubts is to calmly weigh the options and then decide what to do. If a person can’t decide alone, he’ll ask someone else for advice.

But there is an inner method a person can use to solve his doubts, and that is when a person reveals a greater depth to his soul. The doubts are then removed automatically. This is the meaning behind how “Wine enters, secrets come out.” The whole reason why we can ever have a doubt is because a certain layer of our soul was hidden from us. Through drinking the wine on Purim, we can reveal a deeper layer in our soul which we previously were unaware of – and this removes the source of the doubt.

Understandably, this does not mean that wine creates new depth to our soul. The wine isn’t creating anything in us. It is just that through drinking the wine, the resulting intoxication can make us become aware of the more hidden parts of our soul – and this in turn reveals to us new depth about ourselves.

As a simple example, let’s say a person is beginning to learn Torah, and he’s not sure about which area in Torah he should learn. He narrows it down to two options, but he can’t decide. Later on in his life he can gain more understanding about himself, and then he will discover that one of the options isn’t the path that is meant for his soul to take.

Another example: as long as a person doesn’t know himself well – the nature of his personality – if he’s looking for a certain job, he’s not sure about what kind of job will work for him. When he gets to know himself better, the doubts become non-existent.

There is a huge difference between these two different solutions to our doubts. The first method is superficial, because when a person decides between two options, he can still be bothered by the second option; it is just that he has decided to go with the first option. But with the deeper method – which is when a person discovers new depth to his soul, through attaining greater self-awareness – he has no doubt whatsoever. He sees clearly what the truth is, and he feels inner happiness at this. “There is no happiness like the clarification of doubts.”

The Conscious and The Sub-Conscious

Now that we have explained that wine serves to reveal the innermost depths of the soul to a person, we need to understand: How does this work? How exactly does wine reveal to us what’s going on in our soul?

As is well-known, we all have in us abilities that are revealed to us, and we also have abilities which we aren’t yet aware of. In more modern language, we have in us a conscious and a sub-conscious. Our Rabbis knew about this before modern psychology discovered this. Reb Yisrael Salanter described our consciousness as our revealed abilities (“kochos giluyim”), while our subconscious is described as our unrevealed abilities (“kochos keihim”).

What is our subconscious – our unrevealed abilities?

Reb Yisrael Salanter gave us an example which illustrates the concept. Once there was a Rosh Yeshiva who had a son and a student, and to his great pain, his son went astray from being religious. The student, however, remained powerfully connected to his beloved teacher, and was utterly loyal to him. As time went on, the father grew more attached in love with his student than with his son, while he grew more and more estranged from his son, to the point of hatred.

Then, in middle of the night, a fire suddenly broke out in the building where both his son and student slept. The father is woken up in middle of the night and he is told that he only has enough to save one of them: either his beloved student – or his rebellious son, who has caused him so much grief. Which one of them will he save?

Reb Yisrael Salanter answered: He will instinctively run to save his son! All of his anger toward his son gets pushed aside, now that he has to choose between his son and his student. Now, if he would have had time to think about this, he would choose to save his student, who is more precious to him than his son. But when he gets woken up in the middle of the night and there is no time to think, he’s acting upon his subconscious. What’s going on in his subconscious? Deep down, he loves his son more than the student; it has just been pushed under all this time. When push comes to shove, the inner love for his son gets awakened, and it overpowers the love he has for his student.

Once a student of Rav Dessler zt”l came to him and told him that he had a nightmare: he had a dream in which he killed his son. He was terrified at the meaning of the dream and asked how was it possible that he could have such thoughts in his head, when he loved his son very much; did it mean that he really wanted to kill his son?! Rav Dessler told him, “Sometimes, you son cries at night and wakes you up at night. For a few seconds, you are so annoyed at him at waking you up, that you wish he wouldn’t exist. That is why you were able to have such a nightmare.”

Would the father ever consciously wish he could kill his son? Chas v’shalom; of course not. But in a dream, a person is shown what’s going on in his subconscious, and he is shown that he has such quickly passing thoughts.

How can a person discover what’s going on in his subconscious? It is written, “On my bed at nights, I sought that which my soul loved.”[9] If a person wants to find out what he truly desires deep down in his soul, it is revealed to him “on my bed at nights” – when he’s asleep and dreaming. Sometimes a person is shown his subconscious when he’s partially asleep, when he’s still a bit conscious; and sometimes he is shown his subconscious when he’s totally asleep, which is when he’s dreaming.

Bringing Our Sub-Conscious Into Our Conscious

It is now upon us to think into the following.

If a person is having negative kinds of thoughts that are passing through his quickly throughout the day – subconsciously – what can he do about this? Most people aren’t bothered by these negative thoughts. When people get these strange thoughts, they quickly push them aside, and they do not try to figure out what factor triggered those thoughts.

But when a person wants to understand himself well, he is bothered by negative thoughts even if they pass by in his mind very quickly. He begins to learn about what his thoughts are[10], and he realizes that his thoughts are showing him what’s going on in his subconscious.

The solution is not to try and push aside the unwanted thoughts; to the contrary, let the thoughts stay, so you can see what’s going in your subconscious [unless they are forbidden thoughts]. After this comes the next step: a person should not be focused on the actual thoughts themselves, but on the information that the thoughts are revealing.

If a person only tries to work on awareness of his thoughts, he will attempt to push aside his negative thoughts, and he won’t be able to truly grow and better himself. He’s running away from the root of the problem. The problem is not his negative thoughts; the negative thoughts he’s experiencing are merely branches of the problem. The root of the problem is the sub-conscious in himself which hasn’t yet been purified. So just dismissing the thoughts will not really be solving the problem at its root, but rather avoiding the problem.

The real solution is not to push aside the negative thoughts, but rather, to let them be. See what they are revealing. This will be a double gain. First of all, one will be able to realize what his weaknesses are, and this will help him more self-aware to fix them. Secondly, he will able to notice his qualities which he was previously unaware of, and thus come to utilize his potential.

The Way To Recognize Your Subconscious Thoughts

Our subconscious is contained in every one of our souls, but they aren’t accessed simply through our mind. The thoughts coming from our subconscious come to us in quick flashes, like lightning. Lightning comes where it’s dark and cloudy, and then it is gone in a flash; it’s gone as quickly as it came, just as it’s impossible to calculate the exact moment that lightning strikes.

This can give us some idea about the thoughts contained in our subconscious. These inner thoughts are termed in the sefarim hakedoshim as “birds that fly in the sky”; they pass quickly, flying away very fast, like birds. They pass in our head so quickly that often we are unaware of them at all. But the more a person elevates himself spiritually, the more he enters inward, the more he can become aware of his deeds, words and his thoughts.

The way to become aware of our thoughts is by listening within ourselves, which is a subtle kind of listening.[11] When we notice the suddenly passing thoughts, we can then better recognize what’s going on in our subconscious.

Our subconscious cannot be reached through trying to think about it; we cannot reach our subconscious, which is hidden, through our conscious mind, which is revealed to us. If we try to reach our subconscious through our conscious mind, this is like trying to water a plant from the top of the earth, without taking care of the roots underneath.

Revealing Our Subconscious – Through Getting Intoxicated On Purim

There is another way to reveal our subconscious [besides for noticing our quickly passing thoughts], and that is through drinking the wine on Purim and thereby becoming intoxicated [in the proper way, as we will soon explain].

The Hebrew words shechor (blackness) and sheichar (intoxicating beverage) have the same root letters; they both contains the letters ches and chof. This hints to us that the nighttime, which is blackness, reveals to us the same things which intoxication can reveal to us.

The Sages explain that the word “Achashveirosh” contains the same letters of the word shechor (black), because he “blackened” the eyes of the Jewish people with his decrees. To counter his darkness which he brought upon the Jewish people, we intoxicate ourselves with the holy kind of darkness – the sheichar, the intoxicating beverages.

This is the purpose of getting intoxicated on Purim: by getting intoxicated, we are able to become aware of what’s going on in the depths of our soul.

How Much Should We Drink On Purim?

In the words of our holy Rabbis, there are differing opinions concerning how intoxicated one should become on Purim. The halachah is that “One is obligated to become intoxicated on Purim until he does not know the difference between Blessed is Mordechai and Cursed Is Haman”; one of the Rabbis wrote that it was revealed to him in a dream that one has to get intoxicated only until that point, but not beyond that. In other words, one should drink on Purim more than he usually does (which is the view of the Rema[12]), but he should not get to the point in which he is so drunk that he doesn’t know the difference between Mordechai and Haman.

There is a differing opinion of our Rabbis, which is to get drunk in the simple sense – that one should get so drunk to the point where he does not know the difference between Mordechai and Haman.

This is the argument, but for every argument of our Sages, there is always a rule that “Their words, and their words, are the words of the living G-d.”[13] Therefore, both opinions are correct; let us understand how they both can be true.

As is well-known, most people get to know themselves a lot better when they become intoxicated. The truth is that the whole intention of why we should get intoxicated on Purim is for this very reason: to reveal our inner essence – our pure soul. Since most people are not in touch with their pure essence, we are commanded to intoxicate ourselves on Purim so that our inner purity can burst forth.

The more a person works to purify himself inwardly, the more his intoxication is coming from deep within. Of him, the mitzvah to become intoxicated on Purim is to get to the point of ad d’lo yoda, in which he does not know the difference between Mordechai and Haman – for the whole purpose is to reveal outward the beauty and purity of his soul hidden deep within him.

But if a person hasn’t worked to purify himself internally, then when he gets intoxicated, much of the garbage that has piled up inside him throughout the year will come pouring out. We often see people on Purim who are rolling around in the street in their drunkenness, spewing forth all their inner emptiness. Of these kinds of people, getting drunk on Purim should only have been until ad d’lo yoda, but not beyond that point; they have should gotten only up until the point of ad d’lo yoda, and they should not have gone beyond that.

How can a person know if he should only get intoxicated until the point of ad d’lo yoda, but not beyond that – or if he is meant to go beyond lo yoda?

The way to know this is hinted to in the concept we brought before: that shechor\blackness and sheichar\intoxication have the same root. Most people, if they would be walking alone at night, in a forest, would be very scared. Darkness, shechor, is a power in Creation that causes us to have fear. Since shechor is reflected in sheichar\intoxication, this kind of person, when he gets intoxicated, will reveal forth the level he’s really on if he were to walk alone through a forest at night…

There are a few exceptional individuals of whom it can be applied the possuk, “To tell over in the morning of Your kindness, and of Your faith at nights.”[14] When someone walks alone through a forest at night, and he still has emunah – he is the kind of person who can become completely intoxicated on Purim yet elevate himself through it. His intoxication will only serve to reveal forth his inner essence, which has become purified through emunah – for he completely trusts in Hashem.

Thus, becoming intoxicated reveals what’s going in the depths of each person’s soul. If someone has worked to purify his soul, getting intoxicated will revealed forth the beauty and holiness of his soul. Such a person reaches the intended purpose of Chazal when they enacted that we should become drunk on Purim.

Most people, however, do not reach the intended purpose of getting intoxicated on Purim. When they get drunk, the worst in them is brought out. Getting drunk thus causes most people to lower their self-image in the eyes of others. This resembles a person who places a big sign on himself that advertises all his worst shortcomings, and then he walks all over town with it.

Each person needs to figure out if it’s worth it for him to get drunk on Purim. A person has to ask himself: “If I get drunk on Purim, will I behave in the way that Chazal intended me to?”

If a person knows himself well and he knows that he has worked more to purify himself internally during the year, then he is able to fulfill ad d’lo yoda on Purim. But if a person knows that he will come to improper behavior when he gets to the point of ad d’lo yoda, then he must know that for him, getting on Purim totally defeats the purpose of Purim.

The Purpose of Getting Drunk On Purim

Now that we have clarified who should be getting drunk on Purim, we can now explain what indeed we are trying to gain from getting drunk on Purim.

When a person has worked to purify himself internally, there is still more depth to himself that he doesn’t know about. When he gets intoxicated, he can discover new depth to himself which he never knew about until now.

Chazal said that “When wine enters, secrets come out.” To the degree that one has revealed his soul, greater secrets will be revealed from within, through the wine on Purim. Thus, to someone who has purified himself internally, getting intoxicated through the wine of Purim will bring him a kind of joy that is inner and G-dly. The wine of Purim, for such a person, acts to reveal forth his inner purity, which he was previously unaware of. The wine of Purim allows such a person to identify with greater and deeper spiritual attainments that he didn’t reach until now. Of this we can apply the possuk, “Wine gladdens the heart of man.”[15]There is no greater happiness than this, and only an internal kind of person merits it.

When the wine on Purim serves to achieve this holy goal – revealing to greater depths to the person about his pure soul – after Purim, the person will feel that he has been elevated spiritually. The ensuing inner happiness he will feel after Purim will burst out of him.

But most people have not worked to purify themselves inwardly. One might look like a very happy person on Purim to those who observe him, but this is only because wine temporarily puts a person into a good mood. We can see clearly that people start out happy on Purim when they’re drunk, but then they become depressed; a sort of melancholy comes upon them from getting drunk. There are a very large amount of people on Purim who cry bitterly when they’re drunk.

Where is this sadness coming from? It is really coming from the bitter truth that is being revealed to the person on Purim: he has not yet purified himself internally, and the wine reveals forth all of his deep sadness. He is terribly and profoundly sad deep down, and all of this comes out when he’s drunk. He will become sad from this revelation, and so of course, he cries.

Chazal say, “One who sees a sotah[16] in her ruination should abstain himself from wine.”[17] The deep explanation of this matter is that from the case of sotah, we can see how low a level a person can sink to when he’s drunk [and to take a lesson from this, one should avoid getting drunk].

Facing Our Fears

According to the above, we can now understand well what the connection that getting drunk on Purim has with the Purim miracle.

When a person is going through a distressful time, how does he react? One kind of person will fall into despair and completely lose hope. As it is written in the Megillah, “K’asher avadti, avadti” – “For I am surely lost.” But an internal kind of person, when he goes through a time of distress, uses it as an opportunity to summon forth inner strengths which he never knew about before.

If we ask anyone who persevered through an intensely troublesome time in their life: “Did you think you had the strength to survive such an ordeal, before you went through this?” they will often answer in the negative. They were unaware that they possessed such stamina to undergo the hardships they went thought, but really, they had the strength all along. It was just hidden deep within. When a person goes through a tzarah (a time of distress), he is able to reveal forth his hidden strengths of his soul, which he never knew he possessed.

Every person should reflect and think into the following. If you would know for sure that in two weeks, a decree would go out in your country that all Jews should become annihilated – just as in the times of Haman, who decrees genocide upon the Jewish people – how would we react? Understandably, there would be people who would right away fall into despair, and their first reaction would be to flee to another country. Their reaction would resemble how the Jews in the desert wished to return to the Egypt…

But an internal kind of person would face the fear in the right way. He would be able to summon forth new fortification from within himself that he was previously unaware of, and instead of having thoughts of running away from the danger, he would “run away” into a place in his own soul in which no one can harm him. Instead of falling into despair from the danger, he becomes elevated from the situation, revealing forth from within himself great spiritual stamina.

This was what the Jewish people revealed on Purim. Haman decreed that all Jews be annihilated, and Achashveirosh, who was the most powerful king in the world then, was ready to carry it out. According to nature, he should have succeeded. It was a situation of utter and palpable fear; each person felt it totally.

But they did not despair, in spite of their predicament. They escaped from the danger into an inner place in their souls, and revealed forth new depth to themselves. They had never known beforehand that they possessed such stamina. When the decree was nullified, they merited to receive the Torah in a whole new way.

The Essence of Our Avodah on Purim

The big secret about Purim is to show us that during the rest of the year, we really do have the strength to uncover new depth about our soul. Although we do not face physical danger to our lives nowadays [of course, sometimes there are anti-Semitic events that take place in our times today, and this awakens us to feel an idea of what it felt like during the times of Haman’s decrees; but generally speaking, the Jewish people does not face genocide these days], on Purim, we are able to return to the inner depth of our souls, which was what the Jewish people revealed during the era of the Purim story. We must try on Purim to reach the level which the Jewish people attained on Purim.

When a person never matures in his spiritual situation, then even when he is seventy years old, he remains at the level he was like when he was seven. He continues to enjoy his childish antics even as he supposedly “matures” through life. Something that truly illustrates what we mean is the following example: We can find people who sincerely believe that Purim is about acting like a little child! Their entire Purim consists of costumes and decorative makeup, in a way most fitting for a child’s playgroup room.

But someone who has a matured at least a bit about his life – and we do not mean just physically, but that his heart has become more developed to sensing the inwardness in reality – if he is someone who at least searches a little for the truth, he understands clearly that Purim is something deep and profound. He understands that Purim is about revealing new depth to our soul, to reveal from ourselves abilities that we never knew about beforehand.

Every mitzvah we have on Purim contains depth to it. There is depth to the mitzvah of Mishloach Manos (sending gifts to our friends). There is depth to our mitzvah of reading the Megillah. There is depth to eating the meal of Purim. And there is depth to getting drunk on Purim – a great depth.

If a person wants to really know if he has grown spiritually from Purim, he should discern if he has revealed new depth to his soul as a result of drinking on Purim. He should ask himself: “Am I more self-aware now? Do I know things about myself now which I never knew about before? Or was just in another Purim that came and went, with nothing special about it…?”

One of the ways how we become more self-aware of our soul is through drinking on Purim. But as we cautioned before, getting drunk can backfire on a person, if he is the kind of person who should not be getting drunk; he will only spew forth negativity. Understandably, this is not the purpose of Purim.

If Chazal would have intended that people should get drunk on Purim in order to release all their negativity outward, then getting drunk on Purim would mean that we have to simply let loose; and then perhaps the person would have to write down how he behaved when he was drunk…

But, we know clearly that Chazal’s intention that we should get drunk on Purim was not so that should a person should release his negativity. It is about being more aware of the more inner layers in our soul. That is why ad d’lo yoda is only meant for one who has worked to purify and cleanse himself internally.

Higher Than The Subconscious: “Above” The Conscious

Now that we have explained at length about our conscious (kochos giluyim\revealed abilities) and our sub-conscious (kochos keihim\ hidden abilities) we can now explain another layer in our soul: the layer of the soul that is above our conscious. We will also explain how we reveal it on Purim.

Our conscious is what we aware of, while our subconscious is the part of our self that we aren’t aware of. We also are not aware of what lays above our conscious. This sounds like the same thing as our subconscious, but we will explain how they are different. What we also need to understand is, if the area above our conscious is clearly above our conscious thoughts, then how can we incorporate anything that’s above our consciousness into how we act, since action is on a lower plane than thought?

There is a fundamental difference between the sub-conscious and the above-conscious. Our sub-conscious is the desires in us which we are unaware of. These are things we want, but we aren’t aware that we want them; our deeper desires are hidden from us. By contrast, our above-conscious refers to the higher will that is implanted in us, which is leading us in how we act.

When we are aware of what we want, these desires are called our conscious. When we want something but we are unaware that we want it, this kind of desire is called a sub-conscious desire. Even if these sub-conscious desires are more powerful than our clearly revealed conscious desires, the deep desires are still considered to be only in our sub-conscious, since we are unaware of these deeper desires. But if we have deep desires which are actively affecting how we act in our life – and these are desires which we are unaware of – these desires are called our “above-conscious” desires.

The “above-conscious” desires are above a person, but they are desires that are actively affecting how a person acts, in spite of the fact that the person is unaware of these desires. We can compare this to a plane that in on auto-pilot. It seems to the onlooker as if the pilot sitting in the cockpit is the one who is controlling the plane, but the plane is really being controlled by a difference person, who is sitting far away in a control station.

Bechirah and Emunah

We will now sharpen the ramifications of this concept.

Whenever a person does anything, two forces are going on in his soul. One of them is called the power of bechirah (free will). The other force is called emunah (faith). When a person is acting upon his bechirah, his will to act is coming from within himself – whether he is aware of this consciously, or only subconsciously. By contrast, someone acting upon emunah is acting from above his conscious – he is being led by his emunah, which essentially means that he is being led by the Creator.

Our bechirah tells us that we are in charge, for we decide how we will act. We are either aware of this consciously or sub-consciously, but either way, when we use our bechirah, we think that we are in charge. By contrast, our above-conscious, our emunah, tells us that we are not in control, because there is a Higher Power in charge of us – the Creator.

The above-conscious is called so not just because we are unaware of it, but because it shows us that there are matters which are beyond our control that are guiding us; and their source is the Creator. So our sub-conscious and our above-conscious are the deep parts to our self which are controlling us. Most of our bechirah is not being utilized through our conscious state, but through our sub-conscious. When we consciously use our bechirah, it is about getting something done, but when it comes to choosing what we want, this bechirah is taking place in our sub-conscious. The sub-conscious is the source which is writing our desires into action.

Higher than our point of subconscious bechirah is our point of above-conscious. This is the higher power in a person which controls and directs a person’s life, and it is being provided by the Creator.

Intoxication on Purim Can Reveal Our Emunah

Now we can understand that the concept of “When wine enters, secrets come out” is not just referring to how wine reveals our subconscious into our conscious. Rather, the main purpose of the wine is to reveal to us the deeper force in us than our subconscious: our point of above-consciousness.

In other words, revealing the subconscious is not yet the ultimate level that can be reached on Purim. If a person merits to uncover more depth to his soul, the secret that the wine will reveal forth from him will be his innermost desire of the soul, the deepest ratzon (will) of his being – the will to do Hashem’s will.

This revelation that can take place does not just come as an additional piece of knowledge to the person, but as a soul experience. Let us explain this.

If anyone asked whom they believe is running the world, the answer is: “The Creator, Hashem.” But if someone is asked, “But is that how you feel?” then we will get different answers. Not everyone will answer in the affirmative.

The wine of Purim can help a person bring his knowledge about belief in the Creator to become an actual feeling. Through being intoxicated, the wine can transfer the above-conscious into our conscious state – through the means of our sub-conscious. A person will then be able to sense, in a palpable way, Who is running the world: only Hashem.

Megillas Esther: Revealing The Hidden

As is well-known, “Megillas Esther” can mean the revelation (Megillas, from the word giluy\revelation) of the hidden (esther, from the word hester\concealed or hidden). Megillas Esther reveals the hidden – it revealed matters which had previously been hidden. The word Megillah seems to be the total opposite concept of the word Esther, because Megillah refers to the revealed, while Esther refers to the hidden. But Megillas Esther shows us that it’s not a contradiction; it reveals what used to be hidden – that whatever was considered hidden until now has now become revealed.

It can be said, as a borrowed terminology, that every person contains in his soul a kind of “Megillas Esther.” The hidden parts to our self are our sub-conscious and our above-conscious, and Megillas Esther represents our ability to reveal the realm of the sub-conscious and the above-conscious into the realm of our consciousness. Our bechirah, which is present in our sub-conscious, is hidden from us; and our emunah, which is present above our conscious, is also hidden from us. Megillas Esther can show us how we can reveal these hidden parts to our self and bring them into our conscious awareness.

As we go throughout the day living our life, we are experiencing life through our conscious awareness, while we experience our subconscious only sometimes. Most people are not experiencing their above-conscious – their emunah. Even though most people will say that they believe in Hashem and that He’s running everything, there are very few people who are living and experiencing their emunah.

Megillas Esther is the megillah, the revelation, of the hidden. It shows us the hidden parts to our soul – our subconscious and our above-conscious. In the words of our Rabbis, the Megillas Esther can reveal to us our subconscious bechirah, and it can also reveal to us our emunah – our higher will, which is deep down guiding us.

The Meaning Behind Mishloach Manos

Another mitzvah that Chazal commanded us with in Purim is the mitzvah of Mishloach Manos, to send gifts of food to our friends. Let’s think into this. What does sending gifts to our friends have to do with the miracle of Purim, which is that we were saved from genocide?

As is well-known, the purpose of this mitzvah, Mishloach Manos, is to increase love and friendship between our fellow Jews. Simply, we understand about that this is accomplished in the best way by finding someone who we don’t like, and by giving him Mishloach Manos; and we hope that our enemy will open up the door for us when we show up at his house.

But the depth behind the mitzvah is that since our inner essence can become revealed on Purim, our inner love for other Jews will hopefully come with this – and that is why we are commanded to give Mishloach Manos on Purim.

Mishloach Manos must be sent from “man to his friend,” as the Megillah states, which implies that if you think there’s someone who you didn’t think was your friend yesterday, he’s really your friend! This is what Purim reveals – our inherent love with each other. Mishloach Manos is not just about giving to our friends; the main point of it is to give to those whom we aren’t friendly with, and to discover that they, too, are our friends. Through Purim, we can discover our subconscious; our subconscious tells us that we have bechirah and choose if we will hate others or not. Therefore, if we hate any Jew, it’s only because we are choosing to, and it’s the wrong decision to choose.

If we reach even deeper into ourselves on Purim, we reach our above-conscious, which is deeper than the sub-conscious. Our above-conscious reveals to us a deeper understanding than what we discover in our sub-conscious: that even if someone has hurt you in the past, it’s not him who hurt you; he was only a messenger of Hashem, because ultimately, it is Hashem who is in charge. If someone was supposed to get insulted and hurt by someone else, this was decreed on him by Hashem. When someone realizes this, his hatred toward his abuser will melt and eventually disappear.[18]

This is the meaning of Mishloach Manos, gift-baskets that a “man sends to his friend.” Purim serves to reveal to a person a whole new inner depth, and upon reaching that deep perception, a person can send Mishloach Manos to others.

Purim Is Holier Than Yom Kippur

Understanding this, we can now come to appreciate the great spiritual benefit of the day of Purim. The sefarim hakedoshim explain that Purim is a holier day than Yom Kippur, because “Kippur” can be read “like Pur”, a hint to how Yom Kippur is almost as holy as Purim. This implies that Purim is holier than Yom Kippur.

What is the connection between Yom Kippur and Purim? They are both special opportunities to attain unity with other Jews. One’s sins are not for atoned on Yom Kippur unless he has been forgiven from any wrongdoing he did to others.[19]

Purim is an opportunity to gain even an even higher degree of unity than the good terms with others that we must have on Yom Kippur. When we ask forgiveness from others, even if we are forgiven, there are still some hard feelings. The person who was hurt still feels that he was hurt even after he forgives the other, and it is just that he has forgiven the one who hurt him. But on Purim, the message of Mishloach Manos reveals to us a greater sense of bonding with others: that we are able to feel that no one did any harm to us at all. From that understanding, we strive to give Mishloach Manos.

Thus, the mitzvah of reading the Megillas Esther hints to us that on Purim, we can reveal the hidden. The mitzvah of Mishloach Manos and the mitzvah of ad d’lo yoda, as we explained, are also about revealing the hidden depth in ourselves.

Pre-Packaged Mishloach Manos

Something that has become popular in our times is that people go to the store and buy pre-packaged Mishloach Manos; some of them are more expensive than others. For someone’s close friends, he buys them an expensive package, and for those who he’s not as close with, he buys a cheaper one. There is already a greeting written on the Mishloach Manos that comes with the package, and the buyer simply fills in the name and address of where it has to go to, and whom it’s from. It is then sent through a delivery man (one thing they haven’t figured out yet, though, is how to get the deliverer to give it with his heart to the recipient…). In this way, people think that they have fulfilled the mitzvah of Mishloach Manos in the most beautiful fashion.

Any sensible person understands that this is not the intended kind of Mishloach Manos. When we give Mishloach Manos to others, it has to come from an inner place in ourselves, and not in the usual way that we give gifts to our friends during the rest of the year.

Every person should ask himself: “What is motivating me to give Mishloach Manos?” Of course, the main reason we are giving is because Chazal commanded us to. But if we perform this mitzvah mechanically and not from an inner place in ourselves, it’s like “a body without a soul”. The soul of Mishloach Manos is that we need to use it as a tool to reveal a sense of inner unity with other Jews.

If we reflect into what we said before, we can see that Purim is totally different than all other auspicious times of the year. We will not get into now what each Yom Tov reveals for us; but what we will say is something general, that each Yom Tov serves to reveal a special power of our soul. Purim is not like any other Yom Tov; Purim reveals the very root of our soul, a point that is way above our conscious state.

Revealing The Inner Essence of Purim

What is the root of Purim’s essence? Why indeed is Purim such a special time? It is because the Purim miracle that took place during the times of Mordechai and Esther transcribed only due to their mesirus nefesh (self-sacrifice for Hashem).

When a Jew has mesirus nefesh, besides for the fact that he gets eternally rewarded for this in the Next World, there is much more that he gains. Through mesirus nefesh for Hashem, a person reveals the depth of his soul – his true, inner self.

It is said in the name of the Arizal that the tzaddikim throughout the generations who were killed al kiddush Hashem (in sanctification of Hashem’s Name) did not actually experience any pain when they were being killed! This applies as well to Rabbi Akiva, who was killed by the Roman with iron combs; because he died al kiddush Hashem, he did not feel pain at all, even as he was being killed. How could such a thing be?? How could they not have felt pain? It is because when a person reaches mesirus nefesh, he reaches the inner essence of his soul, and his soul has an entirely different perspective on things. The soul of a person is able to view this situation with such loftiness that the person experiences no physical pain whatsoever.

The mesirus nefesh which Mordechai and Esther had is what enables them to reach the depth of their own souls, and this power is available as well as an accessible spiritual light that shines on Purim. When a person merits to access the spiritual opportunity of Purim, he merits as well to reach the deep revelation his own soul.

When One Cannot Differentiate Between Mordechai and Haman

Concerning our mitzvah to become intoxicated on Purim through wine, Chazal said: “One is obligated to become intoxicated on Purim ad d’lo yoda bein arur Haman l’baruch Mordechai (until he does not know the difference between ‘Cursed is Haman’ and ‘Blessed is Mordechai’).[20]

How does a person reach such a level, in which he does not know the difference between how Haman is cursed and Mordechai is blessed? The simple understanding of this is that a person has to become so drunk to the point that he is totally confused, and then he can’t tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman.

But what still needs to be understood is: Why do Chazal want a person to become so drunk?

As is well-known, the words “Arur Haman” and “Baruch Mordechai” have the same gematria (numerical value in Hebrew); they both equal to be 502. This is meant to show us that when a person becomes so intoxicated to the point that he reaches the innermost point of his soul – his place in himself where he feels complete emunah in the Creator – he can then reach the understanding that just as Mordechai helped the generation see how everything is in the hands of Hashem, so did Haman serve to accomplish this!

This is the depth to the statement of Chazal, “The removal of the ring of Achashveirosh [to allow Haman’s decree] was greater than all the [accomplishments] of all 48 prophets and 7 prophetesses who prophesized for the Jewish people; for all of the prophecies did not cause them to repent, while Achashveirosh caused them to repent.” [21]

Of course, this does not mean to imply that the wickedness of Haman is to be equated with the pure goodness of Mordechai. It is just that Haman was able to move us to do teshuvah, even more than our leaders and tzaddikim tried to do; and our enemy Pharoah is praised in a similar way, because his cruel decrees aroused the Jewish people to do teshuvah.[22]

When a person understands simply that Mordechai and Haman are different, because Haman is cursed and Mordechai is blessed, then it shows that he’s only in his conscious state. When a person becomes intoxicated and he reaches lo yoda bein Arur Haman L’Baruch Mordechai, he has reached his subconscious; he realizes that Hashem is in charge of everything, and therefore he is able to realize how even Haman’s decree of genocide was constructive for the Jewish people, because ultimately, the decree is what moved us to teshuvah and thus be saved.

Balancing Efforts With Emunah

Chazal state that when Haman argued with Achashveirosh to issue the decree against the Jewish people, Hashem swore and said: “Because of you, two days of celebration will come to the Jewish people.”[23] What is the depth behind this matter, that Purim came to us in Haman’s ‘merit’?

On Pesach, we drink four cups of wine; there is a specific amount of how much we drink. But on Purim, there is no set amount to drink; the amount is ad d’lo yoda. We drink more on Purim than in any other time of the year. The purpose of drinking on Purim, as we said, is to reveal our above-consciousness. If we go over to a person when he’s completely drunk – he’s above his consciousness – and we ask him if he is grateful to Haman, he might answer “Yes”. Now, if he would say this when he’s not drunk and he’s totally conscious, then we would assume he is drunk…

So although we can reach very high levels through getting intoxicated on Purim – to reach our emunah in Hashem – still, we cannot live on this plateau during the rest of the year. If someone tries to live on this level all the time, he will become disillusioned, erroneously thinking that it is forbidden to go to work for a living. He won’t be able to lead his life properly.

The point of the above-consciousness must only be accessed at times, and one cannot live in it all the time. It is like our general avodah of rotzoh v’shov (“running and returning” in our spirituality); our inner and external worlds need to always be integrated. When we use our inner world, we have the perspective of emunah, which shows us that Hashem is running everything; and from the viewpoint of external reality, we choose how we will act and we take responsibility. We are aware of ourselves and we worry for ourselves.

We need to balance these two views – the viewpoint of our inner reality, emunah, and the viewpoint from our external reality, our various efforts, choices, and responsibilities that we have. The balance between these two viewpoints is a very subtle thing to accomplish. We have to keep balancing our lifestyle between two opposing viewpoints – our emunah, and our hishtadlus\efforts.

Understandably, it is impossible to say how exactly we balance our life with both emunah and hishtadlus. Balance requires inner understanding from our part. There are some people who take emunah to an extreme, and they don’t make enough hishtadlus. Others are too drawn after hishtadlus and they are seriously lacking in their emunah. Both of these people are imbalanced.

We all need to be balanced. There are certain times in which we need to use emunah, and there are times in which we need to focus on hishtadlus, and it also depends on each person’s unique situation.

Summary of Our Goal On Purim

To make these matters practical, we will now provide a brief summary of what said here. The purpose of Purim is to reveal clearly our consciousness, our sub-conscious, and our above-conscious. To be clearer, on Purim we can become aware of how we want to act, as well as what we really want deep down – and ultimately, of Who is leading us [the Creator].

If a person reveals these aspects in himself over Purim, besides for the joy of Chedvah that he reaches – which is external joy – he also merits to express the inner joys known as Gilah, Rinah and Ditzah.

In order to reach true Simchas Purim, it is not enough to have superficial joy. We need to reveal inner happiness in ourselves. And when we reveal our inner happiness, we will discover that the happiness was there along, inside ourselves – but we never knew about it.

If a person feels after Purim that he now knows himself better than how he did before Purim, he has truly merited the “days of celebrations, joy and festivity” that Purim is. If he did not merit this, then his Purim has gone by like any other regular day of the year.

May Hashem merit all of us to rejoice together with true and complete happiness; that our consciousness (revealed aspects of our self) subconscious (hidden aspects of our self), and above-consciousness (our inner emunah) should all be perfected. And then, all of the Jewish people will merit to rejoice, together, with a complete heart.

[1] Taanis 29a

[2] Esther 8: 15-17.

[3] Avos D’Rebbi Nosson 34

[4]Rashi Shemos 17:16

[5] Shemos 18:9

[6] Toras HaOlah

[7] Eruvin 65a

[8] Tehillim 104: 15

[9] Shir HaShirim 3:1

[10] See the author’s series Getting To Know Your Thoughts

[11] See Getting To Know Your Inner World: Chapter 5: The Intellect and the Heart.

[12] Orach Chaim 695:2

[13] Gittin 7b

[14] Tehillim 92:3

[15] Tehillim 104:15

[16] Sotah is a married woman who is convicted of having marital relations with another man; if she has been properly warned by her husband and she is found guilty by two witnesses, she is brought to the Beis HaMikdash, where she must either drink the “Bitter Waters”, or confess her crime [whereupon she must get divorced]. If she drinks the water and she had been falsely accused, she is deemed innocent, and she merits blessing and long life. If she was indeed guilty, she dies from the water, in a most horrible fashion. The Sages say that one who observes this must become a Nazirite and abstain from wine. See Tractate Sotah of Talmud Bavli.

[17] Berachos 63a

[18] For more on how one can work on this perspective of emunah, see Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, Part 3, Section VI: Emunah\Faith.

[19] Yoma 85b

[20] Megillah 7b

[21] Megillah 14a

[22] Shemos Rabbah 21

[23] Yalkut Shimeoni Esther 1054

Spiritual Growth Through Drinking on Purim

The Obligation to Drink on Purim
The Shulchan Orach states (Orach Chaim 695:2): “A person is required to become intoxicated on Purim until he does not know the difference between the cursing of Haman and the blessing of Mordechai.”

Drinking to Strengthen Our Emunah in Hashem
Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz in his Servant of Hashem piece in his classic Sichos Mussar connects this requirement of intoxication to the essence of Purim and its comparison in holiness to Yom Kippur. He brings down a few cases where great people like Moshe, King Shaul and King Chizkiyahu were punished because they had incorrectly used their reasoning and logic to misinterpret Hashem’s directives.

Rabbi Shmuelevitz points out that although we need to use our intellectual facilities to serve G-d, the ultimate goal is to serve Hashem out of a simple faith that He is our Creator, Ruler and Ultimate Benefactor. The essence of Purim is that once a year, we become intoxicated and strip away the all traces of reasoning and serve Hashem with our faith alone.

Drinking to Strengthen Our Connection to People
Rabbi Herschel Welcher points out that Purim is a day of unity with its Mitzvos of giving charity to the poor, giving gifts to our friends and sharing a festive meal with family and friends. Drinking brings down inhibitions and allows us to more easily connect deeply with others in line with the goal of unity.

Rabbi Welcher often tells the story of former friends who had become estranged through a dispute. It was only on Purim when they were both intoxicated that they were able to bury the hatchet, embrace and restore their friendship. Many of us can also connect a little better when we are intoxicated.

Drinking to Enhance Our Self Esteem
I read a great book by Dr. Dovid Lieberman titled “How Free Will Works”. Dr. Lieberman, a Torah-centered psychologist, defines self-esteem as recognizing our inherent worth, feeling deserving of happiness and good fortune, and knowing that we are precious in the eyes of Hashem. It also includes recognizing both our strengths and our weaknesses and the desire to improve.

What often gets in our way is our ego. Dr. Lieberman says our body wants to feel good, our ego wants to look good, and our soul wants to do good. The more we listen to our soul and do what is good (Torah, Mitzvos and Chesed) the more we will enhance our self-esteem and increase our happiness. Our ego and the desire to look good clouds our perspective, and leads us to perform and rationalize incorrect behaviors.

Although Dr. Lieberman does not discuss drinking on Purim, I think that embracing the mitzvah of drinking on Purim allows us to disable our looking-good mechanizations and enjoy being our inherently good selves and our loving relationships with Hashem, our family and our friends.

Drinking Responsibly
When asked about drinking on Purim, Rabbi Welcher would always tell us that he strongly discouraged his high school students from drinking. The persistent among us, asked, “But what about us Baalei Batim?”. He told us that we have to teach our children how to drink responsibly.

A number of years ago we made the seudah with just our family and I stated that my goal was to teach responsible drinking. I was the only one drinking and I took out a bottle of Vodka. (Rabbi Welcher proves from a Rashi that hard liquor is a suitable drink on a Purim). I proceeded to drink shots and get intoxicated. I gave everybody long blessings and acted well within the boundaries of propriety. My kids said, “You’re not drunk!”. To which I replied, “If you were inside my head, you wouldn’t say that”.

With a few notable exceptions, every mitzvah has its measure, and that includes drinking on Purim. Somewhere between 0 and 12 shots (or glasses of wine) is the right amount. Each person can keep in mind the above mentioned goals and stop at the point where he can bring those goals to fruition.

Unique Aspects of Purim

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.

Download a number of Drashos on Purim

On one hand, Purim is the last of the festivals, and on the other hand, it is a new beginning (as it is with all “ends”, where the end is always a beginning to something else). The Sages state all of the festivals in the future will cease, except for Purim. This is because it is the end of the festivals of the current time period – and it is a beginning of the future.

Therefore, Purim is intrinsically different than all the other festivals. Purim contains both the light of the current festivals, as well as an additional light – the light that is beginning of the future times.

This additional light contained in Purim stands out in all of the events of Purim and in its unique mitzvos. There are many examples of how we can see it – here is a list of a few of them.

1) The system of the “festivals” begin with Pesach, the exodus from Egypt, where we were told, למען תדע,“So that you shall know”; and on Sukkos as well, with the mitzvah of sukkah, the Torah says that it is למען ידעו דורותיכם, “So that the generations will know.” But Purim is not for the purpose of knowing – it is about עד דלא ידע, “ad d’lo yoda” – it is about “not” knowing [its concept is “above” the normal daas\knowledge].

2) Regarding all mitzvos of the Torah, there is a rule, “the Torah is not in heaven” (Bava Metzia 59b). But Purim was ‘agreed upon’ in Heaven (Yerushalmi Berachos 67b).

3) When we stood at Har Sinai, there was yirah (awe), for Hashem gave the Torah so that “they will learn to fear Me for all days”. But on Purim, where we re-accepted the Torah, we did so with ratzon (will), which came from ahavah\love [for Hashem], because of the miracles experienced [as Rashi in Tractate Megillah states]. This was ahavah (love), as opposed to just having yirah (awe).

4) In all other festivals, we are obligated in them due to standing at Har Sinai and receiving the Torah. But on Purim we had a different kind of receiving of the Torah, by re-accepting the Torah. Clearly it was not the same acceptance again; it was a much deeper kind of acceptance. It resembled, “A new Torah shall come forth from Me” [the Torah of the future].

All other festivals are rooted in Moshe, who received the Torah from Hashem at Har Sinai. But Purim applied to walled cities from the times of Yehoshua, so it is rooted in Yehoshua.

5) When it comes to the rest of the mitzvos of the Torah, either we give to the poor or to the Kohen. But when it comes to Purim, we give Mishloach Manos to friends, out of love for everyone.

6) The Torah is a ‘masculine’ term, for it is called “Toras Moshe”, who was a man. But the Torah which we received on Purim was wrought through a woman, Esther, and the “Torah” that we received on Purim is collected in “Megillas Esther”.

7) All the other festivals were open miracles, but Purim was entirely hidden miracles. This is because the purpose of Purim was to reveal the hidden, resembling the statement, “Wine enters, secrets come out.”

8) All other festivals have a specific time of the calendar, whereas Purim can fall out either on the 11th, the 12th, the 13th, the 14th, or the 15th. The mitzvos of Purim can be performed on an earlier date than the 14th, resembling the possibility of the redemption being earlier than its time.

9) In all other festivals, there is only one performance of the mitzvos of the festival (and even when it comes to shaking lulav, there is only one mitzvah per 7 days of Sukkos to shake lulav), but the mitzvos of Purim can be performed over a period of two days, which are the 14th and 15th of Adar. This is because the spiritual light of Purim is a “double” light. The 14th of Purim is equal to the number ×™”ד in Hebrew, which has the same gematria as דוד, symbolizing the end of the festivals, and the 15th of Purim corresponds to the days of Mashiach, whose kingdom will be completed on the 15th of the month.

10) Just as Shabbos is a resemblance of the World To Come and it contains doubles (see Yalkut Shimeoni Shemos 16:261), so is Purim a beginning of the light of the future, thus it is a “double” day.

Discovering Your Happiness

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.

Download a number of Drashos on Purim

Discovering Your Happiness

Introduction
עמהם חלקנו ושים – We ask Hashem that our portion be with those who truly trust in Hashem. Then we ask בטחנו בך כי נבוש לא ולעולם – that we not be eternally shamed. Here in Shemoneh Esrei we state that if we achieve bitachon (trust in Hashem) that we will not be shamed; clearly, though, we are not yet on the level of bitachon, for we just mentioned that only the tzaddikim attain true bitachon. Why are we requesting this, if we are clearly not yet on the level of having true bitachon in Hashem?

The answer lies in the following.

Focusing On What You Have Already

Everything is inside man. All good middos – as well as all bad middos – are inside us, being that we contain in ourselves a mixture of good and evil.
When a person wants to acquire bitachon, or any other good quality, the superficial attitude is, to try to ‘acquire’ the good trait. A person wants bitachon, so he feels “I need to acquire bitachon.” A person wants simcha (happiness), so his attitude is “I need to acquire simcha.”

But there is a more inner perspective to have. In whatever we want to acquire, we need to first see how much of it we have already acquired and how much we still have to acquire, and upon that, we can then seek to fill whatever we are missing. For example, if a person wants to have bitachon, he shouldn’t think “I don’t have bitachon, so I must get bitachon.” Rather, he needs to see how much bitachon he already has revealed in his life, and then he should seek to acquire the remaining amount of bitachon that you still haven’t acquired yet.

Why? It is because since all of the good middos are really found inside us – for man is all-inclusive – therefore, you already have some of it already revealed in you.

You need to have that perspective. Even if you only have a small revelation of the good quality you’re trying to acquire, it is still something.

Chazal say that one should first give gratitude over the past before he cries to Hashem about what he needs. So first see what you already have, then ask Hashem for things. For example, if you need parnassah, but you are healthy, first thank Hashem for your health, and then ask for parnassah.

There is also a deeper understanding of this. When we thank Hashem, it can only happen as a result of recognizing what we already have. In order to thank Hashem, we first need to see what we have and admit to it. If we just say it with our mouth but we don’t admit to it in our heart, then it’s
just a lip service.

Having A ‘Good Eye’

This concept is also called “ayin tovah” – having a “good eye.” It is also called “someach b’chelko”, being happy with one’s lot. A person has to first focus on the positive and only after that ask Hashem for what he needs. If a person is always focusing on what he’s missing – “I’m missing this middah and that middah, etc.” – then all he is concerned about is how to fill his void. He never stops to consider what he does have.

The correct mentality is to first focus on what you already have. This gets you used to being positive – on what you do have – not on what you don’t have.

Whether we need something physical or something spiritual, first we need to realize what we do have. We should not focus on what we don’t have and what we need. And actually, the more we grow in spirituality, the more we see how much we are missing, and we will grow more and more negative towards ourselves.

Therefore, the real mindset to have is to first reflect on what you do have until now, and then, by thanking Hashem over these things, your gratitude will then connect you to all those things and help you realize them.

If a person can’t thank Hashem for what he does have, he doesn’t really recognize what he have, and he will be negative towards himself, because all he thinks about is how much he doesn’t have. He places his soul in a place that always feels lacking, and this is damaging.

The Vilna Gaon said that we need to be someach b’chelko (happy with our lot) even when it comes to our ruchniyus. So the basis is to realize what we already have gained in our ruchniyus. This is a major fundamental we must know in our Avodas Hashem! It is especially relevant to those who are drawn towards sadness and negativity. When we apply this concept of being focused on the positive to our Avodas Hashem, we will leave our pull towards negativity and instead feel more drawn after simcha (happiness).

Spiritual Growth: Expanding The Good Within

There is also a deeper point to be aware of with regards to this.

In any matter of Avodas Hashem, we do not acquire a matter from “outside” ourselves. Rather, everything is really drawn from within ourselves. Everything we need to acquire is already inside us. All we have to do is expand what we already have.
If someone is only focused on what he doesn’t have in his ruchniyus – he is always thinking about the middos and spiritual qualities he needs to acquire – he has never thought about all the good that is really inside him up until this point.

All you need to do is to expand the good points that are already revealed to a certain extent inside you. To illustrate, Rav Shimon Shkop said that in order to love others like yourself, you can’t do it by simply trying to love another person. Rather, you expand your own love which you have for
yourself, and you let it extend to others.

In whatever good point we are trying to acquire, some of it is already revealed in you! You just need to keep expanding it. But it’s already revealed in you somewhat, and you should not think that you need to “get” some quality or some good middah from outside of yourself. It is already within you, and you just need to keep opening it up more and more from within yourself.

This is a perspective to have towards Torah learning, towards holiness, towards Avodas Hashem you don’t acquire growth from “outside” of yourself. Rather, you get it by expanding upon the good points that are already in you – and all of the good points really are found in you.

Genuine Avodas Hashem

These words are describing a subtle concept. Usually, when a person wants to acquire a certain quality, he will learn the words of Chazal about them. But the inner method is to realize that all’s inside you, and you just need to expand the good that’s already in you; there is nothing “new” you need to acquire from the outside!

This will change your entire perspective towards avodas Hashem, the more you clarify this point and the more you actualize it.

There are people who enter into avodas Hashem but they become more and more disconnected from actual self-recognition, even as they are involved with becoming more serious and devoted to better serving Hashem; they become more superficial! There are also people who immerse themselves in Torah study and they lose their self in the process. They become disconnected from their own self-recognition even as they are involved with spiritual pursuit. But this is not the proper way of Torah.

When it comes to avodas Hashem, a person might think that he’s trying to acquire matters that are beyond himself, and as he is involved in trying to grow, he loses his own self in the process. But if a person uses the inner approach here, he truly experiences the inner world contained in avodas Hashem.

The Innermost Point

An even deeper point is to know the following.

In our soul, there are parts that are revealed to us and parts that are concealed to us. Our good middos are partially revealed and partially concealed. If we want acquire good middos, we need to expand what has already been revealed, and that is how we will bring out the rest that is concealed. This is what we explained so far.

But the concealed good in our soul is not just our good middos that we haven’t revealed. In the very depths of our soul, there is nothing but the actual purity of our soul. All perfection is contained there! We have a Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshamah which are all found inside us. Therefore, all qualities are already in us. (The Nefesh HaChaim writes part of the neshamah is present in the thoughts of the brain).

So the first point of all this is that a person needs to realize, that all good middos are already in him. Practically speaking, one has to be thankful for whatever good he already has. Then, he has to realize that whatever else he needs to acquire, it is also inside him, and he just needs to expand the good that is already there.

We have discussed these two points until now; now we will explain the third point we need to know, which is to realize the innermost point of the soul. In the very inner depths of the soul, all perfection is contained! There, there is absolute perfection in our Torah and middos. But, it is dormant, and we need to reveal it from its potential state and activate it.

We feel ‘poor’ on the outside, but we really have a million dollars inside our “bank.” If only the “pauper” would be informed that there are millions of dollars stored somewhere in his house. It’s not just money that you can’t access. It can be accessed – you just have to recognize it by getting in
touch with it.

We have good middos and bad middos in ourselves – all of them. From the perspective of our nefesh hebehaimis, we feel lowly towards ourselves because we see how more we need to improve and acquire. Our avodah in this is that we must thank Hashem for the good we have revealed and seek to expand the good that is already in us.

But the higher aspect is to utilize the perspective coming from our very essence of the soul, which is the point of perfection in us.

We thank Hashem every day for returning to us our pure soul, when we say Elokai Neshamah. A person might say this for 70 years but he doesn’t reflect on this concept. Why do we keep thanking Hashem every day for returning to us our soul? It is not just to say thanks to Hashem. It is because it is so fundamental to realize that we are a pure soul in our essence. It’s unbelievable – a person might go his whole life and say Elokai Neshamah every day, yet the life he lives does not reflect this at all. A person might live his whole life and never realize he is really a pure Neshamah, even though he says Elokai Neshamah every day.

All perfection is contained in our soul’s essence. This gives you a whole new perspective towards your self-awareness. Of course, we still have a body and an animalistic level of the soul, and we still have bad middos in us. All the bad middos are indeed in us. But that’s only one way of looking at it. If we focus on the fact that we are a body with base desires and bad middos, we view ourselves with a lowly perspective. The real “Modeh Ani” is to realize that we have a neshamah.

We still have an avodah to work on ourselves and improve ourselves, of course, but we need to do our avodah from the perspective of our neshamah – to realize how wealthy we are! It is called being ‘someiach b’chelko’. It is to recognize oneself with the understanding that one is a perfect neshamah!

Three Ways To Acquire Happiness

We are in the month of Adar, days of simchah (joy). We have three ways of how to reach simchah, as we have so far explained.

(1) The first perspective we explained is to expand upon the good that is already in ourselves. For example, if you want to acquire a good middah of a good quality (i.e. bitachon), realize that you already have some of the level that you want. When you think into this, it can provide you with a degree of simchah.

(2) Another way to derive simchah is to focus on your good points and qualities.

(3) The highest perspective you can have is to realize you are a neshamah (a Divine soul), which contains all inner wealth possible.

When you reveal this joy in yourself, you will feel like a convert born anew, like a new being. With this deep perspective, you will also stop comparing yourself with others and instead just realize that you are a neshamah. When you dwell in it, you live in a world of light. A life of neshamah means to connect yourself with the spiritual world, and on a deeper level, to connect yourself with the
Creator.

These words are not inspirational ideas. It is a perspective to view life with; it is a certain selfawareness. It is not intellectual, nor is it meant to be inspirational. It is about recognizing reality as it is.

In Conclusion

When a person lives with this attitude, he enters into what is written, “The righteous rejoice in Hashem.”

Now we return to the question we started out with. On one hand, one must aspire for bitachon in Hashem and ask Hashem that he be among those who truly trust in Hashem – ask we ask in Shemoneh Esrei, עמהם חלקנו ושים .At the same time, recognize that you are a neshamah – therefore, all good and all perfection is really contained deep down in your essence.

Becoming aware to these three aspects can cause a major overhaul in your life and it can help you enter the spiritual world. There will always be ups and downs, there are always times when we fail, but generally, this is the perspective you can carry with you that will lead you to a truly spiritual life, and you can keep going with it until you reach the complete bond with Hashem.

Purim Katan and Daf Yomi B’Halacha

Tuesday, Feb 15 is Purim Katan. The last section of the Shulchan Aruch (697) is about Purim Katan.

The Shulchan Aruch says:
On the 14th and 15th of the first Adar one should not say Tachanun and should not say the Psalm, La-Menatzeyach Ya’ancha Hashem Be-Yom Tzarah. One these days we don’t say hespeds or fast. However, other Purim matters are not practiced on them. There are authorities who say than even hespeds and fasts are permitted on them. The Rema says: The practice accords with the first reasoning (i.e. no hespeds or fasts)

The Rema adds: There are authorities who say that one is obligated to increase ones feasting and rejoicing on the 14th of the first Adar. This is not the practice. Nevertheless, one should have a somewhat larger meal then in order to satsify the view of the authorities who are stringent in this matter and someone with a contented heart is always festive.

The Mishnah Berurah says: The Tashbeytz stated that one should have a larger meal on Purim Katan and Rabbeinu Yechi’eyl of Paris was accustomed to have a larger meal and invite people. This is what the Rema means when he concludes by saying “and someone with a contented heart is always festive” i.e. that it is desirable for one to have a larger meal to honor the miracle which was performed at these times.

As it happens, this week concludes the 7 year cycle of the Daf Yomi B’Halacha cycle which goes through the entire Shuchan Aruch and Mishnah Berurah with a 5 day a week learning schedule. The new cycle begins on Sunday, February 20.

You can download the luach to start the cycle.

Sefaria has begun an English translation of the Mishnah Berurah.

YU Torah has shiurim on the Mishnah Berurah cycle.

The OU has has shiurim on the Mishnah Berurah cycle.

This is probably the most important Yomi cycle since we need to know halacha to serve Hashem properly. This is a great opportunity to going through the Mishnah Berurah. Please join the cycle this upcoming Sunday.

How Can Everyone Make Purim More Meaningful and Really Take Advantage of This Great Day

From the Weekly Bilvavi email. (send an email to subscribe@bilvavi.net)
Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.

QUESTION What is the avodah for both men and women and Purim, and how can everyone make Purim more meaningful and really take advantage of this great day?

ANSWER There are a lot of aspects to Purim. The halachah of drinking on Purim applies only to men, and the parameters of this halachah is explained by the Poskim. But there are many other aspects of Purim as well which apply to both men and women. Here are some of those points to think about, and each person should try to do them on his or her own level, according to his or her personal capabilities – and not based on any reasons influenced by factors that are either social, or emotional, or family-based, because there are many times where people act based solely on “what’s normal”, and this uproots any serenity and joy that they could have on Purim.

1) Consider the aspect of reading the Megillah on Purim. Both men and women are obligated to hear the Megillah on Purim. And on a more inner level, both men and women can reflect on the events in the Megillah and see how there was Divine Providence laced throughout this story, because the word “Megillas Esther” means to “reveal” the “hidden”, to turn the concealment (hester) into giluy (revelation of Hashem’s Divine Providence). A person can go through all of the details in the Purim story, from beginning until end, and he can see how it was all an unfolding process of Hashem’s Divine Providence – as opposed to a bunch of random details that have no connection to each other.

On an even deeper level, each person, whether a man or woman, on his or her own level, can see Hashem’s inner mode of conduct hidden in the Creation, as explained in sefer Daas Tevunos, and how every event in the world can be seen through the lens of Hashem’s carefully planned Divine Providence, His goodness, and the revelation of His Oneness.

2) Consider the mitzvah of sending Mishloach Manos on Purim. The purpose of this mitzvah is to increase love and friendship. On the obligatory level, everyone is obligated to send two portions of food to someone. On an inner level, one should also think about whom he will make happy by giving Mishloach Manos to. Then one should think, “What can I put into this Mishloach Manos package which will make the other person happy? What would that person really enjoy?” One should put thought into how much Mishloach Manos to send, what the quality of it should be like, how nice it should look & what kind of nice messages he can send with it. Everyone should do this only according to her personal capabilities, and not over-do it.
Even more so, when giving Mishloach Manos, it should not just be an act of giving motivated by logic alone, but it should be given from the depth of one’s heart, with love and joy, to make the other person happy.

Included in this aspect (gladdening other people on Purim) is to make the children happy, with costumes and the like. But again, one should do this only within her actual capabilities, and only if she can do it with joy.

3) Consider also the mitzvah to give Matanos L’Evyonim (gifts to the poor) on Purim. One should look for a person who needs it the most, and who would be the happiest to receive it – and one should strive to give Matanos L’Evyonim specifically to this kind of person. A woman usually needs to ask her husband about whom she may give Matanos L’Evyonim to, mainly so that her husband should agree with her decision.

4) Regarding the seudah of Purim, [if you are hosting a seudah], try to serve dishes that each person there will enjoy, catered to his or her particular tastes. The main point of the seudah on Purim, of course, is to think about and discuss Purim-related matters and what Purim is all about, and to stay away from any words that can be insulting to others, which only serve to bring out the most unrefined and impure elements in one’s nature.

5) The purpose of the day of Purim is to reach a deep place in ourselves that is above one’s daas (logical reasoning and understanding). For men, whose main mitzvah is to learn Torah, their main work on this world is to develop the power of their logic throughout the year, by studying Torah. That is why men need the intoxicating effects of wine (or the dulling effect of sleep) in order to “nullify” their logical understanding and reach a place that goes beyond logical understanding. Women, who are exempt from Torah study, are therefore closer to the concept of nullifying their understanding and to more easily reach a place that goes beyond logical understanding. This is the point known as temimus
(non-intellectual simplicity or earnestness).

Thus the main avodah of the day of Purim is: “Be wholesome with Hashem your G-d”, to walk with Him in temimus (simplicity), without any intellectual thinking. It is about sensing His unlimited love for us, just as the people in the time of Achashveirosh re-accepted the Torah out of their great love of Hashem that they saw through the miracles of Purim. It is about feeling how He always gives of His kindnesses to us, out of His great love for us, by saving us from trouble, and by bestowing good upon us. From this understanding, we can come to feel the sweetness and pleasantness of being close to Him. This is the root of true simchah on Purim, because by feeling close to Hashem a person feels physically lighter, in the body in general and specifically in the feet. That is why one can easily sing and dance on Purim, just as by the song of Miriam, when the joy of the women made them feel lighter, causing them to quickly sing and dance.

And that is why the miracles on Purim happened precisely through women [Esther]. It is because women are closer to this temimus (simplicity and earnestness). Men need to drink on Purim as a means to reach this place of temimus, whereas women are closer to reaching it, without the means of drinking. It only requires a little bit of re-fl ecting and calm silence, to enter into the deepest place within oneself – and each person on his or her own level can do it. (from the Bilvavi Q & A archive.)

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When Adar Enters, Focus on Connection and Completion

The Gemora (Ta’anis 29a) tells us that “Just as from when the month of Av enters, we minimize our happiness, so too from when the month of Adar enters, we increase our happiness.”

Although we are taught to increase our happiness, there are no specific mitzvos commanded to accomplish this increase. The Maharal in his commentary on Avos (6:1) says that happiness flows from completeness, just as grief is the result of loss and deficiency. When we are connected within ourselves, to Hashem, and to other people, we are more complete and the happiness flows. Happiness is not the goal of Judaism, but when we accomplish our purpose through the pursuit of three types of connection, happiness is the result.

Rav Itamar Shwartz, the author of the popular Bilvavi and Da Es seforim, points out that our purpose in this world is rooted in these three types of connection: connection between our body and soul, connection between ourselves and Hashem, and connection between ourselves and other people.
The Mishna in Avos (1:2) says the world stands on three things, Torah, Service of Hashem, and Acts of Kindness. The Nesivos Shalom says that the world refered to in the Mishna is our personal world which we build each and every day. Torah provides us with the concepts and mitzvos that enable us to use the material world in a spiritual way – which connects our physical bodies to our spiritual soul. Service of Hashem is accomplished through prayer which connects us to Hashem on a daily basis. Acts of Kindness, both large and small, connect us to our family, friends and community.

When we actualize these connections, through learning Torah, prayer, and chesed, we should focus on feeling the increase in our sense of completion. If we do this our happiness will increase.

Purim – It’s Not a Party for the Non-Observant

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

Purim: Happiness In Spite Of Pain

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.

Download a number of Drashos on Purim

What is happiness? Basically, it is to fulfill a lacking. The more lacking we feel, the greater happiness we feel when we fulfill what we’re missing.

It’s easy to be happy on Purim – after all, we experienced a redemption! We were saved from death. But how can we be happy today when we are in exile, and we are full of suffering?

In Tehillim we say, “Serve Hashem with joy”. This means that we can always be happy – but how? When we experience failure and we are down, how can we be happy?

It’s nice to say, “Gam Zu L’Tovah” — “This, too is for the best”. But that doesn’t yet prove we are happy; that would definitely show Emunah in Hashem, but how can we be actually happy in spite of all the suffering we have?

The way we can always be happy, even amidst pain, is by nullifying our will completely to Hashem.

What does it means to nullify our selves?

It doesn’t mean simply to give up what we want for Hashem, to sacrifice for Him, (which is indeed commendable). It means that my entire existence is completely for Hashem! Let us elaborate further.

Why is it that most people don’t feel that Hashem is always with them? How come people don’t feel Hashem in their life?

Many people will answer – “I must have many sins, therefore I don’t feel Hashem next to me.” That is true, but there is a more inner reason.

The true, inner reason is because most people simply never realize that Hashem even exists! How then can a person recognize Hashem in his life?

If a person nullifies his ego, he will automatically come to realize Hashem’s existence. The “Me, me me” in a person is what prevents a person from experiencing the simple awareness of Hashem’s existence.

When a person suffers — let’s say a person becomes ill – it is a time to “accept suffering”; the Mishna in Avos says that we must accept suffering. But what does it mean to accept suffering? Does it mean that a person should think, “Let my suffering be an atonement for all my sins?” That is not the purpose of suffering (although it is definitely true that suffering does atone one’s sins). The purpose of accepting suffering is to give up one’s very self to Hashem.

When one suffers, he has the opportunity to give up his very self, bringing himself ever closer to Hashem. This is how a person can rejoice even while he is suffering – by giving up his very self to Hashem.

What is Purim to us?

For many people, Purim is a day of strict halachic observance and nothing more. Purim can be a day of observing the mitzvos with all their dikduk and chumros – hearing the Megillah this way and that way, giving this and that for Mishloach Manos and Matanos L’evyonim – it can remain at that, a day of superficial mitzvah observance!

We are not trying to make fun of those who are very frum to carry out every halacha of Purim! We are not saying these are not good things. It is very commendable to observe and carry our all the halachos of Purim as best as possible. But there is a lot more to Purim than just the mitzvos of Purim!

The question we must ask ourselves every year is: “Did Purim change me?” Did you simply rejoice over the fact that the Jews were saved on Purim, celebrating the same celebration every year… or did you succeed in realizing that you have to give your self up for Hashem?

If you are simply happy on Purim because there was one time in history that the Jews were saved on this day, your happiness on Purim is only on Purim – that’s it! You will remain the same sad person after Purim ends, not having changed a bit.

The halacha is that “A person is obligated to get drunk on Purim until has lost his daas”. Why?

By getting drunk on Purim, we can come to a level of recognizing Hashem in our lives, by realizing that we must give our selves up for him. The Purim of today that we see is very far from the truth, from the way it is supposed to be. In fact, there is no day further from the truth than modern-day Purim; we are failing to use it properly. Let’s turn it around – V’nahafoch Hu!

The Love and Happiness of Adar

Increasing Our Happiness During Adar
The Gemara in Taanis (29a) teaches us that Mishenichnas Adar Marbim B’simcha, when Adar begins we increase our happiness. Rashi comments that “Purim and Pesach were days of miracles for Yisrael” and therefore Adar and Nisan are joyous months. Let’s take a brief dive into the Torah concept of happiness so that we can maximize our joy during this wondeful time.

What is Happiness
The Maharal in his commentary to Mishna 6.1 in Avos teaches that happiness flows from completion just as grief is the result of loss and deficiency. Happiness takes many forms. When we crave a favorite food, attaining it creates a sense of completeness, and generates happiness. Much of our lives is composed of wanting things, getting them, and achieving a small dose of happiness as a result. When we do the right thing in a difficult situation, we feel more complete in the use of our strengths and capabilities, and this generates happiness.

Happiness from Love
When we feel connected to friends and family through the emotion we call love, we feel more complete and happy. The Chovos HaLevovos, the Mesillas Yesharim and the Rambam teach that love of Hashem generates the highest sense of completion and therefore the greatest pleasure and happiness.

Developing Love
The higher, love-based levels of happiness take more time and effort to attain, are deeper, and are high Torah priorities. “Loving Hashem” and “Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself” are two cornerstone mitzvos. When we appreciate the miracles that Hashem did for us on Purim and Pesach, we deepen our connection and love of Him, which increases our sense of completion and our happiness. It takes thought, focus and effort, but we are all capable of developing a love and a connection to Hashem and of enjoying the resulting happiness.

Purim: The Joys of Simcha and Sasson

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.

Download a number of Drashos on Purim

Purim: The Joys of Simcha and Sasson

The days of Purim are called days of mishteh (festivity) and simcha (happiness). What is a mishteh, and what is a simcha?

The Gemara (Sukkah 56b) says that Sasson and Simcha (two kinds of happiness) had an argument about who comes first. Simcha said that it came before Sasson, because it is written, “To the Jews there was orah, simcha and sasson”; by Purim, the possuk writes “simcha” before “sasson.”

Sasson is associated with water. On the Simchas Beis HaShoeivah, they would celebrate the nisuch hamayim, the one time of the year in which they would pour water on the Mizbeiach. About this there is a possuk, “And they draw water with sasson.”

Simcha is associated with wine – “And wine gladdens the heart of man.”

What was created first – water or wine? We know that water was created first. This shows us that normally, sasson comes before simcha. But on Purim, simcha came before sasson.

What is simcha, and what is sasson?

Intrinsic Happiness Before The Increase Of Happiness

This has to do with the difference between mishteh and simcha. There is a simcha which comes before a mishteh, and there is a simcha which comes after a mishteh.

Sasson is a joy upon completion. Sasson comes from the word sheish, “six.” When the world was finished being created on the sixth day, there was a joy in creation – a sasson. When creation became complete, there was a happiness just with the very existence of creation.

Simcha is a happiness that comes after that. When one has joy from existence, he has sasson. When one adds onto that happiness, he has simcha. Simcha is when we add onto our intrinsic happiness – when we increase our already existing happiness.

Simcha adds onto Sasson. The entire idea of Simcha is to add onto the happiness of our existence, which is Sasson. Thus, there has to first be Sasson in order to have Simcha.

In order for a person to increase his happiness, he first needs to be happy with the fact that he exists. On top of your intrinsic happiness you are able to add onto that more happiness, but there has to be first be a happiness in yourself in order for you to increase it.

If a person attempts to have simcha by trying to increase his happiness, but he isn’t yet happy with the fact that he exists, then he will not be able to have simcha. You can only add onto your happiness if there is a happiness already there to begin with! This is why sasson must come before simcha. First you have to be happy with the mere fact that you exist, and then you can increase your happiness.

When people just try to increase their happiness but they’re not happy with themselves to begin with, it is a foolish and superficial kind of happiness.

Purim – Above Your Existence

But on Purim, it is the other way around: simcha comes before sasson. On Purim, simcha is mentioned in the possuk before it mentions sasson; this shows us that on Purim we need to have something that comes even before sasson. On Purim, we need to find a simcha which comes even before sasson.

If sasson is the happiness of one’s very existence, what can come before this? What comes before your existence?

We know that there are certain creations which were created even before Hashem created the universe. One of them was the Torah. On Purim, when the Jewish people accepted the Torah again anew, it was really an acceptance of the Torah of before creation. This is an example of something that came before existence.

What is this power that is “before” your existence? How can anything else come before something exists?

One way we see this is in the future happiness, which is “The righteous rejoice in Hashem”. The happiness in Hashem alone is a kind of happiness that is before I exist; such a happiness existed before I exist, and this will be again revealed in the future.

There is another way to arrive at the simcha which comes before sasson. Purim is about totally nullifying one’s Daas – we can see this from the halachah that a person has to get drunk on Purim until he has no more Daas.

This is how one experiences a happiness that is above his existence – when one nullifies his very self to the Creator.

Finding Joy in the Practice of Judaism

Rabbi Noson Weisz explains the spiritual input that God offers on Purim:

There is much more to Judaism than the outer trappings of observance. Observance is the body of Judaism, but its soul requires the Jews to place their relationship with God at the very center of life. The observance of the commandments is only meaningful when it is the outer manifestation of this inner reality. One cannot be truly Jewish without dreaming of the Temple and of Jerusalem. Jews who manage to find a good life in the absence of this dream are on their way to annihilation as a distinct people no matter what their level of observance may be.

There is a famous saying in Yiddish, S’is shver zu zein a Yid! “It’s hard to be a Jew.” Israel has lost far many more Jews through its history to this statement than to the persuasive power of foreign ideologies.

The spiritual input of the Purim holiday is provided to counter this tendency. In essence, it comes to counter the protest of coercion. We see the Torah as coercion as long as we feel that strict observance is impractical and burdensome in the context of the realities within which we are forced to live. But Jews in exile must be able to find joy in the practice of Judaism to be able to maintain their commitment to Judaism as the focus of their existence. They must still feel that despite all the hardships of exile, their commitment to the Torah is the force that gives them life.

When they were faced with Haman’s edict, the Jewish people found the strength to reach deep into their collective soul. Israel realized that the physical annihilation which threatened them was an indication of the spiritual level to which they had sunk. They were threatened with outward physical annihilation only because they were close to dying as a people spiritually on the inside. They reexamined their attitude to their own commitment to Judaism, located the protest of coercion in their collective Jewish soul, and gave it up for good. As a result, the physical edict was rescinded and the Jews were blessed with “light, happiness, joy and honor.”

The joy that comes from Torah observance under seemingly unfavorable circumstances is the spiritual input that God offers on Purim. May we all merit receiving a powerful dose of it.

Read the whole thing here

The 60 Second Guide to Purim

The Essence of Purim
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato writes in “The Way of G-d”:
“The significance of Chanukah and Purim is to bring forth the particular Light that shone at the time of their original miracles as a result of the rectification that they accomplished.

…Purim involved Israel being saved from destruction during the Babylonian exile. As a result of this they reconfirmed their acceptance of the Torah, this time taking it upon themselves forever. Our Sages teach us that “they accepted the Torah once again in the days of Achashverosh”.

The Particular Light That Shone at That Time
The physical world functions through spiritual input from G-d. This spiritual input has a constant component known as “nature” as well as an infrequent component which occurs as needed in the course of history. The infrequent input, which we call “miracle”, illuminates the understanding that even when G-d’s presence is not obvious, He’s still running the show.

During the Babylonian Exile
Megillas Esther, the story of Purim, which we read at night and during the day, takes place about 70 years after the Babylonians destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem and exiled the Jews from Israel. It records the roots of modern anti-Semitism as Haman, the prime Minister of Persia, convinces King Achashverosh to decree a holocaust, the destruction of the entire Jewish People.

A Hidden Miracle Saves Us From Destruction
The Megillah records how the Jewish leaders, Mordechai and his cousin Esther, work to prevent the holocaust and the Jewish People turn towards G-d in communal prayer and fasting. A series of seeming coincidences facilitates the victory of Mordechai and Esther over Haman and the Jews avoid destruction. G-d’s name is not recorded in the entire Megillah, teaching us that He’s always the guiding force, even when His presence is not apparent.

Reconfirming The Acceptance of The Torah
Although the Jewish People accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai after the Exodus from Egypt, the obvious presence of G-d at that time indicates that the acceptance was based on fear and awe. The re-acceptance of the Torah during the time of Purim, when G-d’s presence was hidden, remedied the original fear-based acceptance. This re-acceptance, accompanied by a commitment of intense study and observance of Torah, gives the Jewish People the spiritual fortitude to stay connected to G-d during the exile that we continue to face until this very day.

Celebrating Through Jewish Unity
In addition to hearing the Megillah, there are three other mitzvos of Purim: having a joyous meal, giving charity to at least two poor people and giving a gift of food to at least one person. These mitzvos focus us on helping others and uniting with our fellow Jews. Unity is a necessity as we continue our mission of leading the world to a spiritually focused existence through a constant awareness and connection to G-d in our thought, speech and actions.

American Pie Purim

It’s become a tradition here in St. Louis that my wife and I invite the Yeshiva High School senior boys over each year for our Purim seuda. Given the logistics of our house, the males gather around a long table in the den while the women watch in amusement and, occasionally, dismay from the relative safety of the dining room. How my wife prepares enough food to satisfy the appetites of a minyan of teenage bochurim is one of the great mysteries of life.

I begin with the Reading of the Rules (e.g., anyone who feels sick must make it to an emergency exit before, well, you know), move swiftly through a parody of kiddush, then come to the main part of the celebration, where I introduce all the students in turn with lyrical grahamen and they earn their fare by presenting divrei Torah. When the last one is finished, I give my own davar Torah, which somehow weaves together all of theirs in sequence. (Don’t be too impressed; it’s a lot easier to do drunk than sober.)

Lower classmen, although not officially invited to the meal, often drop in as do graduates who happen to be in town, for a chance to see the effects of a full bottle of wine on their unswervingly staid rebbe. (According to rumor, I never loosen my tie). It’s also not often that a bochur gets to hear his rebbe perform a drop-dead, Paul Robeson rendition of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.

But the highlight of the afternoon festivities (which typically run between three and four hours) is my annual exegesis of Don Maclean’s American Pie.

The references are a bit dated for today’s teenagers, although they still know Buddy Holly (the music), Mick Jagger (Satan), Elvis (the king), and Bob Dylan (the jester), and they usually get the Lennon-Lenin pun. Such references as Charles Manson (helter-skelter), the sock-hop, Woodstock, James Dean, and the 1968 Democratic National Convention (the “sweet perfume” may be tear gas) require a bit more explanation. And a few of the lyrics need editing (e.g., the Father, Son, and Casper the Ghost). Don Maclean’s message of modern music’s messianic hope and ultimate failure seems to resonate well within the spiritually complex structure of Purim.

I suppose some might suggest that I am degrading Purim, introducing the secular, the mundane, even the profane into avodas haKodesh. And although I generally avoid listening to modern music with its coarse or often heretical lyrics, although I never insert secular melodies into Shabbos davening or Shabbos zemiros, although I struggle to squelch discussions of baseball whenever they turn up at the Shabbos table, I would argue that Purim, with its theme of blurring the boundaries between Mordechai and Haman, is different. Moreover, I would argue that Purim offers a unique opportunity to resurrect, selectively and briefly, the ghost of my secular past as a demonstration of the need to strike a balance between the spiritual and the physical.

Who can measure the impact on Amerian kids of the lingering memories of a Purim celebration that integrates the culture they find so enticing without losing focus on avodas HaShem? And what could ever have replaced what has become my trademark Purim schtick if I hadn’t learned American Pie way back when?

First published Fev 28, 2008

Purim – Rising Above Doubt

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of Drashos on Purim

Exploring The Connection Between Purim and Yom Kippur

There is a famous teaching of our Sages, “Yom HaKippurim is like Purim”[1] – Yom Kippur is “k’purim” – like Purim. This implies that Purim is ‘similar’ to Yom Kippur, and perhaps equally or even more holy. Let’s explore our avodah on Purim and its relationship to Yom Kippur.

The festivals of Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos are celebrated for two days outside of Eretz Yisrael, because of the doubt about their exact dates (sefeika d’yoma).[2] Since all of the festivals contain sefeika d’yoma, they all contain an element of doubt. On an inner level, this means that we are exposed to doubt during these festivals.

For example, consider Rosh Hashanah and Amalek. Rosh Hashanah is a time that celebrates the remembrance of the beginning of Creation, whereas the evil nation of Amalek represents the concept of safek/doubts. Amalek is called “reishis.” the “beginning” of the nations.2 [Hence, Amalek has power on Rosh HaShanah, since Amalek gets its strength from beginnings]. Specifically, we celebrate Rosh HaShanah for two days, because in the times of the Beis Hamikdash it was difficult for witnesses to see and pass on the exact time of the new moon. Thus, since the Sanhedrin could not be sure if the month was sanctified or not, we celebrate two days of Rosh HaShanah to cover both possibilities.

Unlike the other festivals, Purim is not celebrated on two different dates due to the reason of sefeika d’yoma. Rather, the two days of Purim is only simply to celebrate the two different military victories which occurred on two different dates. Specifically, Purim falls on either the 14th or the 15th of Adar, depending on whether the celebrant resides in a walled city or an un–walled city. The Rabbis agreed that inhabitants of walled cities recite the Megillah on the 14th of Adar, whereas inhabitants of un–walled cities recite the Megillah on the 15th of the month.

So Purim is different from the other festivals since there is no doubt about its date. However, there is an even greater reason why Purim is dissociated from doubt. Purim is a festival celebrating our victory over Amalek which has the same gematria as the word safek.[3] It is well–known that the evil force of Amalek is essentially the very concept of doubt. Thus, Purim, in which we were victorious over the force of Amalek (Haman), is the antithesis of doubt.

Furthermore, we celebrate Purim in the month of Adar, and Adar stands for “aleph dar.” “The Aleph (the One)will dwell”.23 This phrase alludes to how Hashem Himself fights Amalek during the month of Adar. Haman was an Amelekite and Mordechai defeated Haman during Purim also in the month of Adar. Thusly, Adar is a month of victory over Amalek – and we won through our emunah in Hashem. In addition, Moshe was born in the month of Adar, a leader who helped the Jewish people in their victories over Amalek.

The War With Amalek/Doubt

In summary, the very concept of Purim is the opposite of doubt. Purim is a celebration of the Jewish people’s triumph over Amalek/safek/doubts. (Of course, as we will explore below, we cannot erase Amalek completely in our times, because Amalek is at war with Hashem, in every generation. Only in the future will Hashem erase Amalek completely; when Amalek will be completely erased, Hashem’s Name will be complete.)

Every time we doubt Hashem, chas v’shalom, Amalek is winning. Amalek pounces on us at the first sign of doubt in our emunah. The generation who left Egypt surely believed in Hashem, they were in doubt about what Hashem would do to save them. We can refer to their very doubt as “Amalek” triumphing over them.

Amalek also comes to attack our kedushah (holiness). When the Jewish people left Egypt, we were on a very holy level, but the Erev Rav (the “mixed multitude.” which included Amalek) came with us and influenced us. Thus, our redemption from Egypt was not complete.

Amalek was particularly terrible since they also paved the way for other nations to fight us. Chazal compare Amalek to a person who jumps into a scalding hot bath; he burns himself in the process, but he cools it off for others. So too, Amalek were the first nation to have the audacity to attack the Jewish people, and in a brazen manner. By having the audacity to rise up and even attempt to conquer the Jewish people, they showed the other nations that such a coup is possible.

The Inner Point of The Soul Where There Is No Doubt

Now let us learn how this matter applies to our personal souls, and what power we have that can counter Amalek/safek/doubt.

Hashem is called “tzur levavi.” “Rock of my heart”.[4] The revelation of G–d lies deep in all of our hearts, as is it written, “And I will dwell amongst them.” The Sages state that Hashem dwells “in all of them.” every Jewish soul – within each of us lies an inner point in our soul, a “cheilek eloka mimaal.” a “portion of G–d above.” [5] This point is completely holy and it cannot be tainted by doubt. Only the outer parts of us are subject to doubts.

After the Original Sin, human beings were given free will to choose between good and evil. In This World, it is difficult to separate between good and evil. All of us live with two options – good and evil. We as humans are fallible, so our choices are open to imperfections, which lead us to doubt ourselves. But Hashem cannot be doubted. Consequently, there resides no uncertainty or doubt within the G–dly part of our soul, as long as a person merits successfully in uncovering it and revealing it outward.

When Bnei Yisrael fought against Amalek [there was a constant pattern], When Moshe’s hands fell, Amalek gained strength. When Moshe’s hands were raised Amalek became weakened. The possuk says that Moshe’s hands were raised in “emunah”.[6] The power of emunah in our soul is essentially the revelation of G–d within man. When one really lives with emunah – not just because he knows about Hashem, but because he palpably feels the emunah in Hashem deep inside his heart – then he lives with less doubt, and in turn, he is strengthened. But without complete emunah in our heart, we are subject to doubts and are weakened as a result.

Amalek fights Hashem in every generation. We are commanded to fight Amalek and never forget their attack on us. However, the outcome of our efforts to fight Amalek is ultimately in Hashem’s hands. Only Hashem can erase Amalek, because Amalek is all about safek, and man cannot defeat the force of safek without Hashem. We have to fight, but only Hashem can annihilate safek completely.

In other words, the only way to overcome safek is for us to completely integrate our own selves with Hashem. When a person reveals total emunah in Hashem from within himself, he is essentially revealing outward the deep, inner revelation of G–dliness within his soul. This is the only way man can defeat Amalek. Only when one erases his own doubts by connecting his existence with Hashem, will he essentially receive the power to erase Amalek.

Unfortunately, these days it is difficult for us to even identify Amalek itself, because the wicked king Sancheriv[7] mixed up all of the nations, making it impossible for us to discern the origins of the people of other nations. Thus, we are even in doubt about where our doubts lie, which creates an even more powerful safek. Even more so, Hashem’s presence is more hidden and concealed from us in exile – we constantly lack certainty in Hashem and His truth.

In summary, safek (doubts in emunah) fuels Amalek’s power. Whether the doubts are external or internal, Amalek thrives on our doubts and then takes us over. Thus, our ongoing war with Amalek is unlike any other war. It is an inner, spiritual war being fought between our powers of emunah and safek/doubt. It is about fighting forHashem’s revelation as the “Vadai Shemo” (His Name is absolute). Only when our G–dly part of our soul dominates does Amalek’s hold weaken.

Purim – Yom Kippur

Besides Purim, there is another day of the year which is completely holy and not associated with any safek – Yom Kippur. Although there should have been a sefeika d’yoma on Yom Kippur too, the Sages decreed that we should not have two days of Yom Kippur. On a simple level, this ruling was decreed because it is dangerous to fast for two days. But the deeper reasoning for having only one day of Yom Kippur is so that it should not be subject to any safek/doubt.

Chazal refer to Yom Kippur as the “yomo shel HaKadosh Baruch Hu.” the “day of Hashem.”[8] You cannot doubt Hashem. We can have doubts about ourselves, but Hashem cannot be doubted. Hashem gave the other festivals to the Jewish people and thus these festivals also have an association with humans and doubt. In contrast, Yom Kippur is called “the day of Hashem”. Unlike human beings, Hashem has no doubts, and doubt cannot mix or be associated with Hashem. As the Sages say, “Is there such thing as doubts in Heaven?”.[9]

On Yom Kippur we are like angels. This day is clearly the day of Hashem, the day in which Hashem reigns supreme. Since there are no sins and we are forgiven, so there is no room for the human concept of doubt to creep in.

In summary, the festivals were given to man, who is naturally full of doubt. Thus, there can be doubt associated with the festivals. In contrast, Yom Kippur belongs to Hashem, Who has no safek. Yom Kippur is a day in which doubt cannot take hold.

[Now we can see the connection between Purim and Yom Kippur, and why Purim is like Yom Kippur: they are both days in which can rise above doubt].

Celebrating the Doubt–free Purim and Yom Kippur

These days, we all generally live with uncertainty. We all have ‘Amalek’ in the soul!Hashem’s existence, His presence, His love for us, is all doubted and unclear to us. But Purim shows us how a situation with two or more options does not have to be confusing because both options are actually necessary. On Purim, we bless Mordechai as well as Haman. On a deeper level, we can recognize on Purim that even Haman is ultimately needed!

In the future, Hashem and His Name will be One. The Gemara raises a pertinent question: “Is He not [already] one in our times?” The Gemara then answers that in the future His name will be the name of havayah[10], while now He is called by His name of adnus[11] (Master), which is not the same thing. Chazal teach that Hashem’s name is not complete in our times due to the presence of Amalek[12] – who fuels our doubts of emunah.

There is a teaching that our “heart cannot be revealed by the mouth”[13]. This means that we do not express what is truly in our hearts. The fact that we read the name of havayah of Hashem but we do not pronounce it, and instead we currently pronounce it with the name of adnus, reflects the fact that our “mouth and heart are not in line with each other”. We can see the meaning of havayah in our heart, but the mouth cannot express it. The Torah itself is made up of names of Hashem, but Amalek causes one to doubt even His name!

We are always confounded by doubts. For example, a person gets married, but doubts if his wife is the right one for him. Or he buys a house but remains unsure if he has made the right purchase, and he agonizes over his decision. All of these doubts actually come from Amalek!

Options and doubts are the hallmark of our current exile. And as long as a person has doubts, he does not have simchah. “There is no simchah like the clarification of doubts”.[14] Simchah is when we erase our doubts, and therefore, if a person has safek, he cannot have simchah.

True simchah is achieved only when there is a harmony between our guf (body) and neshamah (soul). The opposite of simchah/joy is sadness, and sadness comes from the body, which was created from the element of earth. When Adam ate from the Eitz HaDaas, the body was cursed with death, which causes it to return to the earth. The Jewish people contain a body and a soul. Whereas the soul wants to rise to Heaven, our body wants to be here on earth. While our soul yearns for G–d, our body wants materialism. This internal war creates a force of doubt. [We are all born with this struggle with doubt, and our life is a constant battle between our spiritual and our material desires].

Thus, our life in This World is riddled with doubt. But the good news is that a person can penetrate a place in his soul where there are no doubts! When a person erases Amalek within himself, he can connect both body and soul together. This “clarification of doubts” will enable him to reach simchah here in This World even before the redemption.

On Purim, we are commanded to become intoxicated until we reach the point of not knowing “the difference between cursed be Haman and blessed be Mordechai.” When we reach this point of shedding our [consciousness] daas, the body and soul become harmonized and all doubt is left behind.

The festival of Purim celebrates the Jewish people’s victory over Haman the Amalekite and therefore doubt. Haman intended to kill us and separate our bodies and souls. Our victory demonstrated that we are “one nation.” Haman himself acknowledged this, albeit begrudgingly. And on a deeper note we also can be “one” within our own self.

In the future, Chazal say that all festivals will cease except for Purim when Moshiach comes. Chazal are teaching us a lesson pertinent to the present – that we can connect even now to the light of the future. Purim thus represents our ability to access an inner point of certainty and trust regardless of the external doubts in our current life.

Living a life full of doubts prevents us being connected to the spiritual dimension. One destined to live in the World To Come (ben olam haba) is essentially one who reveals the inner point of oneness and certainty in his soul, the revelation of G–dliness within himself. A ben olam haba refers to the place in the soul where there are no doubts.

All realities in this world can be doubted, because they are finite and are not based on Truth. Only Hashem is One and only Hashem is forever. By connecting to His Oneness and emes, we too can erase our doubts.

Purim proves that there is a time where we can exist free of doubts. Although we currently live in a world of doubt, Purim represents a time in this World where we can have both body and soul and still experience certainty and trust without a doubt.

The words here are not simply an intellectual matter. Celebrating Purim does not simply require knowledge of reading the Megillah and learning how to fulfill all the laws of Purim. In order to experience Purim properly, we must experience a day of no doubt in our heart. Then we must actualize this attitude in our life.

Practically Applying This Concept

When a person has a doubt, how does he remove it internally?

One way to get rid of doubts is to seek Rabbinical guidance, as Chazal say: “Make for yourself a rav and remove yourself from doubt.”[15] However, this is only a limited solution since doubt is deeply embedded within us.

The inner way to minimize doubt is by connecting to our inner dimension – to our inner spark of Hashem’s presence – in order to view our doubts objectively and remind our self that these doubts are not who we really are. We must bring Hashem into the picture. Remind yourself that He is the only true reality and clear out all the uncertainty – He placed the situation of doubt in front of us. We now have a choice – to focus on the doubt, or to focus on the Source of everything (including the doubt itself), which has no doubt.

When you have doubt about which path to choose, you can tell yourself that Hashem created and gave us both these two options. When you remember that Hashem does everything, your entire avodah changes – instead of finding the ‘correct’ option, you rather are trying simply to find Hashem in everything. If one really wants to do the will of Hashem in every situation, he will find how Hashem is clothed in every situation.

The simchah of Purim is that one can internally feel that everything is from Hashem. The real choice is not between the two or more options. Rather, our choice is simply whether or not to do Hashem’s will. If we focus on ourselves and our choices before us, then we will naturally be riddled with doubts, as we are human and finite and fallible. But if we manage to focus on the fact that Hashem is doing everything, and we nullify our own will to His will, then we can reach an inner place of certainty, of “HaVadai Shemo” – “His Name is absolute.”

Hashem is fighting Amalek, not us. If we fight Amalek ourselves, we are bound to lose. Only once we recognize that Hashem fights Amalek are we enabling Hashem to win in our case. The path before us will become clear only by choosing to focus on doing Hashem’s will.

Purim is the time to see that Hashem is behind all decrees. Even Haman’s decree ended up being good. Just as Hashem makes the decrees He can nullify them if He chooses. Purim shows us that though man always has doubts, there is no doubt associated with Hashem. The best way to leave all doubts is to see Hashem in and behind every action.

Practically speaking, we should try an exercise of emunah every day in order to battle against Amalek. This will gradually allow the knowledge that Hashem is the One behind everything to penetrate our hearts and overtake our doubts. When we are faced with indecision, we should tell ourselves that the situation was created by Hashem and that He is the only Truth. In this way, one will merit to erase Amalek from his heart and merit the simchah of leaving their doubts.

Through this work, with the help of Hashem, may the light of our discovery lead to the illumination of all of Creation, when Amalek will be completely erased, and “Hashem will be One, and His Name will be One.”

[1] Tikkunei HaZohar 421 (57b)

[2] a concept and legal principle in Jewish law which explains why some Jewish holidays are celebrated for one day in the Land of Israel but for two days outside the Land.

2 “Raishis goyim, Amalek” – “The first of the nations is Amalek” – Bamidbar 24:20

[3] The Hebrew word Amalek has same numerical value as the hebrew word Purim (240)

3 sefer Bnei Yissocher

[4] Tehillim: 73

[5] Iyov 3:4; Kli Yakar Bereishis 1:3, 9:201; Tanya (Ch. 2), Nefesh haChaim (Ch. 1)

[6] Shemos 17:12

[7] The king of Assyria who destroyed Babylon.

[8] Yalkut Shimeoni Tehillim 139

[9] Yoma 74b

[10] Referring to Hashem’s essence.

[11] A substitute pronunciation of the divine name, havaya

[12] Rashi in end of Parshas Beshalach

[13] Zohar Beraishis 11a

[14] Shaalos U’Teshuvos HaRema 5; Metzudas David to Mishlei 15:30; also attributed to a statement of the Rambam

[15] Avos 1:16

Purim, the BT and Unity

I still remember my first Purim as a BT. I didn’t drink, reasoning that I didn’t come to Torah observance to party. However I did get to witness a few unbelievable Purim Shpiels at Ohr Somayach in Monsey as Rabbi Lam was a central participant.

After many years I have a much greater appreciation of Purim and its connection to the BT. Purim at its core is about Jewish Unity and Teshuva. Faced with annihilation that entire Jewish people banded together to rediscover their true purpose and reconnect with Hashem and His Torah. As Baalei Teshuva we certainly have first hand experience of the intense Teshuva experience and the power it creates.

On the Unity side, the mitzvos of the day, illustrate this theme. The reading of the Megillah is a public proclamation of Hashem’s guidance over the affairs of the Jewish People. It is often noted that Purim night is the most crowded event at Shul, with the possible exception of Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur.

The Purim Seudah is a unifying experience as are all Shabbos and Yom Tov meals. Shaloch Manos and Matanos L’Evyonim are both mitzvos designed to created closer bonds between Jews. Some Poskim hold that the drinking on Purim at the Seudah serves to bring us together, as sometimes it is necessary to loosen up to make closer connections.

Baalei Teshuva long for authentic Jewish connections, which is why communal integration is one of our major issues. And as Jews who have been on both sides of the observant/non-observant divide, we have the potential to spur the community to further unification. But first we need to feel in the depths of our hearts that we are all part of one Jewish People. If we can feel that deep connection, many of the divisions caused by judgementalism would fade, as we tend to judge ourselves favorably. Deeper connections would also spur us to collectively work on the crisis’s of Jewish Assimilation, Financial Pressures, Kids at Risk and Shidduchim. Often we see these as somebody else’s problem, but as integral parts of the Jewish people we need to view them as all of our problem.

Today as we engage in the very communal act of a public fast heading into Purim, perhaps we can focus on the essential mitzvos of these days, working on caring deeply about our fellow Jews and collectively returning to Hashem.

Achdus on Purim

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato writes in “The Way of G-d”:

…Purim involved Israel being saved from destruction during the Babylonian exile. As a result of this they reconfirmed their acceptance of the Torah, this time taking it upon themselves forever. Our Sages teach us that “they accepted the Torah once again in the days of Achashverosh”. The details of the observance of both these festivals are related to the particular rectification associated with them.

To accept the Torah on Sinai we needed to be united as if the entire nation was “One Man with One Heart”. On Purim, when we re-accept the Torah, we once again achieved that unity in the face of annihilation.

The mitzvos of the day, charity to the poor, giving gifts of food, a meal with family and friends give us actions leading to achdus.

Adding achdus in thought and emotion is also important. Here are three ideas:

– Focus on the successes of our local institutions who are there to serve us.
– Support those dedicated to teaching and spreading Torah.
– Try to emotionally connect to our family, friends and community members who share our common spiritual purpose.

O Daddy … Where Art Thou?

Parshas Zachor-An installment in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt. When they encountered you [lit: cooled you off] on the way, you were tired and exhausted … they did not fear Elokim.

–Devarim 25:17,18

When they encountered: Heb. קָרְךָ, an expression denoting a chance occurrence (מִקְרֶה) … Yet another explanation: an expression denoting heat and cold (קוֹר). He “cooled you off” and made you [appear] lukewarm, after you were boiling hot, for the nations were afraid to fight you, [just as people are afraid to touch something boiling hot]. But Amalek came forward and started [waging war with you] and showed the way to others. This can be compared to a bathtub of boiling water into which no one could immerse himself. Along came a reckless man and jumped headlong into it! Although he scalded himself, he [succeeded in] making others think that it was cooler [than it really was]. [Tanchuma 9]

–Rashi ibid

Our Rabbis taught: [vis a vis parents] What is [i.e. how does one fulfill the mitzvah of] ‘fear’ and what is [i.e. how does one fulfill the mitzvah of] ‘honor’? ‘Fear’ means that he [the son] must not stand nor sit in his [the father’s] place, לא יסתור דבריו, nor contradict his words, nor tip the scales against him. ‘Honor” means that he must feed and hydrate him, clothe and cover him, lead him in and out.

–Kiddushin 31B

The relationship between the Jewish people and HaShem, and even between individual Jews and HaShem, is multifaceted.  Two familiar facets are those of our being subjects in G-ds Kingdom and of our being His children.  On every public fast day, most recently on Taanis Esther, we beseeched Avinu Malkenu– our Father/ our King.  To our detriment, true kings are very hard to find in contemporary society and, as such, we lack one of the primary role models for our relationship with HaShem.

Thankfully, at least fathers are ubiquitous and our relationships with our fathers can serve as ready metaphors from which we can draw relevant lessons in how to relate to HaShem.  And while, for many of us, the child-father relationship falls short of the ideal, if not being utterly dysfunctional, at least we have concrete, black on white parameters for what the ideal relationship ought to be as set down in Shas and in Shulchan Aruch in Hichos kibud av v’eim-the laws of honoring and being in awe of parents.

We are not permitted it to be soser the words/ matters of our fathers’.  This word, soser, is conventionally translated as “contradict.” But Rav Laibeleh Eiger reveals another layer of meaning in this word that impacts our understanding of the eternal war that we wage against Amalek:

Moshe Rabeinu was instructed to deliver this message at his first meeting with the Egyptian pharaoh as HaShem’s ambassador and as His agent to redeem His people from slavery: “this is what HaShem says: ‘Israel is My son — my firstborn. I’ve told you to send My son away [out of Egypt] to serve Me. If you refuse to let him leave I will ultimately kill your own firstborn son.’”(Shemos 4:22,23) As a result of the Exodus from Egypt HaShems Paternal relationship with the K’lal Yisrael-the Jewish People, became manifest and obvious for all the world to see.  Moreover, it revealed the fact that HaShem was a very involved Parent; a “helicopter Dad” kivyachol -if you will, who was very concerned about his son’s welfare and insinuated himself directly into the sons affairs in order to relieve the sons suffering and to liberate him.

After the Exodus from Egypt K’lal Yisrael was cognizant of the special relationship that they enjoyed with HaShem.  However, around the time of their being attacked by Amalek, perceptions began to change.  For the nations of the world who were awestruck by the plagues of Egypt, the slaying of the firstborn and the utter destruction of the Egyptian military at the Sea of Reeds, it was not merely that the bloom was off the rose; it was that K’lal Yisrael had lost their air of invincibility.  Although Amalek had gotten its collective nose bloodied and had been “weakened” by Yehoshua; in launching their unprovoked attack on K’lal Yisrael they had blazed a trail and set the precedent for all future attacks, wars, ethnic-cleansings and genocides perpetrated by all future Jew-haters.

But, more significantly, doubts began creeping into the collective consciousness of K’lal Yisrael.  The Jews themselves internalized the implied message of Amalek’s attack. “If this could happen” the reasoning went “perhaps we are not really the apple of HaShem’s eye, maybe we are not so much different from the balance of humanity.  Who can still claim with confidence that we are His son and that He is our Father?” While the facts on the ground such as the manna bread from heaven and the miraculous cloud pillar should have eased these anxieties, nagging doubts remained.  They reasoned that HaShem must have some “hidden” agenda, something that is characterized by hester Panim-a concealment of the Divine Countenance.

Even before encountering Amalek the seeds of doubt had been planted in the national consciousness.  When K’lal Yisrael arrived at Rephidim there was no water readily available for them to drink.  Although Moshe Rabeinu worked the miracle producing the nomadic wellspring that would travel with K’lal Yisrael throughout their sojourn in the wilderness until death of Miriam; the upshot of that particular episode was this: “Moshe named the place Testing-and-Argument because the people had argued and had tested HaShem. They had asked ‘is HaShem within us or not?’” (Shemos 17:7).

Chaza”l provide a biting, acerbic characterization of  K’lal Yisrael’s ambivalence and under-confidence. “This can be compared to a man who carried his son on his shoulders and set out on the road. Whenever his son saw something, he would say, ‘Father, take it and give it to me,’ and he [the father] would do so. They met a man, and the son said to the man, ‘Have you seen my father?’ So his father said to the boy, “You don’t know where I am?” He threw him [his son] down off him, and a dog came and bit him [the son]. (Midrash Tanchuma, Yisro 3; Shemos Rabbah 26:2).  The boy in question never doubted whether or not he had a father.  He merely asked “do you see him … because I can’t!” The boy thinks that his father is out of sight — concealed.

The episode of Rephidim is the immediate preamble to the preemptive, unprovoked, initial attack of Amalek.  Amalek’s “chilling effect” did not merely cool down K’lal Yisrael in the court of public opinion but in their own self-perception and in their perception of HaShem as well.  While they still believed that they had a heavenly Father in the abstract, they were no longer able to “see” Him.  His administration of their affairs was now being orchestrated long-distance from behind a curtain, as it were.

In Lashon Kodesh-the holy tongue, there are many words synonymous with a contradiction; listor-to demolish/deconstruct, l’chalek-to argue/separate, l’hakchish-to deny/thin-out, l’hitnaged-to oppose.  Yet the verb that our sages chose to impart the lesson of not contradicting ones father is the verb in that is etymologically related to hiddenness and concealment; לא יסתור דבריו.  Rav Laibeleh Eiger maintains that one of the subtextual messages of this halachah is that a son is prohibited from characterizing his father’s words/deeds as being covert and clandestine.  The prohibition can be translated “he should not hide his father’s words/matters.” On a national level as a result of the chilling effect of Amalek’s onslaught, this is precisely the prohibition that K’lal Yisrael contravened in their relationship with their Father in heaven.

Rav Laibeleh teaches that part and parcel of our mitzvos to remember and to wage war against Amalek is to fight and suppress our own internal Amalek; the self-sabotaging a voice within our individual and collective psyches that mitigates and that dilutes the unique son-Father relationship that we enjoy with HaShem.  We need to scrap and claw to move beyond an abstract philosophical recognition of HaShems Administration of our affairs.  Knowing that we have a Father in heaven is insufficient.  We must fight the good fight to achieve a visceral awareness that we are riding on His shoulders and that He is always carrying us.  We need to develop the vision to see that our merciful father is directly and intimately dealing with us;  His firstborn son.  As the prophet thunders “O Why Yaakov do you say, and speak, O Israel: ‘My way is hidden from HaShem, and my justice is passed over by my G-d’”? (Yeshaya 40:27)

We must always remember and never forget that while our King may be remote and inaccessible and may be conducting a clandestine foreign policy or waging a covert military operation our Father is loving, merciful, intimate and directly involved in our affairs. Parshas Zachor would be a great time to start remembering this and, while listening to Megillas Esther is something that we do with our ears, in order to truly vanquish Amalek we needed to sharpen our eyes to abide by the halachah of  לא יסתור דבריו, do right by our Father in heaven and do our own personal Megillas Hester-revealing of the concealment.

~adapted from Toras Emes Zachor/ Tetzaveh 5628/1868 D”H Amru