A Guide for a Mindful Purim

Purim is a holy festival that will retain its significance even after the ultimate redemption. Purim commemorates the story of Hashem, who, while remaining camouflaged beneath the veil of nature, was and continues to be intrinsically involved throughout the history of the Jewish People. Purim is the story of a people that have a relationship and connection with G-d that defies logic and reason. Purim is the time when we train ourselves to see beyond the mask and reveal the truth and beauty contained within. Throughout the entire Megillah, there is no mention of Hashem, and yet His hand is choreographing each scene in this epic story.

It may appear paradoxical to write a guide for a Mindful Purim, especially for a festival where you are instructed to loose your mind. It is specifically because of the mayhem that Purim is that makes it so easy to miss the opportunities that the day contains. However, through mindful practice we are able to tap into the intense spiritual energy that is enclosed within the festival, and experience it in an uplifting and meaningful way.

The message of Purim is contained within the four primary mitzvot of Purim:

a. Megillat Ester: The reading of the Story of Ester.

b. Matanot La’evyonim – Gifts to the Poor.

c. Mishloach Manot – Friendly Food Packages.

d. Mishteh – A commemorative feast with family and friends.

There is a common thread that is woven through each of these mitzvot, and when performed mindfully, can transform the experience by forging deep and unifying bonds between family, friends, and members of your community. These mitzvot were established to counter and disprove Haman’s accusation that the Jews are a disconnected and divided people. This led to our near destruction, and therefore, the process of rectifying our historical blunder is by acting in ways that reunite us in a spirit of love and harmony.

Click here to download your copy of the guide where we discuss each mitzvah separately and offer practical suggestions for how to unlock the energy through mindfulness practice to achieve the desired outcome of unity and love.

Of Mice Traps and Men

One who reads the Megillah out of sequence has not fulfilled his obligation. (Megillah 17A)

The Sefas Emes asks, “Why is “Purim” not called “Pur”?” Why is it called plural- Purim for lots and not lot in the singular since Haman is described as having cast a “pur” to reckon the most favorable day to attack the Jews?

Michael Behe introduces in his book “Darwin’s Black Box” the concept of “irreducible complexity”. The explanation is as follows. Take for example a simple mouse trap. It has a number of functional parts that make it a mouse trap. Any component piece of the trap is useless and meaningless without the other small number parts. It could never have evolved gradually. Of what use would a spring be without cheese for bait or a board for it to slam its gait upon. The unadorned mouse trap needs all the parts present to be functional. The parts of it would have to have been created with the finished end in mind.

Similarly, a snake with poisonous venom would needs a hypodermic needle for a tooth to inject its pay load. Of what use would the tooth be without the poison and why would the creature need such a potent poison to kill a horse in seconds if it was lacking the sophisticated delivery system?

One of the keys to understanding the Megillah lies in appreciating how a sequence of seemingly simple events form an organized chain- with an eerily predetermined result. In the end, it can be observed how the aggregate is “irreducibly complex”. Minus any small piece in the puzzle and history would have looked so much different. If the King would have taken a sleeping pill instead of reading from a book of remembrances, had Esther not found grace in the eyes of the king, had the king not sent out his first foolish decree, had the king not relocated his capital in Shushan where Mordachai was quietly minding his own business before destiny backed up to his doorstep, then things would have turned out much different and the world would be unrecognizably different.

There is a growing paradigm in science that may help explain what is so deficient about reading or hearing the Megillah out of order. Surprisingly it is called, “Chaos Theory”. It does not aim to demonstrate that things are random and meaningless. Quite the contrary, it postulates the notion that all matters of seeming wild randomness display surprisingly complex and beautiful order. Even the way cigarette smoke dissipates throughout a room leaves a delicate trail of artistry. One of the proponents of this theory, Joseph Ford, refuted Einstein’s statement, “G-d doesn’t play dice with the universe!” He says, “Yes, G-d does play dice, but the dice are loaded.”

In the end Haman’s toss of the “pur” happened within a grander context of a more profound “pur” –or lot for the Jews. Haman not only could not derail the Divine scheme of things but perversely he furthered and promoted it in the most profound way. Our sages tell us that more than all the words of all the prophets were effective in returning the Jews to G-d; Haman was the catalyst to accomplish this when he received the royal signet ring of the king. His ultimatum resulted in the opposite of what he intended with his “pur”. Why? Because another “pur” dominates incorporating and adjusting to all the smaller Machiavellian moves making rather a prefect sense of this nice game of dice- a grand Purim play of mice-traps and men.

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Originally Published March 8, 2006

Adar and Spiritual Sensitivities

By Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Today is Yom Kippur Katan. Yom Kippur Katan is a time to review the month and enter the new month, in this case Adar, the happiest month of the Jewish calendar, with a cleaner slate (after doing tshuvah), and a more open heart.

Most of you haven’t heard of this, since it’s only just a custom that has been adopted by many but by no means the majority of communities. It sets the stage for seeing how every month opens new possibilities. Adar begins at the end of this week.

If you were living in ancient Israel, you would be waiting for messengers to reach your town or village to collect half shekels. The money was collected annually to pay for communal offerings.

Messengers also went out to warn the farmers against growing kilaim (mixing species of plants by grafting or other means). Adar is the perfect time of year to do this, because the plants that were planted earlier are now beginning to be visible.

Some people find this mitzvah somewhat difficult to grasp (and some people find every mitzvah difficult to grasp because of the underlying assumption that a commandment implies a Commander…). Even if you have enough spiritual maturity to accept that the Master of the universe may know its rules, you may still find yourself asking, “What’s so really wrong with mixing a cherry with a banana and getting weird-shaped cherries with hard peels? Wouldn’t they be easier to package?”

The answer to the question requires that you look at yourself. You are both physical and spiritual, and the truth is that everything in the world has both components. The Talmud tells you that every blade of grass has an angel that tells it to grow. That means that it has a spiritual role in the world, and that its physical presence is necessary not only for the sake of the world’s physical ecology, but for its spiritual balance as well.

The arrogance involved in “fixing” things by intermixing species can trigger results that cause profound unbalance. Most of you aren’t farmers, and the laws of kilaim in agriculture aren’t all that relevant to your daily life. The idea of recognizing that everything has spiritual purpose is one of the most valuable lessons that you can learn.

One of the many civil laws the Torah told us in last week’s Parshah, Mishpatim, concerns theft. If you were to steal, you usually have to pay back what you stole plus a fine of the same sum to compensate your victim for the anxiety and grief that is an inherent result of being victimized. If you stole a lamb, you have to pay back 4 times its value, and if you stole an ox, 5 times. The reason why there is a different penalty for a lamb and for an ox is that if you were to steal a lamb you would have to carry it home on your shoulders, which is embarrassing, while if you stole an ox, it would follow you and let you maintain your dignity.

The Torah’s laws usually don’t take into consideration the emotional response of the thief; it is more concerned with the victim. Imagine a judge adjudicating a case by considering whether it was the thief’s mom’s birthday, and judging him leniently because he has the pain of knowing how disappointed she is…..

This case is an exception. Ben Yehoyada tells us that the reason is that theft is really very much like kilaim. When Hashem grants someone (say you…) a possession (say your phone) it’s because He wants you to have it to fulfill a specific aspect of what your mission on this world is. A theft is a distortion of your spiritual ecology. Assume that you were going to do good things with your phone (invite a friend over, be an empathetic listener, organize a kiruv weekend), and you are at least temporarily unable to do so. This doesn’t only affect you, it affects the person who needed the invitation today! or needed some validation now.

The thief therefore needs to pay two different types of fines, one for the theft itself (which is double the value of the object stolen) and twice more for the blinders that he puts on before every theft that prevent him from noticing that the world has a Master who governs His world with far more complexity and intricacy than he is willing or able to envision. If the circumstances of his theft awakened some shame within him, even though he obviously wasn’t able to move beyond himself enough to resist the temptation to steal, he is still in a far better place than the thief who feels no shame, who pays the heaviest fine of all.

What does this have to do with those of you who are neither thieves nor farmers?
It should tell you that the world has spiritual ecology, and that everything that you are and everything that you have is part of Hashem’s greater plan.

As you head towards Adar and begin thinking of Purim, try to find the time to read through Megillat Esther. If you can put yourself in the place of any of the main characters, Esther for instance, you will see that she always had enough spiritual sensitivity to recognize that there was a bigger picture. Otherwise she would have been content to be Miss Persia. She knew that there was a reason she was in the palace that was bigger than that.

Adar is almost here. It’s time to do battle against feeling the blahs. Recognize the gifts you have, see the Plan, and use a couple of minutes on Yom Kippur Katan to erase the nonsense that fogs up the screen.

Visit Rebbetzin Heller’s website at www.tziporahheller.com/

Parshas Shekalim – Restoring the Fire

Here is an excerpt from the Shem MiShmuel on Parshas Shekalim: The Power of the Fiery Shekel:

Rabbi Meir said, “The Holy One, may He be blessed, took a type of fiery coin from under his Throne of Glory and showed it to Moshe. He said to him, ‘This shall they give.’ ” (Yerushalmi, Shekalim 1:4)

Reish Lakish said, “It was known and revealed to He Who spoke and made the world that in the future Haman would count out shekalim [to buy the right to exterminate] Yisrael. Therefore He arranged His shekalim [the obligatory half-shekel] to precede Haman’s shekalim.” (Megillah 13b)

When describing the evil nation Amalek, the Torah tells us that we should remember:

“…how he chanced upon you on the way…” (Devarim 25:18)

They cooled you down and made you lukewarm after your great heat, when all the nations feared to attack you. (Rashi loc. cit.)\

When Yisrael performed their mitzvos with a burning desire for closeness to God, they were invincible. But as soon as they lost their enthusiasm, as happened just prior to the war with Amalek, the enemy was able to strike, clearing a path for attack by any other adversary. As a future safeguard against this repeating itself on a national level, God gave the mitzvah of the half-shekel, the embodiment of excitement in mitzvah performance, the burning fervor of the fiery coin. Thus the Jewish people’s means of salvation was in place long before Haman, the wicked progeny of Amalek, was able to try his ancestral wiles against klal Yisrael. And in a deeper sense, we re-experience these feelings each year. Although we no longer give the half-shekel to the Beis HaMikdash, we are certainly able to reawaken our burning desire to serve God with all our strength.

We can now understand how it is that the simple mitzvah of the half-shekel can enable an errant Jew to rejoin the klal. Our task as Jews is to perform every mitzvah and to learn every word of the Torah with a great and passionate love. Failure to do so may mean that even a technically observant Jew has failed to achieve full membership of the Jewish nation. But anyone, even the least observant person, who appreciates the great power inherent in his soul and gives the half-shekel, intent on awakening these strengths, has revised his personality and Jewish orientation to the extent that he is now truly part of klal Yisrael.

Fisking Uncle Moishy

Fisking is blogosphere slang describing a point-by-point criticism that highlights perceived errors, or disputes the analysis in a statement, article, or essay…A Fisking is characteristically an incisive and fierce point-by-point rebuttal, and the aim is generally to weaken the target’s credibility rather than seek common ground.
This article was partially inspired by Fisking Aunt Mary.

Dear Uncle Moishy,

Everyone’s faaaaaavrite Uncle. Well, you’re not mine. In fact, I’ve spoken to the oldest living members of both sides of my family and they have confirmed that we’re not even related. Moving forward, I’ve received your latest email regarding Shabbos and I will not take it sitting down.

You write:

“Shabbos is coming…”
as if to say that if you didn’t tell me that, I wouldn’t know it. Who died and made you the calendar?

You continue “…We’re so happy.”
Oh, YOU’re so happy. So, your saying that I’M not happy that Shabbos is coming?. Oh you’re soooooo frum.

“We’re gonna sing …”
Once again with the exclusionary language. I know I’m not a world renowned singing superstar like you but there’s no reason to get uppity about it.

“…and shout aloud.”
Oh that makes sense, shout at your family when shabbos preparations are lagging and candle lighting is approaching. Sounds like someone needs a heavy dose of some Marvelous Middos Machine.

Then, you simply repeat yourself with some more shouting, some whispering (I have no clue what that’s about) and telling things to the world (as if people in Bangladesh are actually buying your CDs).

Well, it felt good to get that off of my chest but if you think I’m finished, just you wait until you see my response to your “Hey Dum Diddly Dum” missive. Strap yourself in and hold on to your Mem hat, buddy.

All my love,

David (not your nephew)

Inside/ Outside

Boarding the plane for my 6:00 AM flight from LaGuardia, bleary-eyed from too little sleep, I forced myself to offer a moderately enthusiastic good morning to the smiling steward as I crossed over the jet way and through the hatch. The steward echoed my greeting, then added, “You look very sharp today.”

I felt my eyebrows rise up toward my hairline. This isn’t a comment one hears every day. I thanked him and made my way down the aisle to find my seat.

Mid-way through the flight I wandered up toward the front of the plane. The steward stepped forward immediately when he saw me. “I hope I didn’t offend you earlier,” he said.

“Why would I take offense at a compliment?” I asked.

“Well, you never know these days,” he replied. “But you stood out so strikingly from the other passengers that I had to comment.”

I hadn’t considered my ensemble in any way remarkable. I was wearing a $120 gray suit, a $5 blue tie, and a black sweater vest that was a gift from my mother.

The steward wasn’t finished, however: “When you headed down the aisle, I saw that you were Jewish,” he said. “I’ve noticed that Jewish people are always conscious of how they dress.”

It was a nice kiddush Hashem to start my day, all the more so because it seemed to fly in the face of the stereotype that Torah Jews are unconcerned with the finer points of self-presentation.

I went on to explain to the steward – who showed more interest than many of my students – that the Jewish value of modesty has less to do with how much skin we leave exposed than with the projection of human dignity and our awareness of the sanctity that resides within every human being. We may reside within a shell of flesh and blood, but essentially we are beings of spirituality. By dressing in a way that is smart yet simple, restrained yet distinguished, those around us cannot help but take notice and, on some level, absorb a portion of our appreciation that the physical is meant to serve the spiritual and that our external form is merely a garment for the soul.

The interrelationship of the revealed and the concealed should occupy our thoughts as we approach the holiday of Purim. The apparent coincidences of the Purim story, the supernatural reversal of fortune, and the illusion of peril that prodded the Jews of Persia to rediscover faith in the wisdom of their Torah leaders… these are all part of the theme of hester ponim – the hidden face of G-d – that lies at the heart of the holiday. The physicality that surrounds us masks the spiritual reality of our universe, and by conscripting the material into service of the spiritual we succeed in showing the world (and reminding ourselves) who we are and why we are here.

However You Say It, We Wish Everybody a Wonderful Purim.

However You Say It, We Wish Everybody a Wonderful Purim.

Is “Happy Purim” the traditional Purim greeting ?

Well, yes. “Happy Purim” is the principle anglicized version of a number of transliterated Hebrew variations of “Happy Purim”.

What are the transliterated Hebrew versions of “Happy Purim” ?

There are many traditional Purim greetings in Hebrew. The following are the transliterated versions:

* Chag Purim Sameach [Joyous (or Happy) Festival (of) Purim]
* Chag Sameach Purim [Joyous (or Happy) Purim Festival]
* Hag Purim Sameach [Joyous (or Happy) Festival (of) Purim]
* Hag Sameach Purim [Joyous (or Happy) Purim Festival]
* Purim Sameach [Joyous (or Happy) Purim]
* Purim Chag Sameach [Purim Joyous (or Happy) Festival]
* Purim Hag Sameach [Purim Joyous (or Happy) Festival]
* Chag Purim (Purim Festival)
* Hag Purim (Purim Festival)

Happy Purim Transliterations From Hebrew Into English

Chag = Festival

Hag = Festival

Sameach = Joyous, Happy

Samayach = Joyous, Happy

Someach = Joyous, Happy

Somayach = Joyous, Happy

Found here:

They did leave out Freilichin Purim – which also means Happy Purim.

They Don’t Make Anti Semites Like They Used To

By Rabbi Benzion Shaffier

“In the third year of his reign, he made a party for all of his officers and servants, the rulers of Paras and Madai, the Partamim and rulers in front of him.” – Esther 1:2

The Megillah opens with a description of Achashverosh’s vast empire, “He ruled over one hundred and twenty seven nations.” The common assumption is that he was in the height of his glory. However, Chazal tell us that shortly before this, he had ruled over an additional one hundred and nineteen nations. At this point in time, he was still a powerful ruler, but almost half of his kingdom had been taken from him.

In his commentary on the Megillah, the Nesivos (Megilas Sisarim) explains that by all rights, Achashverosh should have been in mourning. He had just suffered a striking loss. He had been the ruler of the earth, and now his power and glory were stolen from him. Yet he was joyful and made a party because he understood the ways of HASHEM, and he had a sign from the heaven.

Chazal tell us that throughout our long exile, HASHEM has kept the Jewish people scattered across the globe so that if an evil king would come to power and attempt to kill us, a portion of the nation would be living in other parts of the world not under his control. Never are all the Jews under one ruler.

Yet that rule was clearly broken. When Achashverosh reigned over the entire world, every Jew alive had been under his sovereignty. Even now that he ruled over only half of the world, every Jew was still under his dominion. Whether he would keep or lose a province seemed to have been based on whether Jews were living there. It was almost as if a laser beam were carving out his monarchy. If there were Jews in a region, it remained under his control. If not, it was taken from him. When the rebellion was finished, every Jew was still under his control. Achashverosh took this as a sign that HASHEM was delivering His people into his hands and therefore he was joyful and made a party.

This concept becomes very difficult when we focus on who this man was.

Achashverosh wasn’t the Pillsbury doughboy

If you were to ask a school age child to describe Achashverosh, you would likely get an image of a short, roly-poly, fun loving guy who liked to drink – the Pillsbury doughboy. Chazal tell us that is not quite an accurate description. In fact, it couldn’t be more off-base.

Rashi tells us that Achashverosh wasn’t born to nobility. He was an ego-driven lout who kicked, clubbed, and clawed his way into power. His ambition was nothing short of world dominion, and he had recently achieved his dream – Emperor of the Earth. When the Megillah opens, his honor and glory have been ripped out from under his feet. How is it possible that he made a party? How could he possibly be filled with joy?

The answer to this question comes from a better understanding of what actually drove this man.

Achashverosh was evil
In the first posuk of the Megillah, Rashi explains that Achashverosh was consistent – consistently wicked from the first verse until the very end. Make no mistake; this man hated the Jews as much as anyone in his times. But he knew why he hated the Jews: the Jews represented HASHEM, and he was engaged in a war against holiness.

As an example, the Nesivos explains why the Megillah delineates the details of the party that Achashverosh threw. We are told about the tapestries on the walls, the food served, and what the guests drank. Why, nearly twenty five hundred years later, do we need to know that the golden benches were covered with butz and agraman?

The Nesivos explains that this was all part of the plan. The focus of the party was the last seven days when the “people of Shushan” were invited. Shushan then was the center of Jewish life. Mordechai met with the Sanhedrin there daily. It was the epicenter of religious Jewry, and that was Achashverosh’s target. He invited the Jews to his palace to get them to sin. Everything in the party was focused towards that goal.

The benches were covered with butz and argaman, wool and linen, which is shatnez. The tapestries on the walls were placed there to get the Torah sages of the generation distracted. Maybe their eye would be caught and they would look at something inappropriate. The food at this affair was “according to each man as he wished.” It was kosher by design. Achashverosh knew that if he forced the Jews to eat treif food, it wouldn’t be considered a transgression; he needed to get them to sin willingly. So each invitee was given a private waiter and could ask for exactly what he wanted.

Achashverosh even eliminated the ancient Persian custom of forced drinking. At this party the drinking was done willingly. No one was forced. Achashverosh knew that if the Jews were drunk, there would be much less of a complaint against them. He did everything in his power to get them to sin in as an egregious manner as possible. He knew that if he got them to sin, they would be his for the taking.

The farmer with the dirt, the farmer with the ditch

When Haman came with his “plan” to kill the Jews, it wasn’t a difficult sell. Chazal give a parable: imagine two farmers with adjoining fields. One says to his friend, “I have this large pile of dirt in my field. Because of it, I can’t plow. You have a large ditch in your field. Because of it, you can’t plow. I would like to take my pile of dirt and put it in your ditch. For this, I will pay you handsomely.” The second farmer responds, “Pay me? You don’t have to pay me. I will gladly let you do it. You benefit, I benefit; there is no need to pay me. Go ahead with my blessings.”

When Haman offered the ten thousand talents of silver to “pay for the killing of the Jews,” Achashverorsh’s response was, “The money is yours to keep. As to the Jews, do with them what you please.” He didn’t even accept the fortune of money being offered to him.

The key to understanding this man is to recognize that as much as he was set on world conquest, he was engaged in an ideological war; a war against holiness, the Jews, and G-d.

This seems to be the answer to the question. Granted Achashverosh had just recently suffered a great personal setback, the loss of half his empire. But he had been given something even sweeter – he was given the Jews. He had the ability to eliminate the ultimate source of holiness in the world – G-d’s people – and therefore he was joyful and celebrated. This man was a real Anti- Semite.

They don’t make Anti- Semites like they used to

This concept is eye opening because for thousands of years, everyone has hated the Jews, yet the vast majority of our modern Anti-Semites couldn’t tell you why. If you were to ask one of them, “Why do you hate the Jews? You would likely see him take on the glassy-eyed look of the semi-conscious. “Why? Why do I hate the Jew? I hate him so much that I would drink his blood!” His hatred is quite clear, based on his fury and drive. But what is his reason? Your run-of-the-mill Anti-Semite can’t answer the question intelligently.

Once upon a time, the Jews faced a different sort of enemy, men who hated them and could tell you why. “I hate the Jew because he represents everything holy. I hate the Jew because he stands for everything good. He has introduced conscience to mankind. But more than anything, I hate the Jew because he represents G-d.” Such a man was Achashverosh, and such men were common in earlier times.

It is ironic that through the eyes of our enemies, we can come to understand the significance of the Jew, and the pivotal role that he plays in world history – that of G-d’s Chosen People.

May HASHEM quickly redeem us, and may we regain our unique status of the Exalted Nation.

“The Shmuz” an engaging and motivating series of Torah lectures, that deals with real life issues ,is available FREE at www.theShmuz.com.

Simplicity is Wonderful but it’s for the Next World!

Purim is somehow connected to Yom Kippur – in the Torah it is called Yom Hakippurim and the play on words is not lost on the Rabbis. They say that in a sense, Yom Kipur is a yom k’Purim, meaning a day like Purim, so in some way Purim is seen as a paradigm of something that Yom Kipur emulates. What’s that all about? On the face of it, the two days couldn’t be more different. Purim is all body and Yom Kipur is all soul.

Purim is about revealing the hidden Hand Of God in events. God isn’t referred to by any name in the Megillah at all, and only through putting together all the events could his workings be seen. Through doing so, we see it as a battle of good against evil, where each receives his just deserts. We see how God engineered each individual event according to an intricate plot to upstage the evil.

How ironic is it then that the mitzvos of the day ask us to drop our sense of right and wrong and just open our hearts and minds to the goodness within everything and everyone. We give mishloach manos to help us come close to others, we give gifts to those who need without reserve and without enquiry as to their righteousness. We revel in physical pleasures of eating and drinking more than usual. We even drink purposely to blur the line between good and evil – until we cannot tell the difference between the blessedness of Mordechai and the cursedness of Haman.

Isn’t it odd that on a festival whose essence is about the victory of good over evil, that we do all we can to overlook the evil and bring ourselves to a state of happy acceptance of everything and everyone?

Let’s think about the drinking aspect (my favourite mitzvah) a little deeper. What is this business of making it hard to tell between Mordechai (the epitome of good) and the monstrous Haman? How can this be desirable at all?

In the classical mussar work, the Orchos Tzaddikim discusses the ills and the benefits of drinking alcohol. The main benefit as the author sees it is in helping a person through a distressing time to lift his spirits and get him back on track both physically and spiritually. It’s no coincidence that the section on drinking is placed in the middle of the book’s chapter on simchah and in fact is used to make the transition in the chapter between the negative type of simchah and the positive.

Immediately after the piece on alcohol, Orchos Tzaddikim goes on to explain how simchah is achieved ultimately by totally trusting in God that everything that ever happens is God’s doing and happens for a reason that you will one day (not likely in this world) understand and truly rejoice in.

It’s with this kind of superhuman faith that a person could truly recognise that Haman’s evil is as much a part of God’s work as Mordechai’s good. From the perspective that everything that happens in this world is by God’s design, you can truly accept that Haman is as necessary as Mordechai in bringing about the ultimate redemption.

But the Orchos Tzaddikim, in telling us that a little drunkenness is a great way to get over a rough patch (if done with responsible friends and not in excess), he’s teaching something very significant: You have to realise that this is an extremely high level of faith and you’re not expected to reach it without a lifetime of effort. A little drink really can make you feel that things aren’t as bad as you thought they were, and that really does allow you to view the world as if you really believe God is leading the way.

In short, drunkenness is a very good simulation of the way the world would appear from a high level of faith.

So a little more wine than usual on Purim can bring you to a fleeting experience of that kind of faith that God is the Creator of both Light and Darkness, the Doer of Good and Evil.

But that’s the vital word: FLEETING!

The world you see when you’re drunk, where everything is just great, is really not something you’re supposed to experience in this world. The idea that things that seem bad are really good for you is an other-worldly concept and you can’t live in this world with that idea at the front of your mind.

The very fact that the mitzvah of the day requires you to drink to reach that conclusion is a lesson that you shouldn’t miss. The point is that it’s neither desirable nor really possible to look at the world in those terms on a daily basis.

Living in this world requires you to be acutely aware of what’s going on within you and around you, and in particular to be on guard against doing wrong or even witnessing wrong without protest.

Purim, as I said, is about the victory of good over evil. On the other hand the very essence of the day’s activities take us to a plane of existence in which evil is revealed as nothing other than God’s tool.

It’s a day of irony. The idea is to get that fleeting glance of a perfect world but to do it in such a way that emphasises that it’s beyond our reach and supposed to stay that way.

In this sense, Yom Kipur is very similar indeed to Purim. Yom Kipur also takes us to a plane of existence on which we feel the nearness of God and our ability to reach Him, only this time it’s through a complete negation of our physical needs. It too is a day full of irony, but yet different from Purim. Here, we do not negate the essence of evil, in fact we focus on it sharply and objectify it in an effort to expel it from ourselves and draw close to God.

Here too, the lesson is that yes closeness to God and cleanness from sin is a wonderful thing, and we need that glance of spirituality. But here too, it’s a one-off event and you shouldn’t even think about living permanently in that way. The mitzvos of Yom Kipur of fasting and refraining from other physical pleasures are there to get us to reach that unattainable plane, while teaching that it’s essentially unattainable to normal people.

The mitzvah of drinking on Purim is there to get us to another unattainable place, while teaching that it’s essentially unattainable to normal people!

But Purim and Yom Kipur are also polar opposites. The level of Yom Kipur is one of complete Din – Justice, where evil is evil and must be eradicated in all shapes and forms. Purim is overwhelming Chesed which actually reveals all evil to be essentially good.

The lesson of these days is that neither of these poles are a desirable place to inhabit as a way of life.

In real life, it’s not possible to distill pure evil and objectify it and then throw it off the cliff in the way we do on Yom Kipur.

Equally, it’s not possible to accept evil in it’s many guises as simply being God’s will and leave it be.

Real life entails complexity. Our mission is to use the tools that we have to view the world from a perspective of faith, while protesting evil and ridding ourselves and our world from it.

Purim and Yom hakippurim open up a brief window onto a simpler, more perfect world, but they do so in a way that reminds you that the window has to close at the end of the day.

Simplicity is wonderful but it’s for the next world!

The Essence of Purim

I spent a lot of time a few years back trying to clarify the whys and hows of the mitzvah of Drinking on Purim. My Rav, Rabbi Welcher, feels that the main thrust of the mitzvah is to foster feelings of friendship and achdus in line with the other mitzvos of the day. However he states clearly that drinking to the point where somebody is out of control would be beyond the bounds of the halacha.

So in line with the theme of Achdus, this is probably a good time to give a Purim group hug. To realize that we are all on the same team and that includes people following a different derech and Rabbonim giving a different psak from the one we are following.

The biggest kindness we can do for somebody is helping them get closer to Hashem and that is our primary goal here at Beyond Teshuva. Hopefully, we all realize that we can use improvement in the areas of hearing, listening, understanding and communicating – essential skills in the process of spreading Kedusha.

Let us all rededicate ourselves to Jewish Achdus as we use the holiday of Purim for the purpose it was intended.

First published March 14, 2006

Purim and The Search for Yossi

“The more often and earlier a child smokes, drinks and uses marijuana, the likelier that child is to use harder drugs like cocaine and heroin.”

“It’s all about children. A child who gets through age 21 without smoking, using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol is virtually certain never to do so.”

“Teens who smoke cigarettes are 12 times likelier to use marijuana and more than 19 times likelier to use cocaine”.

– Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA Chairman and President

Read more Purim and The Search for Yossi

Drinking On Purim – Old Lows or New Highs

Rugby and beer go together. There’s nothing like an ice cold beer after a hard rugby game. It soothes your aching, wounded body. It makes you relax. After a couple of beers you feel strong again, almost ready for another game or some other adventure. That’s the problem with alcohol, it clouds your judgment. It makes you think you are a different person than you really are. Maybe that’s part of its appeal. We can escape our lives and be someone else, even it is only for a while. I used to enjoy a beer or two after a game, but I saw too many rugby players and others, become a little too adventurous for my liking, to allow myself to get into that situation.

On Purim, we also drink and we also pretend we are someone else. We dress up in costume. But there’s a very important difference. On Purim, we are trying to find out who we really are. We are trying to strip away the external layers which hold us back from getting closer to G-d. That’s why when a true talmid chacham, a Torah scholar, drinks on Purim, what comes out of his mouth is no different than on a regular day. Because who he is internally, is exactly who he is externally.
Read more Drinking On Purim – Old Lows or New Highs

Living History

Mordechai and Esther's TombToday I was speaking with a business associate who mentioned that his father was born and raised in Hamadan, Iran also known as Shush or Shushan HaBira–the setting for the Purim drama. Hamadan is located between Teheran and Iran’s western border with Iraq. He mentioned that his father is very proud of his birthplace–Hamadan literally means “place of knowledge” and its inhabitants were generally regarded as very intelligent. Interestingly, Hamadan was the first Iranian province to allow Jews to own property. He also mentioned that Esther and Mordechai are the most popular names for Jews born in Hamadan and he himself has numerous relatives bearing these names.

The ancient wooden tombs of Esther and Mordechai still lay, side by side, today in Hamadan under a simple brick dome. One tomb, draped in shimmering cloths, is labelled “Esther” in English and Hebrew. The other, draped in vibrant colors, reads “Mordechai” in English and Hebrew.

Who Turned Off the Lights?

Today is the first of Adar. As you are likely aware, that marks the beginning of a month of increased simcha (joy). The first of Adar is also the date that Hashem wrought the maka of choshech– the Plague of Darkness — on Egypt.

As Adar begins, we begin our preparation for Purim. (I already began scarfing hamentshen). I’m wondering what the connection is between darkness and simcha/Purim. One thing I can see (pun intended) is that Adar is the month where we see through the darkness of the world and perceive what is really going on. Just like during the makka of choshech, even in a world of darkness, we have the ability to see things clearly. Anyone else care to take a stab at this seemingly contradictory connection?