The Torah (Wisdom) of Loosening Up/Purim 2022-5782
The Rabbis tell us (Midrash Mishlei 9:1) that there are two holidays that will exist in the Olam Haba, in the world to come: Purim and Yom Hakippurim.
Now, one should wonder – beyond their continuity in the world to come, why are these two holidays brought together at all? After all, seemingly, they have nothing to do with each other. On the other hand, their names hint on some connection. Yom Kippurim can be read as a day “like Purim”.
Another layer of this connection can be found in the word “Pur”, which means fate. Facing our fate, individually in Yom Kippur, or in the context of the Megillah, the story of Purim, as a nation.
Arthur Green explains the words of the Sefat Emet regarding the meaning of this connection between Purim and Yom Kippurim:
[the Language of Truth, The Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger; Translated and Interpreted by Arthur Gree; p. 385]
“Purim here becomes a third festival of revelation. On Shavu’ot the original written Torah was revealed; because its light was too great for mortals to bear, the tablets had to be broken. Yom Kippur is the day of the second tablets, the Torah as restored by human participation in the revelatory event; it is thus the source of oral Torah. Purim hints at a third level, the revelation of a Torah beyond rules and statutes, Torah as the Tree of Life itself. This Torah is purely mystical; it is the name of God, that which was before the beginning and will finally be revealed only at the end. That is why we are taught that Purim, unlike the other holidays, will continue to exist even in messianic times.”
So, there was one revelation that was unbearable, thus we got the broken tablets. Then there was a second revelation that had human participation and in which we were given a second set of tablets. That revelation took place in Yom HaKippurim. Then, a third one took place, one beyond rules and statutes, that one happened on Purim.
Now, what is the meaning of a revelation that “happens beyond rules and statutes”?
On Yom HaKippurim we are commanded to retrospectively observe our life experiences and, as realistically as possible, we envision the narrative of a life in the light of Teshuva, of having found rectification and orientation. We fast and we wear white clothes, we practise abstinence and humble ourselves. The purpose of all these actions is to somehow help us fine-tune our lives and live in alignment with our souls.
Now if Yom HaKippurim is about connecting with our souls through structural purity, then the revelation of Purim is about connecting with our souls through disorganized, messy mundane experiences!
There are four main Mitzvot in Purim.
The reading of the Megillah is the reading of a story that we don’t really know if it indeed happened or not, but it is more than anything else the representation of the fantasy of a threatened minority, combined with a “Cinderella” kind of story. All those that are weak become powerful in this story.
The Mishteh, the banquet, is about rejoicing with food and drinks. It is not the kind of joy that we find in our daily meals but rather the one of guilty pleasure. Only that in Purim we do it without guilt.
The third one, Mishloach Manot the sending of the dishes, is about recognizing how fortunate we are and sharing our abundance with friends.
And the fourth one Matanot L’evionim – Gifts for the poor. Going back to Arthur Green’s explanation, beyond the obligation of Tzedakah that we have toward the needy in our society, Purim is about the giving of something that it is not an essential need but rather a pleasure.
Purim is about aligning with our souls through the power of imagination and fantasy. It is about letting go of the costume that we wear every day and allowing ourselves to wear the masks of our fantasies. It is about giving the space for those stories that might not be the reality of our lives but that do exist in the confinements of our souls. It is about saying “yes” to a guilty pleasure. It is about recognizing our fortune and gifting from our abundance only for the sake of sharing. It is about recognizing the needy not as the subject for the fulfillment of a Mitzvah but rather as a fellow human being. A human being that not only has essential needs but who is also deserving of delight.
In Yom Kippur we try to be realistic; In Purim we try to be imaginative.
In Yom Kippur we humble ourselves with our clothing and practice abstinence; In Purim we put ourselves out with our clothing and bring joy to our bodies with food and drinks.
In Yom Kippur we think of our relationships in an abstract realm; In Purim we are all about the tangibility of giving.
This year, as we celebrate Purim, let’s remember the deep meaning of this holiday. Let’s be imaginative, let’s allow ourselves some guilty pleasure, and let’s share in our abundance.
Let’s remember Purim’s sacred convocation to be serious about loosening up. Because, as we learned, in that convocation, in that messy and mundane place, there is an important Torah, a unique wisdom that is awaiting to be revealed.