Enhancing Exuberance

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26 Feb 2018

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

            “Mishenichnas Adar marbin b’simcha/From the arrival of the month on Adar we increase joy.” This well known Chazal seems to be the linchpin for all the Purim festivities. But, as Rabbi Rothberg notes in Moda Labinah.[quoting Rashi] the motto talks not about the one day of Purim, but rather about a continuous process that begins on Rosh Chodesh Adar and goes through Pesach, from the hidden miracles of Purim through the overt miracles of Pesach. What is the essence of this joy, and how can we keep it going?

            The simcha of Jews is inherently different from the simcha of the rest of the world. When other nationalities celebrate, a business success or victory for example, eating and drinking pretty much completes their celebration. For Jews, however, celebration means understanding Hashem’s role in the victory, and instituting rituals and laws that will cement this understanding and joy for all generations. It is in this context that the true joy of Purim is embodied in our re-acceptance of the Torah. Further, the acceptance of Torah on that first Purim was fundamentally different from our acceptance of Torah at Sinai. At Sinai, our acceptance was under duress, either physical or psychological (How could we refuse after all the overt miracles Hashem did on our behalf?) At Purim we willingly accepted the Torah out of love, knowing and feeling that Hashem is always with us and watching over us, preventing our destruction, even in seemingly natural ways.

            Our celebration of Purim and the very mitzvoth associated with Purim are meant to mirror perfectly Haman’s plan for our annihilation. Haman wanted lehashmid, laharog ule’abeid et kol HaYehudim ushellalam lavoz/To destroy, murder, and eradicate all the Jews – and plunder their possessions. In Removing the Mask, Rabbi Immanuel Bornstein uses The Vilna Gaon’s analysis to explain this language and its relationship to our Purim rituals and festivities.  First, he explains that there are four different aspects to man’s existence. There is his body, his nefesh/life force, his neshama/spriritual soul, and finally his possessions. These four elements parallel the four parts of Haman’s plan. Haman wanted lehashmid/to destroy the spiritual neshama; he wanted laharog/to murder the nefesh/life force; le’abeid/to eradicate the body and leave no evidence of their existence. Finally, he wanted to plunder their possessions/ushellalm lavoz, to absorb their possessions into the general population so that even the evidence of their ever having existed would be erased.

            Our Purim mitzvoth parallel these four elements and are therefore perfectly matched for our celebration. Megillah reading satisfies our spiritual need to recount the miracle of our redemption. Feasting satisfies the need for our bodies to feel redeemed. Rejoicing makes us feel more alive, and giving gifts to each other and to the poor expresses our ownership of our possessions and ability to make decisions about them.

            While every one of our holidays includes specific mitzvoth incumbent on us for its observance, there is a difference between the mitzvoth of the other holidays and those of Purim. Yes, we are required to take a lulav and etrog on Sukkot, and we are required to eat matzah on Pesach, but these mitzvoth do not define the day, notes Rabbi Shneur Kotler in Noam Siach. And although we are commanded to rejoice on our holidays, that rejoicing does not connote its essence. In contrast, Purim is defined by rejoicing. We are commanded to make the day itself a day of rejoicing. In that respect, we are to make it a day of rejoicing for all, not just for ourselves. We are to embrace members of our community, especially those on the fringes who may feel downtrodden or friendless by including them in our mishloach manot. We are to give joy to the poor, the orphan, the widow who may not have the wherewithal to buy delicacies on Purim, or perhaps even to pay for necessities, by giving them gifts and dignity. We create more joy by giving to the poor than by creating very elaborate mishloach manot baskets beyond simplcity to share our friendship with others. Simcha is about making other people happy.

            There are actually two parallel motifs in the Purim tapestry, writes Rabbi Roth z:l in Sichot Eliyahu. We certainly have the motif of reestablishing our relationship with Hakadodsh Boruch Hu as we accepted the Torah anew. But we also have the motif of establishing and cementing relationships between man and his fellow man, and Rabbi Roth z”l, citing Rambam, maintains that the interpersonal motif is primary. When one rejoices, one does it with others. When one brought the chagigah offering to the Temple on yom tov, he was enjoined from eating it alone. He was commanded to invite the poor and the orphans to share the meal with him. In this way, he would emulate Hakodosh Boruch Hu Who brings life to the downtrodden and unfortunate.

            How is Purim meant to be a day on which we should resemble the Shechinah/Holy Presence? Further, how can we compare Purim to Yom KiPur(im), continues Rabbi Roth z”l? On Yom Kippur we resemble angels who neither eat nor drink, but on Purim we’re even greater than angels since we are acting in ways that are similar to God’s presence and bringing simcha to others.

            Since we are created in the image of God and are told to emulate God, we, like Hashem, will want to give, writes Rav Aharon Kotler z”l. Giving fills one with happiness as it fills others with happiness and fulfills man’s mission.

             But we are physical bodies as well as spiritual beings. There is a constant conflict between one’s egocentricity and his care for others, notes the Sichot Eliyahu. The body is about me, while the soul is about giving to others. But on Purim, the body and soul work together, as the body also recognizes that the greatest joy is in giving to others. On Purim we chose to accept the Torah out of love, we chose to emulate Hakodosh Boruch Hu and be like Him, to be givers and make others happy. These feelings start with the beginning of Adar, exercising the “giving” muscles, and continue through Pesach when we donate maot chitim to help others buy matzoh and other Pesach necessities. On Purim, we should be filled and reflect joy both when we give and when we receive mishloach manot. My focus should be on making others happy.

            As noted earlier, there is an obligation to be joyous on the three festivals, but the Purim joy rises above the others. Rabbi Rothberg explains that the greatest joy is one that is earned. Therefore, joy is mentioned not even once in relation to Pesach, only once in relation to Shavuot, and twice in relation to Sukkot, while Purim day is total joy. Let us examine this concept more closely. Pesach was a total gift from Hashem We stood in silent awe as Hashem brought plague after plague upon Egypt, finally delivering us from bondage without any effort on our part. Our redemption was a total gift without any effort on our part. For Shavuot, we did work on perfecting ourselves for forty-nine days, putting in some effort, but the Luchot of that day were still totally God’s gift to us. Sukkot is the culmination of the second Luchot which we received on Yom Kippur, Tablets hewn by Moshe’s own hand and tremendous work on Bnei Yisroel’s part to earn back God’s Presence. But even then, the Luchot were a gift. In contrast to all these, on Purim we initiated the acceptance of the Torah ourselves, earning the right to the greatest joy. Further, just as at Sinai Bnei Yisroel were united as one man with one heart, adds Rav Rothberg, on Purim we were again united as one man with one heart. The process that began with Pesach comes full circle on Purim.

            In this vein, Rabbi Pincus z”l sees the essence of Purim as being renewal. By attending Ahashuerosh’s festivities that celebrated the destruction of the Beit Hamikdosh, Bnei Yisroel had cut themselves off from holiness and killed their inner essence. Their re-acceptance of the Torah brought about their resurrection. This reconnection with Hashem was the source of great joy. Purim’s essence, then, is renewal, and any act or ritual that fosters this renewal, when approached with proper contemplation, can be the source of great joy, teaches Rav Dessler z”l. The Sanctification of the New Moon is perhaps the most obvious example, but one can focus on a single verse in our prayers or the performance of any mitzvah, and transform it from rote to contemplation and reconnection to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Connect to a particular verse and make it your own, your mantra. And start thinking about what we are saying to God as we pray. Rabbi Pincusz”l points out, from the Chofetz Chaim z”l, that when we are reciting the blessing of Hatov vehaMeitiv in the Birkat Hamazon/Grace After Meals, we are making fifteen requests of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. How many of us are aware of these requests, or are they lost in our rote recitation? Simcha comes from attentiveness and mindfulness in our lives. It brings renewal to our lives. At least on this day, writes Rabbi Weissblum, let us pray with intention, for Hashem has opened His treasure house for us, and every prayer brings with it connection.

            Human beings are egotistical and think that everything revolves around us. We worry about everything, even about how others are to blame for things. We forget that Hashem controls everything. Reading the Megillah restores our faith in Hakodosh Boruch Hu, in the knowledge that He runs the world, writes Rabbi Moshe Schwab z”l. Both Haman and his wife Zeresh made elaborate plans to destroy the Jews, but Hashem foiled their plans. When we live with complete faith that Hashem writes the megillah of our own lives as well as the Megillah of Purim we remain calm, serene, and joyous.

            Adding to this idea, the Slonimer Rabbi notes that even when a decree is “signed and sealed”, we must maintain our faith that everything Hashem does is for the good, and that He can change the outcome even at the last moment. It was Mordechai’s faith that rescinded Haman’s decree, and every Purim we too have the ability to change the decrees against us by our working to draw closer to Hashem through our love for Him. On Purim, our attempts at breaking down the wall between Hashem and ourselves works as quickly as dynamite, unlike on Yom Kippur when we must disassemble the wall one brick at a time. We have a full fourteen days to begin the project from the first day of Adar, and it can continue through Pesach. After all, writes Rabbi Aryeh Shapiro in Chazon Lamoed, Adar is when the Aloof/King Dar/lives among us.

            When we reaffirmed our faith in God and His Torah on Purim, we revealed God’s presence behind the mask of the natural world. He is always close to us, writes Rabbi Tatz, for if He were far, He would not need a mask to be hidden from us. The distance would achieve that. When we are certain of His presence in every natural coincidence, in nature itself, we have destroyed the doubt that is the hallmark of every Haman and Amalek.

            Hashem observes and loves every one of our actions, even the actions of a Haman. When Haman led Mordechai through the streets of Shushan in such honor and pomp, Haman experienced one moment of teshuvah, of the thought that perhaps there was a Master running the world. For this momentary positive thought, posits Rav Biederman in Be’er Chaim, Haman was rewarded that his descendents studied and taught Torah in Bnei Brak. In fact, in an ironic twist, it was a descendent of Haman, Rav Yehudah bar Shilat, who coined the phrase that is the theme of this essay, “Mishenichnas Adar marbin b’simcha/From the arrival of the month on Adar we increase joy.”

            One should never minimize even the smallest of his deeds. Bnei Yisroel was worthy of destruction for participating in the feast of Ahashuerosh that mocked the  prophecy of Israel’s return and denied the existence of God. Why were they saved? That “pintele yid” emerged on the seventh day, writes Rav Meislish. Even while sitting at Ahashuerosh’s table, they remembered Shabbat by singing zemirot and talking divrei Torah.

            There is simcha in being a simple Jew who has a relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. On Purim, we enhance this simcha through giving to each other, through renewed faith in Hashem as the center of our lives, and through the sense of rejuvenation that this faith brings.

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