THE BA’ALEI HAKABALAH discovered mystical associations and parallels between Purim and Yom Kippurim. The initial kaf in Kippurim indicates that Yom Kippurim is a “day like Purim,” What a strange association! To think that the awesome Yom Kippur is in any way similar to the joyous and boisterous Purim! To imagine that the most solemn and serious day of the year is similar to the most raucous and frivolous day! In what way does Yom Kippur resemble Purim? What did the mystics really mean? Rabbi Soloveitchik found two similarities between these two days which only superficially are really very different. He says, “Perhaps the feature common to both Purim and Yom Kippur is that aspect of Purim which is a call for Divine compassion and intercession, a mood of petition arising out of great distress.” On Yom Kippur too, “the prayerful mood of Yom Kippur emerges out of a sense of spiritual anxiety and the desperate need for reconciliation with God.”
But this great human dependence upon God, synonymous with the very fabric of Purim and intertwined with the essence of Yom Kippur, is even more readily apparent in the second similarity pointed out by the Rav. Both Purim and Yom Kippur “involve the casting of lots (goral) characteristic of games of chance. As for the Purim goral it determined the date chosen by Haman for the destruction of the Jews.” For the Yom Kippur Temple service, two male goats, identical in appearance, size, and value, were brought, one marked “unto the Lord,” and the other was hurled to its destruction. How was it decided which shall live and which shall die? Rashi describes the fateful casting of lots:
He placed one goat at his right and the other at his left. He then put both his hands into an urn and took one lot in his right hand and the other in his left. These he placed on them. The goat upon which fell the lot bearing the inscription Lashem was for the Lord, and that bearing for Azazel was later sent forth to Azazel (Rashi, Lev. 16:8).
What then is the similarity between the pur, the goral of Purim and the casting of lots on Yom Kippur? Both point to man’s basic condition of vulnerability, insecurity, and fickleness. The whole Purim story is filled with unreasonable, absurd, irrational events. One day Jews are secure in Persia; the next day they face destruction. One day Mordechai faces execution, the next day he is Prime Minister. Haman’s conspiracy against the Jews emanates from nowhere. Thus, he needs to draw lots when to kill them. There’s no rational reason or event leading to the execution. “Purim, therefore,” the Rav explains, “epitomizes the instability, uncertainty, and vulnerability which characterize human life generally but particularly govern the destiny of the Jews. . . . It alerts the Jew to the sudden turns of fortune, lurking dangers, the fickleness of life, even as the goral itself seems to operate through blind chance.”
Why does man sin? Why do two brothers, twins perhaps, or two youngsters brought up in the same community, turn out so different, one a tzadik, the other a rasha? Pressures, temptations, lures of intoxicating pleasures, appeals of political and social ideologies, home background, lack of moral instruction or inspiration, changing fortunes, pressing circumstances-these and more are all part of human vulnerability, acknowledged by God while at the same time forgiven by Him.
Yes, they are twins, but the difference in environment affected their personalities. So many chance circumstances affect the direction of life. So much of what one ultimately becomes is a goral which propels one in various directions. “It is because of this,” says the Rav, “that man can stand before the Heavenly Bar of Justice, hoping for compassion and forgiveness. Despite his free will and accountability for his deeds, man enters his plea before the Almighty, claiming that he is not the author and designer of the worldly pleasures that were too powerful for him to resist.” The temptations were all part of the big goral.
Yom Kippur then is very much like Purim. Both involve the Pur-the big goral. All the unknowns, the irrationals of life, portrayed in every fabric of the Purim tapestry on a communal-national level, repeat themselves in the daily routine of everyman’s life, thus compelling man to seek God’s compassion and forgiveness on Yom Kippur. In a sense everyday is Purim; tumult, confusion, uncertainty, lurking dangers and temptations. Every night is Yom Kippur; regret, sorrow, insecurity, a need for understanding, sensitivity, compassion, and forgiveness.
The very striking similarities, then, between Purim and Yom Kippur are clearly defined by Rabbi Soloveitchik. What has always troubled me however, about the mystics’ statement that Purim k’Purim, that Purim is a day like Yom Kippur, is whether they meant that Yom Kippur is similar to Purim, or are Yom Kippur and Purim actually one and the same? The Gaon of Vilna taught that there are two exceptions to the well-known principle that every Yom Tov is devoted half to God and half to our pleasures and enjoyment, chatzi La’Shem V’chatzi lachem. The exceptions, he said, are Yom Kippur, devoted exclusively to matters of God and spirit, and Purim, devoted primarily to physical pleasures, such as mishloach manot and matanot l’evyonim. Whereas on all other holidays we observe mitzvot commanded by God, we pray, read the Torah and study, while at the same time we eat festive meals, make Kiddush, dress beautifully, and share worldly pleasures, Yom Kippur is all spirit and Purim is all pleasure. What happened to the rule of chatzi La’Shem V’chatzi Lachem? Why doesn’t it apply on Yom Kippur and Purim? Because, the Gaon says, Purim k’Purim, both of these days are in reality two halves of one day, and on this very unique day composed of half Purim and half Kippurim, indeed we do have chatzi La’Shem vchatzi Lachem. A very deep concept, indeed.
What the Gaon means, I believe, is that Purim is the actualization or realization of Yom Kippurim. Purim is the flesh on the soul of Yom Kippur. Purim is the gashmiyot. Yom Kippur is the ruchantyot. But in this world gashmiyot and ruchantyot must be integrated and synthesized in one being. There are those Jews who live a Yom Kippur existence. They are removed from worldly affairs. They learn, pray, fast, observe, but not much more lest they sin and have to “klap” more Al Chet. They eat minimally. It may not be sufficiently kosher. They drink little. They may become intoxicated. They enjoy little of God’s world. They may be enticed and overwhelmed. These all-year-round Yom Kippur Jews have little confidence in their abilities to make it in this physical world. Every night is Kol Nidre night. They go to sleep in their kitel.
On the other hand there are the all-year-round Purim Jews. Their life is one continuous joke. They eat, drink, and are merry. They constantly drown out the soul’s demands and expectations with their hand-made groggers. They refuse to remove their masks, so they would be able to find out what the spirit wants. All-year-round Purim Jews can never distinguish between “Blessed be Mordechai” and “Cursed be Haman.” Their favorite tune is “A gantz yohr Purim.” They sing with rock volume, laugh hysterically, and are too drunk to think rationally.
The truth is, however, as the Gaon put it, that Purim k’Purim means that the normal Jew’s goal is to make every Purim partially Kippurim, and to create a partial Purim out of every Kippurim. Judaism expects that we always worship God with Joy-ivdu et Hashem b’simcha. Judaism anticipates a sense of optimism and hope even in the midst of Yom Kippur. Judaism ushers in the ecstasy of Purim with the serenity of the Fast of Esther. Judaism teaches that Yom Kippur begins on the ninth of Tishrei with plenty of food and drink. Judaism expects that the very end of Yom Kippur is the very beginning of building the sukah, the holiday of simchateinu, our joy. Normal Judaism seeks a sense of balance between joy and serenity, between physical pleasure and spiritual eternity. Because we understand the fragility of all physical relationships, because there is no moment of joy without its memory of sadness, because despite personal happiness we live in the midst of universal tragedy, and because we continue to mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple, the conclusion of the public wedding ceremony, the greatest moment of personal joy, is the groom’s breaking of a glass, the absolute signal of mourning. While standing under the chupah merging so much joy and hope and love, the groom’s head is covered with ashes symbolic of grief, destruction, and mourning.
Purim and Kippurim stand under one roof, embodied in one synthesized and integrated human being, composed of smiles and tears, memories and hopes, anxieties and cheers, body and soul, tuxedo and kitel. After all, the very day of greatest joy, the wedding day, is also a mini-Yom Kippur for every bride and groom. They fast. They recite Al Chet. Their personal Purim is a Yom Kippurim.
The Kotzker Rebbe once told his Chassidim about his son-in-law, the Avnei Nezer. “Do you know why the Rav of Beila, the Avnei Nezer’s father, merited to have such a son? It happened on a Purim when all the scholarly and righteous Jews were so deeply involved and engrossed in the Purim seudah that there wasn’t one Jew anywhere in the entire world learnin Torah that hour, except the Rav of Beila. This was taken note of in the Heavens, where it was pointed out that if not for him the entire world would have been void of Torah that hour. Therefore, he was rewarded with a son who would shine the world with his Torah holiness.”
Purim k’Purim means recognizing Kippurim consequences on Purim and sensing Purim emotions on Kippurim.