Did you ever wonder what it is about Purim that generates so much joy
and happiness? What is it about this holiday that differentiates it
from all others ? that seems to speak to Jews of all ages and
backgrounds? It is a mitzvah to be happy on Passover and Sukkot as
well, yet despite our best efforts, we don’t always manage to attain
the level of happiness that Purim seems to trigger automatically.
What supernatural power was invested in the Purim miracle that led the
Sages to declare that its commemoration would endure for all time?
Perhaps the reason for its universal and timeless appeal is that
everyone can relate to the Megillah. We all know someone who reminds us
of one or another of the Purim protagonists and villains. We can all
point to someone we can compare to Achashveirosh, a fickle person
straddling both sides of the fence, usually making a foolish spectacle
of himself. Vashtis abound. We all know someone whom we can caricature
as Haman, and we often see virtuous Mordechai-like figures ridiculed,
even by their own constituents.
Often we find ourselves in dire situations from which escape seems
impossible without Divine intervention. We have nowhere to turn for
rescue. Purim tells us never to give up hope. Purim teaches us that all
that transpires in this world is part of a Divine plan. Everything will
turn out for the good, if we are only patient and follow G-d’s word.
The Purim expression, “v’nahafoch hu,” it was turned about, reminds us
that God can bring about a stunning reversal of a nation’s destiny in
the blink of an eye.
We are commanded to drink wine ? to celebrate the miracle of Purim and
to savor the joy of knowing that we are under God’s constant
supervision even when His presence is hidden ? so much wine that we can
no longer differentiate between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be
Mordechai.” Of course, this injunction must be carried out responsibly
and in the context of the festive Purim meal.
But why do the Sages say that losing the awareness of the difference
between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai” is the yardstick
that determines that one has fulfilled his obligation? Should one
become inebriated to such a degree?
Throughout the year, we are confronted with all kinds of people
representing the vast spectrum of human behavior ? from righteous and
noble to incorrigibly evil, and the many shades of gray in between.
Because the Torah expects us to embrace good and reject evil, it is
imperative that we train ourselves to discern one from the other.
Because evil often masquerades as virtue, the task of unmasking the
imposter is often extremely difficult. It demands constant vigilance
and sensitivity, as well as emotional and intellectual honesty. Once a
year we are released from this demanding task, and that is on Purim,
when one is, in fact, instructed to become so intoxicated that one
confuses Haman and Mordechai.
But this once-a-year release only underscores the extreme importance of
our mandate during the rest of the year: to constantly scrutinize
ourselves and our surroundings in order to guard against evil in its
myriad guises. We live in a time where up is down and down is up. We
have to resist being influenced by societal pressures.
How are we supposed to maintain equilibrium in a topsy-turvy world? How
are we supposed to trust that good will be victorious over evil? When
good things happen to bad people and bad things to good people, the
Megillah reminds us that appearances are deceptive, that the wheel of
fortune is manipulated by God for His own purposes. The Megillah
reminds us that all that happens is part of a Divine plan that we can’t
expect to understand until the entire story has unfolded. The evil
force may appear to be advancing, but it is only in order for Divine
Providence to set that power up for a more drastic descent to the
destruction. Evil may be on the rise, but it is a passing phenomenon,
destined to fail…
That message resonates for all time, wherever Jews find themselves. As
we masquerade about, exchanging mishloach manos (food gifts) with
friends and distributing charity to the less fortunate, we tap into the
holiness of the holy day. That message never loses its timeliness.
Every year we gain a new appreciation of what took place in those
critical times and of its relevance to us today. We also gain a new
perspective. Was Haman consumed by hatred or was it jealousy that drove
him mad? Was he a megalomaniac? Or was he just a generic anti-Semite?
Perhaps he was all of the above.
The lesson for us is that we should avoid all these forms of evil.
Humility might have saved Haman, as would have his high status as a
trusted confidant of King Achashveirosh, had he been satisfied with
that prestige. Had he been less greedy for power, he might not have
suffered a devastating downfall, and would not have ended up on the
gallows. Had he not been in such a mad rush for power he could have
steadily continued climbing up the corporate ladder until he reached
the topmost rung. He would have remained there at the height of power
instead of ending up dangling from the end of a rope.
As we read the story of Purim we think of people we know who engage in
self-destructive behavior, and we thank God that we are not like them.
We internalize the tale and take its message to heart, and feel
grateful for the clarity that enables us to be happy with our lot.
Often we wish we had the courage to do what is right, but we are
worried about the repercussions. What will people say about us?…
Then we read the Megillah and study the various Midrashim about what
Mordechai did and realize that his actions, though unpopular when he
did them, in fact led to the rescue of the Jewish people. Not everyone
in his time agreed with him, but he was vindicated by the Megillah and
by history. This is not to be understood as giving blanket permission
for headstrong, irresponsible behavior, but rather to convey the truth
that when one acts according to Jewish tradition, one need not fear
Mordechai’s words, “and who knows whether it was just for such a time
as this that you attained the royal position” (Esther 4:14), resonate
in the ears of every Jew who is about to make a fateful decision. As
one weighs the risks of taking the more ambitious but nobler route,
Mordechai’s profound words prod him on. They are an eternal charge
inspiring one to be undaunted by the obstacles in one’s path, and
rather to pour one’s energies into productive projects that benefit
themselves and/or our people.
Esther was afraid that she was doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Mordechai was prompting her to appeal to Achashveirosh eleven months
prior to the date Haman had chosen to annihilate the Jewish people. She
would have preferred to delay, in the hope that between Nissan and the
following Adar there would be a more opportune time for her to appeal
on behalf of her brethren. Why did it have to be then?
The tendency to postpone doing what we know we should do immediately is
familiar to most of us. We say that tomorrow will be a better time. We
say we have several months during which to get the task/project done
and maybe next week we will feel more inclined; perhaps next month the
other party will be more receptive, why rush into it now? Mordechai’s
message calls out to us, telling us, “Now is the time. Don’t push it
off. Don’t find excuses to do it some other time. Time is of the
Esther is tested time and again throughout the Megillah. Each time it
appears as if there is no way she can outmaneuver the evil facing her.
But she is the heroine of the story because she is galvanized by her
hopes rather than by her fears. She relies upon the sage counsel of her
uncle. With Mordechai supporting her, she refuses to allow fear to
Faced with situations from which we think there is no way we can
extricate ourselves without getting hurt, we can remember Queen Esther
and gain strength from the knowledge that she, by doing the right
thing, saved her people from certain destruction. By following
Mordechai’s instructions, she became immortalized in the consciousness
of the Jewish people as a righteous and strong woman who put the fate
of her people ahead of her own personal safety and happiness.
The Jews of Shushan, too, taught us a message that echoes down through
the ages. They had given up all hope. They felt doomed. The lot was
drawn and their fate was sealed. But Mordechai and Esther taught them
the power of prayer and fasting… A day marked for sadness and death
was transformed into a day of celebration and deliverance. During the
rest of the year we may become despondent and lose our smiles, but on
Purim we are reminded never to become depressed or downcast. We all
have problems, but on Purim we are reminded that just as our ancestors
were delivered from despair, so, too, can we be relieved of our
day-to-day burdens. The sun will shine again, good will triumph over
It’s Purim. Come on, lift up your feet and dance, erase your frowns and
turn them into smiles. Let the happiness overcome the sadness today,
and every day. Look at the positive and not at the negative; be
optimistic, not pessimistic. Let the spirit (and spirits!) of Purim
pervade your psyche and influence your outlook. Joy is contagious. It
happened in Shushan. It can happen here.
Reprinted with permission from InnerNet.org