Parshas Ki Sisa
The True Purim Experience
They got up early the next day and offered burnt-offerings and
brought peace-offerings. The people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose
up to make merry. (Shemos 32:6)
This Shabbos is Shushan Purim Katan. This means that had it not been a
Jewish leap year, it would be Purim, at least for those people living in
cities whose walls date back to the time of Yehoshua bin Nun. However, being
Shabbos, they would celebrate Purim on Sunday instead.
But, even though it is not Purim until next month, it is still a holy day
today, or rather, an even holier day, since it is also Shabbos, and a time
for additional joy. It is a time to make merry, as the verse above mentions,
except not in the way that the people of the golden calf did. Their party
led to their deaths; ours has to lead to a higher level of spiritual existence.
This is different from the oneg of Shabbos and the simchah of Yom Tov. On
Shabbos there is a mitzvah of oneg, to do those activities, or to eat those
foods, that give us physical pleasure, provided that they can be used to
increase our sense of oneness with God, and our appreciation of the holiness
Though we partake of physical pleasures on Yom Tov as well, the mitzvah is
one of simchah, that is, to get into an intellectual mindset that throws us
back to Temple times. This is why eating meat and drinking wine is more of a
mitzvah of Yom Tov, because the meat is an allusion to the sacrifices that
were brought up to the Temple of Yom Tov, and the wine alludes to the
libation that accompanied the sacrifices.
However, mishteh is a different experience, as is Purim. For, as the Leshem
explains, the holiday of Purim is rooted in the sefirah of Chochmah—Wisdom
—which is why it is the last holiday to go. Even after Yom Kippur no longer
requires a special day to access its holy light in the eighth millennium,
Purim will still be a unique time. Only in the ninth millennium will the
light of Purim shine everyday, at a very advance stage of Olam HaBah—the
This means that when Purim occurs for us now, a spiritual portal opens up
that allows us access to the light of the ninth millennium, the light of the
sefirah of Chochmah. This is not true for Shabbos, which gives us access to
the light of the seventh millennium for a day, or Yom Kippur, which gives us
access to the light of the eighth millennium for a day.
Purim, it seems, is the World-to-Come incognito. Indeed, so-much-so that
many people who celebrate it miss the portal altogether, either because
their celebration of Purim more closely resembles the one in this week’s
parshah before the golden, or their Purim is so subdued it could almost be
confused for Yom Kippur.
What is the key to unlocking the true Purim experience?
The Talmud says regarding a child in the womb about to be born:
A candle is lit on his head and he is able to see from one end of the
world until the other end … There isn't a better period for a person than
these days ... They teach him all of Torah ... and as he enters the world,
an angel hits him on his mouth and he forgets it. (Niddah 30b)
Forgets it? Completely? What was the point of teaching the unborn child all
of Torah in the first place if not for it to enter the world already knowing
all of Torah, at least on some level? If so, then what was the cause of
forgetfulness, and why must a person undergo this process?
Almost everyone has seen a picture of a fetus in the womb, suspended in
liquid, dormant. If we didn’t know better, we’d think that the baby, even
just moments away from delivery, wasn’t alive, God forbid. Yet, as the baby
enters the outside world, all of a sudden it wakes up, and in a big way. As
it gasps for air it cries, and it continues to cry until it finally calms down.
From that point onward, life outside the womb is nothing like it was on the
inside. The body that was dormant is now very much alive, demanding
attention, stealing the show to such an extent that it can be quite easy to
forget that it is merely a house for the soul inside of it. In fact, as the
baby becomes a child, then an adolescent, then a teenager, and finally an
adult, the prominence of the body become even stronger as the need for
independent survival increases the involvement of the body in everyday affairs.
“I remember those days in the womb,” the soul says with a sad fondness.
“Those were the days when the body was neutral, and we didn’t have a
physical care in the world! In fact,” the soul continues, “I was the main
event, as angels came down and shared the entire Torah with me, greatly
enhancing my relationship with God and my sense of self.”
“But then came birth,” the soul continues, with a sense of sad withdrawal.
“All of a sudden, I had no one to talk to … no one with whom I could share
my knowledge and experiences. When I want to speak, I have to do it through
a body that can’t even talk intelligently. When I want to pursue greater
spiritual heights, this body to which I am attached, and which feeds off of
me for survival, chases after the material world instead. It should be
asking me for directions in life, but instead I am forced to follow its
It’s like interviewing a brilliant man, who happened to bring along his
agent. Even though you pose the questions to the brilliant man, the agent
always jumps in and answers instead, obviously not to the same degree that
his client would, given the chance. Even the genius gets frustrated, because
though he keeps opening his mouth to answer a question, he can’t a word in
Likewise, the soul would like to speak, but every time it tries to, the body
jumps in and steals the show, usually misrepresenting it. How many times the
soul must cringe when it hears what the body has to say on behalf of both of
them. How often the soul must want to escape and run the other way when it
sees what the body is up to, and the way it is behaving.
I created the yetzer hara and I created Torah as its spice.
A spice can work in one of two ways. Either it can enhance the taste of
something that is weak, or it can weaken the taste of something that is
strong. This is why the rabbis chose the word ‘spice’ to refer to Torah, and
not something more vague. They are indicating that Torah can be used to
either spiritually strengthen a person where they are weak, or to weaken the
yetzer hara when it is too strong, and in some cases, even neutralize it for
a period of time.
For example, the mitzvah of tefillin puts a person in a spiritual frame of
mind that makes it easier to think like God, as does the learning of Torah.
Other mitzvos create an environmental change, such as Shabbos and Yom Tov,
that have the same effect on a more public scale. They create a tefillin
effect in an all-encompassing way, allowing a person to reach greater
heights of spiritual consciousness, neutralizing the body at least to the
extent that it is forced—depending upon how seriously one takes Shabbos and
Yom Tov— to take a break from mundane activities for about 25 hours.
But I have been a lot of Shabbos tables, and on many occasions, the body
still fought to steal the show. For Shabbos to really work, everyone has to
be on the same spiritual page, or close to it. Otherwise, while some of the
people at the table are trying to have a spiritual experience, others keep
trying to turn the Shabbos table into a more mundane, week-like activity.
Shabbos is a compromise between the body and the soul. The soul says to the
body, like a mother might say to her complaining child, “If you behave
yourself, I’ll feed you well.” The soul tells the body, “You let me do my
thing on Shabbos, and I will reward you with things that you like to do,
like eating good food, for example.”
But, just as a child has difficultly keeping his word sometimes, being a
child, the body can also have difficulty sticking to its part of the
bargain, even though the soul has, and still on Shabbos act occasionally
below par. I have witnessed first hand at my own Shabbos table how easily
things can become undone, and the next thing you know you are struggling to
resume a higher level of spirituality befitting Shabbos.
In the cartoons, when someone acted out of line and didn’t respond to polite
insistence, they bopped the person on the head, after which he usually saw
stars, heard birds chirping, and became totally submissive to the commands
of others. The hit on the head neutralized the personality of the obnoxious
person until only his most basic functions were working, allowing everyone
else to behave more naturally.
We may not knock the body out on Purim by hitting ourselves over the head,
but we do it with wine instead. The point of wine on Purim is to neutralize
the body, so that it steps aside for a period and lets the soul be itself.
With the proper amount of wine, a body seems content just to sit around and
Of course you have to be careful. Sometimes a body can get so drunk that it
becomes even more obnoxious than it was while sober. How many people have
had to carry their friends home, forced to listen to all kinds of abuse
while the person remained without his senses? How many Purims have been
ruined by people who drank for drinking’s sake, and became drunk to the
point of ridiculousness, if not worse. Instead of Purim, it was the golden
To help myself recall the point of the drinking on Purim, and to prepare
myself for a holy experience, I drink from my Shabbos Kiddush cup. In fact,
I set up my first drink as I do for Kiddush on Shabbos, and make a
declaration, before drinking the wine, what I intend to accomplish through
the drinking. Then, completely focused and with a tremendous sense gratitude
to God for allowing me to celebrate another Purim, I make my brochah very
slowly and with a tremendous amount of concentration.
I also begin my mishteh—drinking feast—with an agenda, what I hope to
spiritually accomplish that day, even preparing certain material to refer
to, if necessary. With my body neutralized, I plan to access that heavenly
knowledge, as much as possible, that angel shared with me inside the womb.
With the source of my forgetfulness on the sideline, it is far easier to
recall what I was once taught.
And lastly, it is important to surround yourself with like-minded people,
friends and family that can either give good divrei Torah or listen to them,
or ideally, both. With these elements in place, the rest of Purim seems to
take care of itself, and the feeling of pure simchah is tremendous.
I know I have been successful if, by the end of Ma’ariv that night, after I
have sobered up and Purim has clearly moved on for another year, I feel a
sense of spiritual accomplishment. If everything has gone right, then I will
have gained valuable insight into life that day, and that is what I will
take away even after Purim has passed.
For, when God sees people acting like souls, celebrating life for the sake
of becoming more God-like, then He opens up His well-springs of wisdom for
the souls that have gained their freedom, if only temporarily, and thirst
for soul-knowledge. It is such knowledge that allows a soul to grow, to
become rectified, and stronger to the point that even the body is forced to
move up a spiritual notch or two.
Text Copyright © 2011 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.