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By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Light From Within Concealment 1

They speak of Purim only in superlatives. Its kedushah is unparalleled; it equals that of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. Its contribution to Tanach – Megilas Esther – is claimed to be endlessly current. (Rav Baruch of Mezhbozh explicated the Mishnah’s instruction concerning the proper reading of the Megilah: “One who reads it lemafreiya – out of order – does not fulfill his obligation.” [2] This means, he said, reading it and believing that it applies to an earlier time period, and not recognizing that it very much refers to the moment.)

As great as the day is, its special character remains elusive. We understand its message. But we know that each special day of the year conveys its own spiritual gift. That gift determines its avodah, which is to do what we must to best receive that gift. Just what is it that we are supposed to take away from Purim?

It really is not so difficult. In a word, the purpose of each of the Yomim Tovim is that each person “should appear before Hashem.” [3] Each of these days affords an opportunity to encounter Hashem and be elevated thereby. Yom Kippur stands out among them, as allowing the greatest growth, propelling a person to the greatest heights. Paradoxically, Purim takes note of our greatest deficiencies – and turns them around into elevation! The Torah’s allusion to Esther is through the word hester, or hiddenness. In a word, Purim changes the elements of greatest Divine hiddenness in our lives into spiritual elevation.

The Megilah is all about bottoming out. Its backdrop is a generation that in wholesale manner has given up on itself, to the extent that it participated in Achashverosh’s meal that celebrated his subjugation of the Jewish people. The leaders of the people were so devoid of confidence and self-worth, that to a man – with the sole exception of Mordechai – they bowed and prostrated themselves to their nemesis, Haman. Even Esther, when accepting the mission of intervention for her brothers and sisters, spoke in abject resignation: “And if I will be lost, I will be lost.” [4] The doubling of the word “lost” enlarges its meaning to include body and soul together.

This state of affairs repeats itself often, as periods of Divine hiddenness that take hold of us as individuals or as a community. This, then, is the essence of our avodah on Purim – fully realizing the potential to find great elevation at times of spiritual doldrums. Because Hashem’s purpose, as it were, in creating the world was to find a suitable space for His Presence in the lower worlds, the theme of Purim is eternal. The notion of creating greatness in a place of lowliness is inherent in Creation. Purim, leading us from the abyss to the heights, is forever.

We cannot escape the conclusion that Purim has special relevance in our troubled times. We lost one third of our people in the Holocaust, six million souls including the greater portion of our tzadikim and geonim, through cruelty never seen before in our history as a people. This was followed by spiritual darkness that none could have predicted, whereby the yetzer hora grasps even the talmidei chachamim with two arms – one a coolness in emunah, and the other the heat of passion for evil lusts and desires.

The lives of many individuals also follow a predictable trajectory. So long as a Jew retains the fullness of his spirit, he is capable of enduring all suffering that comes his way. But when it is decreed from Above that a person must endure the concealment of Hashem’s face from him, he is tested thereby with the spiritual suffering that comes from Hashem appearing distant to him. Afflicted thusly in body and in soul, a person comes to the conclusion that “it is because there is no G-d in my midst that all these evils have befallen me.” [5] Inexorably, what follow is “I will hasteir astir – certainly hide my Face on that day.” [6] The hiddenness is a double one, entailing both a dulled emunah and an impassioned pursuit of pleasure. (The Jewish soul is sourced in the upper world of pleasure, and therefore needs pleasure to thrive. When it cannot find permissible pleasures, it takes pleasure where it can, even from what is forbidden.)

These two factors taken together amount to Amalek, whose numerical equivalent is safek – doubt. When a Jew lives in the shadow of Divine concealment, when he ceases to feel closeness to Hashem, he begins to imagine a barrier between himself and G-d, and he starts to doubt the presence of Hashem in our midst. This doubt plunges him into the clutches of Amalek, which brings the damping of his emunah and the explosion of his lusts.

How do we begin the climb from bleakness to elevation? The Megilah not only shows that it can be done, but how to do it. “Mordechai cried a great and bitter cry.” [7] Crying out to Hashem is the beginning of redemption. Such a cry parts all the veils, smashes all the barriers between a person and his Creator. A cry that emanates from the soul of any Jew is more potent than all the forces of evil, stronger than the poison of Amalek and the designs of Haman. The cry may remain within, unheard by any person. It may come at a time that a person finds himself mired in defeat. (Consider the example of Esther. Chazal tell us that when she entered the room in which Achashverosh stored the royal idols, she felt the Shechinah suddenly bolt from her, and felt utterly alone and vulnerable. She therefore called out, “My G-d! My G-d! Why have You abandoned me?”) Crying out to Hashem is effective in all circumstances and at every level. It worked for our ancestors in Egypt; it worked for Moshe in defeating Amalek; it worked for Esther. Nothing stands in its path, although its effectiveness is linked to just how great and bitter it happens to be.

The cry and its potency are alluded to and invoked by the nexus of Parshas Zachor, the reading about Amalek on Purim day, and the reading of the Megilah. It is effective as well against the Amalek that dwells within us.

Beyond the cry that initiates the climb out of the pit, other Purim practices hint at the measures that take us yet higher. The Megilah calls the days of Purim days of happiness. Indeed, happiness is both possible and important even to the person for whom concealment of the Divine has been decreed. A person can find satisfaction with the Will of Hashem, and with the lot that is given him by that Will, even when on the face of things, that lot does not seem attractive. This is true of both material and spiritual aspects of his life.

Realizing that HKBH remains present despite His concealment is fundamental to this happiness and joy. Chazal allude to this when they tell us [8] that a person must read the Megilah at night and repeat it by day. The constant, dependable presence of G-d is with us always, whether at times that His light shines through, or whether at times that it is concealed and we live in darkness.

(We do not mean to say that recognizing His presence in the darkness of night is the sole challenge. Reacting appropriately to His presence in the brightness of the day is also an avodah. Bais Avrohom tell us that Yaakov’s reciting the Shema [9] at the precise moment that he was reunited with Yosef after so many years of longing and sadness was his way of taking his happiness and redirecting it to HKBH. Similarly, when Mordechai’s plight was turned into triumph, and he was led through the city by Haman in a regal procession, he also recited the Shema. Here too, he focused his joy on his relationship with Hashem. He did not simply accept Hashem’s gift to him with thanks, but insisted upon immediately putting it to good use.)

Seeing the presence of Hashem under all circumstances is ultimately the meaning of Chazal’s directive [10] to us to drink on Purim until we do not know the difference between “blessed is Mordechai” and “cursed is Haman.” We must rejoice on Purim till we no longer feel the difference between the Mordechai periods of our lives, when we merit insight and enlightenment, and the Haman periods, in which we find His presence concealed.

The mitzvos of mashloach manos and gifts to the poor allude to a second measure we must take in pulling ourselves up from the depths. Chazal direct us not to be evil to ourselves, in our own eyes. We can detect in this another meaning as well. Even if we are evil, we should be that way by ourselves. Attaching ourselves to others will be greatly beneficial in addressing our shortcomings.

We show our commitment to others in two ways, representing two different levels of cherishing others. On one level, we value our friends, those who are close to us by choice. We evidence that friendship in mashloach manos. A higher level of appreciation of others is shown by our gifts to the poor. Through this we show our ahavas Yisrael, our commitment to the Jewish people as a whole, including those we do not know at all.

On either level, we will gain from our involvement with others. It should not be surprising, then, that as we plod along in this period of ikvesa de-meshicha, when the concealment of Hashem’s light is greatest, that even our relationships with friends have become strained and difficult. The closeness between chaverim that was such an important part of even the recent past has been targeted by the yetzer hora. Diminishing it is one more method of the yetzer to plunge us into even greater darkness.

We are fortunate, indeed, that HKBH provides us the ohr of Purim once a year to turn the darkness of galus into light, and Chazal have mapped out the mitzvos that bring us to a destination of the achdus we need to see it.

1. Based on Nesivos Shalom, Purim pgs 17-21
2. Megilah 17A. The word connotes reverting to an earlier time
3. Devarim 16:16
4. Esther 4:16
5. Devarim 31:17
6. Devarim 31:18
7. Esther 4:1
8. Megilah 4A
9. Rashi, Bereishis 46:29
10. Megilah 7B
11. Avos 2:13

Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and