This is an abridged and edited version of a talk Ari Fuld HY”D gave on Purim on March 10, 2017.
It’s time for some Grill & Torah, and we’re talking about Purim.
The definition of a Jewish holiday is always “they came to kill us, we won, let’s eat.”
So the question is, what is so special about the holiday of Purim that we’re not only eating, but we’re drinking too.
In general, drinking is not looked upon as a positive thing in Judaism, except for on Shabbat and Holidays where you make a l’chaim and drink a little bit of wine. We know it says that wine is “sameach levav enosh” wine makes a person happy, but generally speaking Judaism never looks at getting drunk as something positive.
When the Temple stood, if someone drank wine they weren’t allowed to go into the Temple, according to several of the Mefarshim, the sages.
Nadav and Avihu, Aharon’s two sons, were actually killed in the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, because, according to some, they drank a little bit of wine before they went in, and it is absolutely prohibited to go into the Tabernacle or the Temple when you are drunk.
So what is the issue about drinking on this holiday of Purim?
I heard this really amazing Shiur [class] by one of the rabbis applying to be the rabbi of my shul, and the question he asked was a really interesting one.
It says, that at Mount Sinai, the nation of Israel, Am Yisrael, were under Har Sinai, and it says that HaKadosh Baruch Hu [God] lifted up the mountain Har Kigigit, like a roof over our heads, and said if you accept the Torah I am giving you, great, and if not, I will drop this mountain on your heads and your death will be here today.
So the question was asked, how does that fit in with the famous Midrash, where we learn that when Bnei Yisrael were offered the Torah from God, we said, “Naaseh v’Nishma” we will do, and will hear. In other words, we agreed to first follow the Torah and not ask questions, and only then we will learn about what we agreed to. And we’re praised for that many times for the fact that we didn’t ask questions, although Judaism is all about questions.
But now we learn that HaKadosh Baruch Hu lifted up the mountain like a roof over our heads, and said if you don’t accept the Torah I’m going to kill you right here. Where’s the big credit we deserve now? We really had no choice, He was going to kill us.
Our lives were on the line. A gun was put to our heads. If the mountain was brought up on the top of our heads like a roof and God said you either accept the Torah or I kill you right here, it’s not really that big of a deal that we accepted it right away. We really didn’t have a choice.
So the Jewish sages, the Mefarshim say, that during Purim, on the holiday of Purim, we accepted the Torah by choice. And there is a passage in the Megillah that “Kiblu” that we accepted the Torah by choice on Purim.
But that doesn’t explain why Purim is such an odd holiday, when in truth there are no miracles, there’s nothing that really happened.
If you look even at Chanukah, we know that at Chanukah we at least had the supernatural miracle of the oil being lit for eight days.
As mentioned before, Judaism does not consider getting drunk as a positive thing, and all of a sudden this holiday comes along and we’re supposed to get drunk, and seemingly lose control, which in Judaism is an absolute no-no.
Question one: We’re never supposed to lose control in Judaism. That’s what Judaism is about. We have the commandments to keep us in control. So what is this holiday all about?
Question two: There’s the word “Purim” itself. And we know we have a very holy holiday called “Yom Kippurim,” the holiest day of the Jewish year. That’s called “Yom Ki-purim” the Day like Purim, as if Purim is a more holier day. So what is the story with this Purim?
And not only that, the interesting thing is that people talk about Esther and Achashveirosh and Mordechai and the things that happened. But do you know over how many years Purim took place? Nine years! Nine years.
Nine years, the miracle, and I wouldn’t’ call it a miracle, we’re talking about a political struggle. That’s all.
Achashveirosh was the king. He had this wife, Vashti, who didn’t want to listen to his decree because the decree wasn’t exactly the best decree in the world. He wanted her to come out dancing naked. She said no to the king and he killed her, and then the king’s men went searching for another queen, and found this Esther from the Jewish nation who was an orphan, the king’s men picked her. She goes to the live in the palace, as Mordechai, her uncle instructs her to not tell them what nation she is from.
Mordechai tells her to not tell them that she is Jewish, which is really not Jewish. You’re supposed to be proud of being Jewish. Somehow she becomes the favorite of the king, while the king is losing control a little bit. Then his second in command, Haman, comes in planning to kill all the Jews, a real genocide. And by some crazy coincidence, Queen Esther enters the picture, she invites the king and Haman for a party or two and then gets Haman killed.
Nine years. What is the big deal? It was a political victory. What’s the big deal? What are we celebrating like crazy for?
Looking back at what happened was on Har Sinai, on Mount Sinai we accepted and we got the Torah. We got it in a miraculous way. There was fire and brimstone, and we heard the voice of HaKodosh Baruch Hu, the voice of God. No big deal really. If you heard the voice of God, what? You’d say no?
It was like a Big Bang that everyone saw.
But that’s not a choice. That’s not a choice at all. There’s no challenge or belief there. You don’t see a miracle from God and say, “Well, I don’t believe that.” It’s simply not an option.
That was a miracle, but that’s not how we survive as a nation.
What happens is, we are commanded to see the miracle in everything in life. Not just by the big supernatural things.
Everyday, when we pray three times a day, we have this silent prayer, the Amidah, the 18, the 19 blessings of the Amidah. What’s interesting is in one of the brochas (blessings) we talk about, it’s a brocha of reincarnation, that at the time of Mashiach (according to some opinions), the dead will be brought back to life.
There’s a supernatural miracle that people are going to be buried for years and will come back alive, by the way.
As an aside, the people who are buried on the Mount of Olives, the oldest, active Jewish cemetery in the world, located in Jerusalem, are buried with their feet facing the Temple Mount. Why? Because when Mashiach comes, and there will be the resurrection of the dead, the dead will stand up and they will already be facing the Temple Mount. So that is just an interesting piece of information you might not have known.
The issue is that in that same blessing of resurrecting the dead, which is a completely supernatural, insane miracle, we also talk about the blessing of rain. In the same bracha where we talk about the resurrecting of the dead, we praise HaKodesh Baruch Hu, we praise God for Mashiv Haruach u’Morid HaHageshem, as the one who is responsible for rain.
What is rain, which is a natural event have to do with Techiyat Hameitim, which is a supernatural, insane event?
The answer given by the Abber Dehum (?) is that just as we look at Techiyat HaMeitim, resurrecting the dead, as something miraculous, we have to look at something as simple and common as rain as something miraculous.
Now, what’s harder? What’s harder to do? Or, what’s easier to appreciate?
Obviously it’s much easier to appreciate a supernatural miracle.
When your parents or your friends give you a brand new car, or buy you a house, something humongous, you’re going to be saying thanks for a long time with emotion.
But what if your spouse or your children or anyone else cook you dinner. Or, I don’t know, take the smallest things that happen. How appreciative are you of that?
Not so much, right? It’s no big deal.
So that is what’s going on. At Har Sinai it was fire, it was brimstone. What are you going to say? “I don’t believe that.” I’m looking at it right there. You can’t say that. There’s no appreciation really. OK, well there’s God, I’m accepting it.
But on Purim there’s no miracle going on here. It’s all natural. Isn’t it?
We can make a mistake by saying it’s just a political victory.
It was a political struggle and Esther won. Big deal. Big deal.
Well there is a big deal, and that is exactly the point. The point is the little things in life. The point is, when it takes nine years, and you have to remember, how does the Megilla start out? How does the book we are going to read on Purim start out?
With two guys. Two anonymous people who were working in the kingdom, Bigtan v’Teresh, and they plotted to kill the king. Right. And Mordechai spoils their plot, and reports them, and they get hung. Wonderful.
Nine years later the king is facing an uprising. His queen is repeatedly inviting his first-in-command, Haman to parties, and the king is getting a little suspicious.
And he’s awake in bed and saying to himself that he’s getting a little nervous about his kingdom. What’s going to be? He demands to read the book and see if there is someone who did something good for him and he didn’t repay them. Whose name comes up? Mordechai’s name comes up.
Nine years earlier Mordechai foiled these assassins’ plans and he told the king, and so on and so forth. Sure you can say, no big deal.
But only someone who has their eye on the ball, only someone who really understands that God is really in charge of everything can connect the dots here. Right, most people, nine years ago, who would connect the dots?
So specifically on Purim, on that holiday, where nothing miraculous happened, really no miracles, there was a political victory, is when we can actually see God in action, and can say, you know what, we can call this coincidence, but it’s not. This is the hand of God.
Here’s how it ties into everything. OK, we know that when Bnei Yisrael, when the Nation of Israel got out of Egypt, the whole world was terrified of us. It was like after the Six Day War. No one wanted to touch us. The were terrified to fight us.
Then one nation came up. Amalek.
Amalek the nation came up to fight Bnei Yisrael, and the Pasuk says, “Asher Karcha Baderech.” They cooled you off, you were hot, no one wanted to touch you, so they cooled you off.
But there’s another explanation, “Keri” from the word “Mikre” – coincidence.
Right, they thought that getting out of Egypt was one big coincidence. So what? The sea split, there was an earthquake, it was split by coincidence.
Amalek took the actual hand of God, which was obvious to the whole world, and made it a coincidence. And so now, here on Purim, when once again the descendants of Amalek, Haman, does a lottery, and he picks a random date to destroy the Jewish people, the same coincidence kind of logical thinking without any God in the picture. He made a lottery, by chance. That same Amalek, we are fighting again.
But this time, this time, it was our job as the nation of Israel to say there is no coincidences.
There’s no such thing. Mordechai caught Bigtan v’Teresh nine years earlier, no coincidence. No coincidence that Mordechai picked Esther. There’s no coincidence that Esther – A to Z, it keeps moving up and up and up and up.
There’s no such thing as a coincidence.
And that is what it means, on Purim, Am Yisrael accepted the Torah by choice.
In other words, there were no miracles, there was no fire and brimstone, sparks. This was just us saying Yes, God exists in the world, and the Torah is real, and there was no pressure, there was no spectacular wedding party where everyone is dancing, the flowers are on the tables, people are dressed up and everything is special, that’s wonderful. But the question is what happens fifty years down the line in the morning when you both wake up, morning breath, no one’s got their hair combed, no makeup is on. Do you still have that same love?
That’s the question.
And that’s what is going on here with Purim.
Har Sinai was great. It was a bang. It was amazing. Amazing.
Mitzrayim [Egypt] was amazing, miracles right, left, every two seconds.
Purim comes along. Do you see God in Purim? Or, are you missing it?
And so I think that is the message of Purim, the masks go on our face, because what we are are skin and bones, but that’s not the main thing. We are tools. What we do with our bodies is the issue, so we put the masks on.
Regarding drinking alcohol it says, “Nichnas Yayin Yeitzeh Sod,” when wine goes in, the secrets go out, or the soul comes out. We’re scared of peer pressure, of doing the right thing, of acting as really observant. When you drink that wine, you get rid of that fear and you have your soul, your neshama comes out, and you behave the way you are scared to behave because of peer pressure.
And so we’re saying specifically that with the mundane, worldly things, wine, meat, anything else, that is exactly how we are celebrating the holiday of Purim – with the physicality, with this world, that everything we call on Purim as coincidence, that’s how we’re celebrating Purim, so that is the idea behind this crazy holiday, which is an awesome holiday.
We’re not drinking to get rid of fear. It’s not fear that you’re scared of the world. No, that’s not what Judaism believes. You’ve got to face your fears. We drink to get rid of our own internal fears and inhibitions of behaving the way we are supposed to behave. It’s taking off the hard shell that we all wear. You know Billy Joel says, we wear a stranger, so it’s taking off that stranger and allowing us to behave in the way that we are supposed to be behaving.
We’ve been here for 68, 69 years now in the new State of Israel, where the Jewish people came back to the land of Israel, and some people call this a coincidence, there are even some people who say it’s not a good thing. The Six Day War was a coincidence where we beat six Arab nations who outnumbered us thirty to one. Oh, where was God?
That’s where you have to find God. Not just in the big open miracles, but in the small everyday things in life.
Chag Sameach to everyone, and Happy Purim to everyone and have an awesome weekend. Signing off from Efrat.