In our haftarah, we learn that King Shaul miscarried in his charge to eradicate the nation of Amalek. We faced the consequences of that action in the Purim story and in other historical episodes – including the Holocaust.
Celebrating the victory of Purim is meant to be a fight against Amalek.
The Netziv explains that the mitzvah to remember what Amalek did to us and the command to destroy the memory of Amalek involves more than just eradicating their physical existence. We are also obligated to combat the Amalek philosophy and to safeguard ourselves from the horrible and evil effects that such a philosophy can have on our commitment to Hashem Yisbarach and His Torah.
What is this philosophy of Amalek that we must fight against? While there are many aspects to it, their main focus is on the negative. It looks to break things down rather than build things up.
If Purim is meant to be our fight against Amalek, we must ask ourselves: Does our Purim revelry break things down or build things up?
Purim is a real struggle.
On the one hand, the Arizal states that Purim is an even holier day than Yom Kippur. Yom HaKippurim is, he tells us, is Yom k’Purim, a day like Purim, but Purim is greater, holier.
Purim then is perhaps the holiest day of the year.
Is that how we feel on Purim? Do you feel more focused and closer to Hashem than on Yom Kippur? It’s very hard to experience Purim this way. After all, no one gets dressed up as a clown on Yom Kippur. No one would ever describe Yom Kippur as a Jewish Halloween. Yet, that is how some see Purim, in a very superficial way.
Yes there are legitimate sources which justify all of the fun and frolic of Purim. The miracle of Purim occurred through hester panim, when Hashem’s face was hidden from us, which is why we wear masks and costumes (see Rema in Shulchan Aruch O.Ch. 696:8, for example).
I love Purim parties and have even engaged in cute mishloach manos, fun costumes, and Purim shpiels.
I wonder, though: Is the way we celebrate Purim the ideal way to spiritually experience it? Is the way we experience Purim a testimony to the Arizal’s comment that Purim is a holier day than Yom Kippur?
Should we spend more time on our Purim plays, preparing our costumes and delivering our creative mishloach manos, or more time learning and davening on Purim?
Rav Moshe Wolfson writes (Parshas Tezaveh, Emunas Itecha 5752) that the month of Adar is a special eis ratzon. He quotes the Zohar, which says that the months of Adar, Nissan, Iyar and Sivan are more favorable for prayer than any other time of the year. Furthermore, the Zohar states that the entire month of Adar is on the same level as mincha of Shabbos Kodesh, a time of extreme spiritual power, when we say v’ani tefilasi lecha Hashem eis ratzon.
In addition, we find a remarkable halacha concerning tzeddakah on Purim. “Whoever stretches out his hand on Purim should be given tzeddakah” (Talmud Yerushalmi, Megilah 1,4; Shulchan Aruch 694:3). Whoever asks on Purim receives.
Many say (Toras Emes, Divrei Yechezkhel, Rav Mordechai of Lechovitch) that this alludes to our prayers as well. Just as on Purim we give tzeddakah to any person who stretches out his or her hand, so too, does Hashem gives to all who entreat Him in prayer. Although Hashem listens to our tefillos all year round, there are aspects of our tefillos that may prevent them from being answered. On Purim, however, we may be confident that our prayers will be answered and we will not be sent away empty-handed.
We should recognize the power that sincere prayer has on this day, and utilize it to its maximum. Many seforim and rabbanim suggest that we rise early on Purim morning and daven slowly, with proper concentration.
In regards to talmud Torah and Purim, we are told the following:
Purim is the holiday on which we express that HaKadosh Baruch Hu is with us even in hester panim. We do this through a full Kabalas HaTorah as Klal Yisrael did in the time of Mordechai and Esther. Rav Yaakov Weinberg, zt”l argued that all the mitzvos of Purim relate to Matan Torah.
Mishloach manos and matanos l’evyonim exist in order to create the achdus Klal Yisrael must have in order to accept Torah. We are part of a nation, not just individual people. On Purim we learn to appreciate every single person in the nation – vayichan sham Yisrael neged hahar; k’ish echad b’lev echad. This is the concept of aizehu chacham halomed mikol adam – every person has something we can learn from and if we are true seekers of truth we will seek it out wherever we can, even if it is from those we consider on a lower level than us.
In order to accept Torah, we must be extremely humble – this is why Moshe, anav mikol adam, was able to give us the Torah. We must realize that there is much we don’t know; we are lo yodim, like when we drink on Purim ad de’lo yada. We are mekabel the Torah by being mevatel our daas to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. We must eliminate all of our preconceived notions and make ourselves like a midbar, a desert. Then our Purim seudah is a seudas hodaah, where we thank HaKadosh Baruch Hu for bringing us close to Him to accept His Torah.
Rav Yaakov Weinberg explained that Chazal say, “l’besumei,” from the root word to mean whiff, not l’histakurei, to get drunk. Getting drunk is not the goal; the goal is to indulge, to enjoy, to be involved with the physical. We are obligated to drink until we reach a level of ad delo yada, which according to the Rambam one can reach by falling asleep. Lo yada is a status which comes before you are totally out of it. You are still generally aware, but not of the difference between Haman and Mordechai. We should drink and indulge, but in the right atmosphere.
Having learned all this, we ask again: How can we treat Purim as the holiest day of the year and yet emphasize Purim shpiels, cute jokes, and clowns? (Not to mention inappropriate drinking, smoking, and worse.)
I’ve worn silly costumes on Purim. But have you ever seen a Gadol wear a silly costume on Purim? If we are trying to grow on Purim, can we really do so wearing a silly costume and engaging in the standard Purim fun fare?