Beginning to Think About Purim

Rosh Chodesh Adar is certainly none too early to begin thinking about Purim.  Although it’s classified by some as a “minor Jewish holiday” and is often trivialized to an excuse to have a costume party, it’s power is huge.

It’s not by coincidence that Purim is almost exactly one month before Pesach, the holiday we renew our freedom.  Everything about Purim is designed to optimize our efforts.  This includes the injunction to get sufficiently drunk to no longer be able to distinguish between Praise Mordechai and Curse Haman!

Of course Jewish tradition does not encourage substance abuse ever.  However, there are times that intoxicants can, like everything else created by God, be employed in our spiritual journey–the four cups of wine at the Pesach seder comes first to mind.

One of our great traps is complacency.  When we become so sure that we know what’s what, we lose any motivation to explore and to continue learning.  The drunkenness of Purim is directly aimed at this danger that affects every one of us.  To come to a point where we’re no longer so sure of our knowledge is the first step towards growth, to freeing ourselves from our preconceptions.  We’re no longer so sure who is the Mordechai and who is the Haman we face within ourselves.  Now we can begin.

When we begin the Purim story, the Jews of Persia are not being threatened.  In fact, they’re so well-established that they’re invited to the King’s feast.  The Megillah goes out of its way to point out that they were even served kosher wine!  King Ahashueros represents one aspect of Malchut, kingship, which points to our physical “real” world.  Without even realizing it, we were, even before the enmity of Haman brought it to the surface, under the threat of annihilation, of complete complacency.  It was through our at-first-reluctant actions that we preserved ourselves and eventually changed a day destined for destruction to a day of celebration.  הפיכה, Hafecha, turning upside down, is a major theme of Purim.  Again, this is reflected in overturning our usual view to bless Mordechai and to curse Haman.

Ben Bag Bag in the Mishna of Avot (ch. 5) directs us to הפך בה והפך בה, hafech bah v’hafech bah, to turn it over and turn it over again, דכלא בה, d’kola bah, that everything is within it (referring to the Torah).  But the pot needs to be regularly stirred.

We call this process שבירת קליפות, shevirat klippot, the shattering of the shells.  We must break the obstacles between ourselves and our relationship with God.  Among the most serious and hardest to shatter of these klippot is the tendency to feel that we know something fully.  While it might be possible to fully grasp a finite subject, it is by definition impossible to fully grasp the infinite reality of God.  Our most brilliant insights at last year’s seder table which, at the time, opened our minds and hearts, have now become stale.  It’s not necessary that they’ve become untrue, but they no longer tell the entire story.  We are not merely ready for more, we are starved for more.

I often use the metaphor of a ladder.  The ladder which gets us from the ground to the first floor must be let go of if we want to further ascend to the second floor or else it will become our anchor.  We talk about the exile in Egypt as an exile of דעת, Da’at, knowledge.  As we’ve also learned, Da’at is also an intimate relationship which needs to always be refreshed to remain vital and to thrive.

Purim is the holiday which celebrates and mandates our leaving our past preconceptions behind.  Turning them on their heads, shattering the inflexibility we’ve developed over the past year in our certainty, at the time, that now we finally have it right.  Rabbi Daniel Lapin once described life as riding a down escalator.  Unless we continue to march forward, not only will we not progress, but we’ll doom ourselves to moving backwards.  Purim begins our journey to freedom.  To quote John Lennon, “better free your minds instead”.

This is true happiness–knowing that we’re making progress, that we’re continuing to learn and to grow.  משנכנס אדר מרבים בשמחה, when Adar arrives, we increase happiness.  Chodesh Tov.

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