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Purim - The Real Story

November 24, 2016 22:53

There is a strange halacha that one should become drunk on Purim so much so as not to know the difference between ‘Blessed is Mordechai’ and ‘Cursed is Haman’. However it is widely known – and experienced - that this level of drunkenness is fairly extreme. Furthermore, we are also expected to pray the ma’ariv service after the Purim meal and how can we do this if we are 'commanded' to be so drunk?

In order to unravel this mystery we need to understand the message of the Purim story. Let’s analyse the various characters and groups involved in the Purim story and ask whether the following question: did they get the message? Did they know what was actually going on in this intriguing tale? Let’s see…

Achashverosh: One of the storylines in the Megilla is how the king in the Purim story appears to wield control but in reality, does not. Achashverosh never makes decisions without consulting his ministers, be it Haman or later, Mordechai. He is happy to let a foreigner, Haman the Agagite, to run the country and is seemingly shocked when Esther reveals to him that Haman was plotting to kill the Jews – you’d think he’d know!

Esther: The turning point of the Megilla is when Mordechai tries to convince Esther to save the Jews once Haman’s decree became public. This dialogue in Chapter 4 is very interesting because Esther appears not to be overly bothered with saving the Jewish people. After Mordechai informs her of all the events – just in case those in the palace didn’t know – she still makes excuses for not doing anything i.e. that she would die if she approached the King. Although she is eventually persuaded, at first she didn’t know what was going on.

The Jews: Happily living a life in Persia, the Jews did not seem bothered to heed the call to return to the land of Israel and rebuild the Temple. And there are plenty of midrashim that reflect this theme, for instance the ones which talk about the Jews happily drinking from non-kosher vessels in Achashverosh’s feast. They also seemed happy to bow down to Haman.

Mordechai: At last, someone who understands what is going on: From the start Mordechai would not bow down to Haman – he would not compromise his faith. As soon as he heard the news of Haman’s decree, he tore his clothes and cried out in the center of Shushan. Mordechai was a man of action and through his deeds, managed to save the Jewish people.

Haman: The person who had the plan from the start, Haman understood the situation. He describes the Jews as “one people; scattered and dispersed among the peoples…and the laws of the King they do not observe…” (Esther 3:8). We learn that when the Megilla uses the word King, it really means G-d, and this brings Haman’s statement to a new light: that he understood that the Jews were not united and not serving G-d, which led him to conclude that now would be a good time to attempt to destroy them.

We now realize that the only people who really understood the spiritual messages throughout the Purim story were Mordechai and Haman. Both knew that the Jewish people were not united, in the wrong country and not observant. Whereas Haman used this knowledge to try and destroy the Jews, Mordechai used it to save them.

The reason we drink on Purim is because after we are drunk (to a reasonable extent!), we can often have great clarity and the words we speak are usually what we really think. And the main task during the Purim meal is to understand the message of the Megilla. To do this, we do that is to drink ‘until one doesn’t know the difference between ‘Blessed is Mordechai’ and ‘Cursed is Haman’’. This means that we need to understand that in reality, there is no difference between the two of them!

On Purim we need to get to a level where we know that the message of the Purim story is that the Jews should be a united people in the land of Israel living according to the Torah. Once we have attained such a level, it is almost arbitrary to differentiate between Mordechai and Haman – both were part of Hashem’s master plan to bring about the eternal redemption of the Jewish people.

November 24, 2016 22:53

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