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Purim: Serious Joy

May 9, 2009 | by Efim Svirsky

Exploring four central themes of Purim.

The following is an excerpt from Efim Svirsky’s book, Connection: Emotional and Spiritual Growth through Experiencing God’s Presence.

Purim is a holiday that celebrates the Jews’ victory over all those who wanted to eradicate us throughout our history and those who are still trying to do so today. While it is understandable that Purim is a joyful celebration, it has a very deep meaning attached to it. Let us recall the sequence of events related to the story of Purim.

It was nearly the end of the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people. The prophets had predicted this exile would last for 70 years, and it was nearly time for the Jews to go home.

The Jews, however, had becoming increasingly assimilated and were not at all inclined to gather their strength to exit the vast lands of the Persian Empire.

The stage was set for Haman, a descendent of Amalek (the worst enemy of the Jewish people) to appear as the prime minister, working for the king of the Persian Empire, Achashverosh.

Haman had decided to destroy the entire Jewish people. Our Sages said that what Haman did by signing an order to eliminate the entire Jewish population, 70 members of the highest Jewish court, including the prophets, could not accomplish: It was this decree that motivated the Jews to return to their Creator.

After the order was signed, the Jews began to fast. They became aware of their mistakes -- when and how they separated from the Creator. They repented and returned to the Creator. Surprisingly for some and not at all surprisingly for others, events began to take place in an unexpected way. Haman was hanged on the very tree he had prepared for Mordechai, the Jewish leader at the time, and Mordechai was elevated to Haman’s former position.

So, first, on Purim we celebrate our victory over anti-Semitism. Whereas on Chanukah, we celebrate the Jewish people’s victory over the spiritual aggression of the ancient Greeks, on Purim we rejoice in the victory over an enemy who wished us physical annihilation.

Second, Purim teaches us a lesson by showing us that a coincidence in a Jew’s life is in reality nothing but a link in a chain of predestined events. It is like watching a professional painter. The splashes of paint he puts on the canvas seemingly without any order or sense suddenly emerge as details of a very well thought-out painting. It is only after it is complete that one realizes that not one of the details was accidental.

Let’s look again at the Purim story. Looking for a new queen to replace Queen Vashti, King Achashverosh “accidentally” chooses Esther, who also “accidentally” happens to be a niece of Mordechai, the Jewish leader.

Mordechai, in turn, “just happens” to listen in on a conversation of two of the king’s servants and learns that they are planning to assassinate the king. He informs his niece Ester, who is able to inform the king. The so-called “coincidences” continue to occur.

Eventually this whole chain of “accidents” reveals a comprehensive system, making us aware that nothing happens by coincidence, and everything serves the foreseen goal. The ability to obtain a higher vision by which we can reexamine different “coincidences” in our life cannot be underestimated.

A no less important issue, the third theme of Purim is our victory over Amalek. The Hebrew words for Amalek and safek (which means, “doubt”) have an equal gematria (numerical value), which shows that there is a connection between the meanings of these words.

The Torah teaches us that we must constantly doubt that what we already know is all that there is to know. This kind of doubt is intellectual, which is 100 percent permissible and a must. But there is also a different kind of doubt that makes us ask, “Do I really need to know the truth?”

This is the kind of doubt that Amalek represents. Here, our intellect becomes a mere tool in the hands of our fears. For instance, the fear of change is one of the tools this type of doubt uses. Amalek also often uses cynicism as a weapon, a bitter mockery that is aimed not at uncovering the truth, but making fun of it and proving its own point of view.

Sometimes Amalek takes a liberal approach and says, “There are infinite ways to reach God (meaning that nobody is right, because we do not see an infinite number of people reaching God). Therefore, don’t tell me that there is such a thing as a right path.”

Amalek will make the point that there is no relationship between man and God. Even if there is, God is not interested in people’s affairs. The cynicism, that bitter grin inside of us that we sometimes feel when we forget that the Creator is presently with us, is the Amalek within us.

Fourth, one of the fundamental lessons of Purim is about our task in life. When Mordechai sent Esther to confront the king about Haman’s plans to destroy the Jews -- a confrontation that could have cost Esther her life -- Mordechai does not say to her, "You are the only hope we have, we depend on you.”

Instead, he says to her, "The Jewish people will survive, they will be delivered. We have a promise from our God that we will always survive as a people." What a good way to ask someone to risk her life! But Mordechai continues, "However, Esther, understand that everything that has happened to you in life happened, perhaps, only to prepare you for this task. If you do what you have to do, you will have realized your life’s mission. If you don’t, your potential won’t be realized."

The issue is not about whether or not things will develop the way the Creator wants them to; that will happen anyway. Esther’s challenge -- as well as every Jew’s -- is what role we are going to play in the events, and what shall become of us as result of it.

The reader will find in Efim Svirsky’s book, Connection: Emotional and Spiritual Growth through Experiencing God's Presence, and its accompanying disk, spiritual exercises to foster this type of inner growth. To order the book, click here.


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