The message of Purim
TorahParshat Vayikra

The message of Purim

Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26

Nothing really ends on the Jewish calendar. The light of Chanukah shines all year round. The freedom of the seder infuses every day of the year with meaning. The joy of Simchat Torah feeds us with joy for the whole year.

Now, what about Purim? Purim has a special quality that no other holiday has. You may call it joy, but it’s more than joy. That’s why Purim and Simchat Torah are really not that similar. They’re both happy celebrations but Simchat Torah’s joy is a bit more … organized.

Purim’s vibe is one of intoxicating happiness. To a degree, it’s true literally, that there is a tradition to drink on Purim. But in a figurative sense, it’s even more true. When the Mishna says that a person ought to reach a level of intoxication on Purim where Mordechai and Haman are indistinguishable, it means much more than drinking.

Every holiday has its own flavor and theme. But the common thread between them all is a celebration of the relationship between G-d and us. Chanukah reminds us that relationship ought to be a source of light and warmth and Passover reminds us that it liberates us from enslavement of every kind. And Purim?

Purim reminds us that our bond with G-d is deeper than anything anyone can think of. Deeper than love, deeper than service, deeper than understanding and thicker than blood.

Our connection is. It just is. It is not merely the natural result of our faith in Him and service to Him. It is not a utilitarian one, where we use Him to survive and He uses us to get mitzvot. Our connection is deeper than that, higher than that.

Inebriation leads a person to a state of confusion, where even a simple 1+1 isn’t always 2. Things don’t make sense, and more importantly, things don’t have to make sense. A phone booth that can fit three sober people comfortably can fit six people under the influence because, why not? They don’t overthink it and it just happens.

Far from encouraging drunkenness, G-d forbid, Purim is certainly reminding us about the superrational nature of our relationship with G-d (and thus, with each other). The head-spinning speed with which our fortunes turned around in the Purim story reminds us of that. The miracle came out of nowhere, literally. The Jewish mood went from one of grim resolve to one of delirious joy in less than 24 hours. It reminded us: G-d is with you when you feel it and when you don’t, when you expect it and when you don’t, when you deserve it and when you don’t.

Purim’s message is relevant to our People and to our people.

As a People, we recognize that G-d is with us even when no one else is, and even when it feels as if He isn’t, either. We know that our Jewish identity is a cause for joy when it’s convenient and when it’s very inconvenient. And we know that our survival is totally, completely inexplicable.

It makes so little sense that we’re still around, that only a drunk person could understand it. Somehow, Am Yisrael Chai.

And as people, we remind ourselves of the fact that what might seem impossible is not necessarily so. A minute ago the thought of wrapping tefillin regularly, praying every day, observing kashrut, keeping Shabbat, or putting your kids in a day school seemed foreign to you? What about now? Now you’re excited to do it! How does that make sense? It doesn’t. It doesn’t have to. We’re Jewish.

Purim lives on in our lives long after the last Purim parties have been cleaned up and the costumes have been stored away. It lives on in our willingness to expect the unexpected, to have faith when there doesn’t seem to be any reason to, to turn our Judaism around on a dime, to pack mitzvot into our lives with the joyous abandon of drunks crowding into a phone booth. And it lives on in our willingness to go beyond reasonable Jewishness and be “crazy Jewish.”

If the world has gone crazy around us in the most objectionable way imaginable, this may be the perfect time to go “Purim” on the world: a sudden rush of happy, confident, fearless, proud “crazy Jews,” determined to be good and do good with no plan at all. And anyone who wants to, is welcome to join us.

Happy Purim! PJC

Rabbi Moishe Mayir Vogel is executive director of The Aleph Institute – North East Region. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabonim of Greater Pittsburgh.

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