The Deeper Dimension of Purim
Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic
Several questions are asked about Purim: The Megila (Esther 9:26) states that the name Purim is connected to Pur, a Persian word which means “lots”, referring to the lots which Haman drew to determine the day in which to annihilate the Jewish people. Accordingly, this is the only Jewish holiday carrying a name not derived from Hebrew (such as Chanuka, Pessach, Shavuoth etc…). Furthermore, the very meaning of Purim (lots) carries not an element of salvation, as we’d expect the name of such a holiday to reflect, but just the opposite: it recalls the very lots drawn by Haman to zero in on a propitious date for his evil plan. Thirdly, the term “Megilas Esther” carries a strange paradoxical dimension. The name Esther is connected to Biblical words which mean concealment (“I will hide (haster astir) My Face in those days” (Dvarim 31:18; Chulin 139b), for that era definitely was an era of Divine concealment. Whereas the term Megilas can be connected to the verbal root “galoh”, which means to reveal. What lies in this paradox? In addition, Megilas Esther is the only Biblical book in which G-d’s Name—indicative of the Divine element at work during the miracle of Purim—is not mentioned even once! (Ibn Ezra’s explanation (in his introduction to Megilas Esther) that it was for fear that, once translated into Persian, the translators might substitute the name of other deities for the name of G-d, can be questioned, for, by all indications, the Persians recorded the whole episode of Purim before the Megila was written). This stands in stark contrast to the fact that Jews throughout the ages have always been quick to say or write “Baruch Hashem” in their daily speech and written documents, constantly having G-d at the top of their mind.
Analyzing the story of Purim, what was the root problem of the Jewish community at the time of Purim? Both Mordecai and Esther realized that the cause of the problem lay in Jewish sins of that era (see Rambam hil.Taanis 1:2-3). They consequently gave precedence to rectifying the cause of the problem by bringing Jews to Teshuva, (fasting three consecutive days etc...). And only afterwards did Esther go to the king unannounced and there was “light and salvation”. They did not rely merely on Esther being the queen, and on Mordecai carrying political weight within the Persian government.
As far as G-d’s name not mentioned in the Megila, what is the reason why G-d’s Name comes so easily on everyone’s lips and mind? According to the Lurianic Kabala principle of Tzimtzum, G-d contracted (=concealed) His Infinite Light (Ohr Eyn Sof) to make room for a finite universe. The resultant contracted G-dly light is called light because it reveals G-d’s Presence, following the preceding state of concealment of the Tzimtzum process. The name of any entity has a revelatory dimension: you mention his/her/its name only when you have some revealed knowledge of that entity. In a like manner (l’havdil) when we mention any one of G-d’s seven holy names, we are referring to a contracted emanation of the G-dly light, with each of these seven names referring to a certain divine dimension. The need for tzimtzum is because without it the finite becomes nullified to the infinite. According to Chassidic teachings (Torah Ohr p.14b) G-d’s very Essence never underwent any contractive process and stands “revealed” as it always was, with its revealed state not forcing nullification of the created finite realm (in a way we cannot fathom). And this is the reason why G-d’s Name is on everyone’s lips: our neshama can readily “sense” and “relate” to the G-dly Essence at all times and all junctures of Jewish history--this, in turn, prods us to mention G-d’s Name at every turn. The process of Galus is a process of concealment of the divine (Hester Panim). However, that concealment can affect only that which is defined as contracted divine light, but it does not affect the G-dly Essence. The intense concealment at the time of Purim did not diminish this eternal soul-connection to the Divine. So that, even at the height of the Golus-concealment, of Purim--a Persian word referring to Haman’s lots—Jews remained steadfast and, even more, they tapped into the G-dly Essence dimension in order to overcome this immense threat to Jewish continuity. Thus, “Megilas Esther” is not as paradoxical as it sounds. It is precisely because of the great Hester/concealment during that era that prompted and forced the Jews to tap in the G-dly dimension which is always “revealed” and never contracted-- that of the G-dly Essence.
Bearing in mind the Baal Shem tov’s interpretation of the statement (Megila
17a)” he who reads the Megila backwards “l’mafrey-a” does not fulfill his
obligation”, we can see how this all applies to the current era. For he interprets
the word “l’mafrey-a”, as backwards in chronological time, whereby one
ascribes importance to the miracle only at the time it occurred.
Some of the lessons and applications are obvious:
- Jewish leaders have to look at the roots of the various problems plaguing the
Jewish communities here, in Israel and throughout the world.
- we cannot rely merely on the political clout we possess anywhere, as the
winds of the political scene keep shifting so rapidly and it certainly does not provide the solution of the root problems.
- we have to increase not only our own commitment to Torah and Mitzvoth, but have to encourage fellow Jews everywhere to do the same and thus collectively elicit Divine protection for the “lamb among the seventy wolves”.
- we have to remember our neshama connection to the Divine Essence and tap
(e) the Israeli government especially has a lot to learn and apply from Esther
and Mordecai’s example of Jewish leadership.
(f) we have to firmly believe in and rely on G-d’s Providence and protection of
his chosen people.
In honor of Shmuel ben Perel Leah, whose Yom Holedes is on Adar 16
Based on Likutei Sichos