Torah Fax
Friday, March 14, 2003 - 10 Adar II, 5763

Torah Reading:  Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1- 5:26)
Candle Lighting Time: 5:43 PM
Shabbat Ends: 6:43 PM
Parshat Zachor
Fast begins (3/17): 4:53 AM
Fast ends: 6:40 PM

Purim Speak

Purim is one of the most important holidays in the Jewish year. And while Purim is a time for joy and celebration, its lively and upbeat character does not contradict its underlying serious nature. Even the Talmudic statement that on Purim one must drink excessively, "until he no longer knows the difference between 'Cursed is Haman and Blessed is Mordechai,'" does not disprove the contention that Purim is a serious Holiday.

Many commentators actually employ that "license to drink" to teach us the reverse of its superficial meaning. On the surface, that statement suggests that we go out of our minds and embrace Haman and reject Mordechai. This interpretation is obviously wrong. How could our talmudic Sages counsel us to lose sight of what is good and what is evil? How could there even be one day a year when one is permitted to confuse the two? There are literally dozens of explanations that place this rather bizarre statement into proper perspective. One simple understanding of this directive is that although one is permitted to drink more on Purim than otherwise, there is a limit. When one reaches the point where they no longer know the difference between Haman and Mordechai, then they must stop. Hence, the statement that one must imbibe "until he no longer knows the difference etc." means that the obligation to drink goes "until" one's moral compass is compromised, but not further.

A deeper explanation can be offered: "Cursed is Haman" is "Purim speak" for the idea that one must always reject evil. Conversely, "Blessed is Mordechai" expresses the imperative to do good. In the words of the Psalmist: "Keep away from evil and do good." All of Judaism can be divided into these two categories: we either serve G‑d by our actions, the so-called "positive commandments" ("Blessed is Mordechai") or we demonstrate our loyalty to G‑d by repudiating evil, by not transgressing ("Cursed is Haman").

The question has been asked: Which of the two modes is superior?  Nachmanides argued in favor of the "positive" commandments. In a situation where a positive commandment and a negative commandment conflict, the Talmud's general rule is that "the positive overrides the negative." For example: It is permissible to attach woolen Tzitzit (the fringes we put on the four corners of a garment) to a linen garment. Despite the fact that we are Biblically prohibited to wear a garment that has a mixture of wool and linen (known as Sha'atnez), when it conflicts with the Biblical precept to wear a four cornered garment with Tzitzit, the positive Mitzvah overrides the negative. (Nonetheless, rabbinically, we avoid attaching wool Tzitzit to a linen garment.) Nachmanides explains that the reason that the positive overrides the negative is because  the positive commandment is motivated by love of G‑d, whereas avoidance of a negative  commandment is generally prompted by the fear of G‑d. Since love is superior to fear, the positive overrides the negative.

Now, while this is generally true, there are situations where the avoidance of the negative can be attributed to love as well. In the Purim saga, the Jewish people rejected Haman and his decree to bow down to him and to that which he represented. Had the Jews given in to Haman's decrees, they would have been spared. Yet, they were steadfast in there repudiation of Haman and his evil ways. The entire miracle of Purim, where all the Jews were saved, can arguably be attributed to their rejection of evil. It was obvious that their refusal to give in to Haman was motivated  by their absolute loving devotion to G‑d. If it was fear that moved them, would they not have been more fearful of Haman's decree?

Thus, on Purim we are to celebrate to such an extent that we are so inspired by the Jew's rejection of evil that we no longer know the difference between "Cursed is Haman" and "Blessed is Mordechai." On Purim the value of rejecting evil appreciates considerably and can match the value of embracing goodness because on Purim, both stem from the same abiding love for G‑d.

When we drown out Haman’s name with our graggers on Purim, it is motivated by love for G‑d no less than when we follow Mordechai and his positive ways.  This, then, is the meaning of the directive to drink and express our joy so that even our distancing ourselves from evil is motivated by love and joy, not fear and intimidation.

Our Sages tell us that in the Messianic Age, all Holidays will cease to occupy prominent positions in our lives except for Purim. What is it about Purim that makes it superior to all other major holidays such as Passover and Shavuot?  One answer to this question is that on Purim we realize the highest form of spirituality where everything we do or do not do is motivated by love.  Thus, the Messianic Age, when we will no longer desist from evil out of fear but rather out of love, can best be compared to Purim.

On yet a deeper level, the differences between rejecting evil and embracing good is only relevant to that part of us that is bound by the parameters of our "revealed" faculties. However, when our rejoicing on Purim, reveals our "sub-conscious," it enables us to realize the unconventional, inner dimension of our personalities that is truly unlimited. From that vantage point, all differences between embracing the good and rejecting the evil are no longer relevant. Purim is the Holiday when we get in touch with our sub-conscious, a feature that will be a constant in the Messianic Age.  Happy Purim!

Moshiach Matters

"Since we find ourselves extremely close to the moment of the redemption, we have to increase our yearning for Moshiach to the extent that we will be recognizably changed people. It should be obvious to all that - even in the last moments of exile - we are totally prepared to welcome Moshiach." (The Rebbe, Shabbat HaGadol, 1990)

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