Joy, Prayer and Miracles - the Essence of Purim
by Rabbi Aryeh Zvi Goldman
The first thing people want to do when they experience a deep emotionally moving event in their lives is to share it with others. To their dismay they find that after sharing their experience with another it suddenly has a lessened impact on their own psyche.
It seems that our world is much better than that of previous generations. With technological advancements life has become easier and more pleasurable than ever before. At the touch of a button one can change the climate to suit ones' needs, be transported across the world in hours and heal sicknesses that were once considered fatal. And yet…people seek to escape this beautiful world. Drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres are opening up everywhere. If you walk into any bookstore you will find shelves full of How to be happy manuals. What has gone so wrong? Why are people not happy? The dilemma challenging many people is that if I have everything, why am I still not happy?
The Slonimer Rebbe z"l1 says that before we try and explain how to attain happiness we need to define what exactly happiness is. He states that since joy is the key to unlocking kedusha and divine blessing it must be more than the superficial understanding that people mistake it as. It cannot be that true happiness is dependent on ones' mood. Rather happiness is special state of mind that is developed by deep meditation and is felt in all situations and under all conditions.
The Rebbe teaches that the source of happiness is the joy a Jew feels in the way Hashem relates to him. This realization comes from an understanding that Hashem is our loving, devoted father, constantly looking for opportunities to bestow good upon us. In this way Jewish happiness is given a very spiritual dimension. So lofty is this form of joy that when a Jew happily accepts the way Hashem relates to him, midah keneged midah Hashem happily accepts the way we relate to Him.2
A chasid of the Kotsker Rebbe z"l once complained that he was beginning to despair. Every time he would feel that he was coming closer to Hashem a new nisayon (challenge) would arise and he would feel a terrible spiritual descent. The Rebbe asked him how he taught his child to walk. Not understanding why the Rebbe was asking this of him, he began to describe to the Rebbe the process. He would stand at a distance with his arms open to his child. The toddler would begin to walk and as the child drew closer the father would take a step back. The Rebbe explained to his chasid that just as you moved back as your child came closer out of total love and devotion so that your child should be able to walk independently, so too Hashem beckons us with open arms only to step back lovingly as we get close.
A Jew who internalises this concept feels Hashem near at all times. As David Hamelech says "Imo anochi betzara"3 - in his suffering I am with him. Even when one feels that he has spiritually fallen and his heart and mind have become numb, he feels Hashem is near. He never feels alone, without purpose, lost. As David writes - Gam ki elech begai tzalmaves lo ira ra ki ata imadi - even when I walk in the valley of death I fear no evil for You are with me.4 The belief that Hashem is intrinsically involved in this world is the foundation for developing true happiness.
Rav Moshe Wolfson, Mashgiach of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, writes on Parshas Tezaveh that the month of Adar is a special eis ratzon (an auspicious spiritual time)5. He quotes the Zohar who says that the four months of Adar, Nissan, Iyar and Sivan are more opportune for prayer than any other time of the year. The Zohar writes that the entire month of Adar is on the same level as mincha on Shabbos kodesh (a time we know to be of extreme spiritual intensity), when we say v'ani tefilasi lecha Hashem eis ratzon.
The world exists on two levels: the physical/material and the spiritual. The reason why people are not happy today is because they have nourished the physical beyond boundaries and neglected the spiritual in the process. There are parents who make sure to prepare the best meals for the children and to make sure they get enough entertainment and are dressed appropriately. The problem is that they have ignored the inner spiritual dimension of the child.
Prayer fuses the two worlds together. Prayer is referred to as avodah shebalev - service of the heart. The question is if prayer is in the heart why to we need to express it vocally? Why isn't silent meditation sufficient? We can answer this question with another question. Have you ever considered the following: We begin shacharis with brachos, gradually build up to pesukai dezimra, the momentum picks up with birkas krias shema and almost peaks with kriyas shema. Just when you expect the most powerful, loudest crescendo…silence for the Amidah. Why is this so?
I once heard from Rabbi Nathan Lopez Cardoza, a well-known lecturer and Jewish philosopher, a beautiful mashal to explain this. Imagine a father and son who have not seen each other for twenty years, separated by the once infamous Berlin wall. One day the wall comes down, father and son see each other from a distance and begin running towards each other. Each step closer becomes more intense, the screaming more passionate. Finally as they embrace there is nothing but silence. There are no words to express the emotions they both feel inside. Any word uttered would lessen the impact of the moment.
If this is in fact true, then why do we speak at all (even if only in a whisper) during the Amidah? The reason is because we live in a material world and we must forge the two worlds together. So at the most intense moment of our connection with Hashem, the most spiritual and the closest we ever get, we are reminded that we live in a physical body and that the only way to break free is to realise that the neshama inside us all can transcend way beyond this world.
That is the purpose of a nes, miracle, to expose that which has always been part of the world but has merely not been revealed until now. The only difference that exists between nature and miracles is that nature is miracles happening frequently. A nes is a phenomenon that lies beneath the surface waiting for us to acknowledge its existence.
The bracha for kriyas megillah is al mikreh megillah. The idea is to megalleh (reveal) that which seems mikreh (coincidence). One could read the entire Megillas Esther and explain it all as coincidence or one could read it as did the Vilna Gaon z"l and see the gilui in each and every Pasuk.
Purim is about rising beyond the limitations of this world. Purim is about coming to terms with the reality that there is more to the world than meets the eye. It is about experiencing an inner joy so powerful that it can only be expressed in prayer and study of Torah. Purim is the realisation that Hashem is close - in every time, in every place and to every one.
1. Nesivos Sholom V I pp 266
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