Purim: Hashem's Hidden Hand behind the Headlines
by Rabbi Yehuda Moshe Englman
If we were to search through a decade's worth of ancient Shushan newspapers, we might come up with a few interesting headlines, such as, "Royal Banquet Attracts Thousands", "Queen Executed in Murderous Fury", "Rabbi Foils Assassination Plot", and probably a few articles concerning the political upheaval of the time. However, there would be no indication of any link between these events, which together, achieved the salvation of an entire nation. A nation, which today, almost two and a half thousand years later, is vibrant and flourishing, while Persia is a name associated only with expensive rugs! A person looking at events that transpired in those times would at most see only a reversal of a royal decree. To us though, the story is abundantly clear, laid out in its complete form in Megillas Esther. Actually the words Megillas Esther say it all, for the root of the word Megillah is 'Gilah', to reveal, and the Gemara traces the word Esther to 'Hester', concealed, so Megillas Esther really means to 'reveal the concealed'. For at first glance, everything is hidden. It is only when looked at through hindsight that all events, however natural they may appear, are shown to be part of a greater plan.
This is the essence of Purim, to be able to look past the obvious and see Divine Providence in everything. The Gemara states that Yom Kippur, formally termed Yom HaKippurim, stands for Ki-Purim, like Purim. This indicates that Purim is actually more sublime than Yom Kippur and therefore its purpose much more difficult to achieve. It must be explained precisely what is its objective and why it is so hard to attain. After all, its mitzvos, reading the Megillah, delivering Mishloach Manos while in costume, eating Hamantashen and drinking wine, are not all that difficult to accomplish.
To answer this, we must understand a Gemara in Megilah (14A), which addresses the reason for not saying Hallel on Purim, in contrast to all other holidays, including Chanukah, that Hallel is recited. The Gemara provides a three-word answer, "Kriyoso Zu Hillulah - Hallel is replaced on Purim by reading the Megillah". We must define how the reading of the Megillah achieves the same purpose as saying Hallel.
We can answer these questions with yet another difficult passage of Gemara. The Gemara in Shabbos (118B) says, "Whoever recites Hallel every day is considered to have blasphemed". This sounds unreasonable. If one wants to sing to Hashem and exalt Him on a daily basis, why is he considered as having 'blasphemed'?
Ksav Sofer explains that, in truth, one should say Hallel every moment of every day. It says, "kol haneshomah tehallel koh", on which Chazal expound, "al kol neshimah uneshimah tehallel koh - every breath one takes, the mere fact that Hashem has seen fit to grant him another moment of life, is reason enough to say Hallel". However because natural events occur all the time, we become so accustomed to them, that they make no impression on us whatsoever. Therefore Chazal instituted Hallel to be said only on special occasions, such as when Klal Yisroel went through open miracles. They reasoned that when one is uplifted and in a euphoric state from seeing Hashem's open miracles, he will then recognise as well that all natural events are also Yad Hashem. It sometimes takes a major event such as Yetzias Mitzrayim to move us to appreciate each breath we take.
However when one recites Hallel on an ordinary weekday, he is not on that inspired spiritual level. Such a person might be moved by supernatural miracles such as Kriyas Yam Suf, but is probably insensitive to feeling the miracles in every breath of air. Therefore we can assume that his praise is intended specifically for the open miracles in Jewish history, and not the ordinary 'miracles' we experience in every day life. In effect, he is stating that the Hand of Hashem exists only in dramatic events, but is oblivious to the infinite miracles in nature, which, in the Sages' view, is comparable to blasphemy.
With this in mind, we can begin to comprehend why Hallel is not said on Purim, since Purim was a series of natural occurrences, and not an open miracle. Yet, how are we to achieve an elevated state necessary to appreciate the Yom Tov of Purim? To this end, the Gemarah teaches us the insight of Kriyosoh Zu Hillulah. By reading the Megillah, we reveal a flow of events that are nothing short of miraculous, and have the ability of lifting us into the same frame of mind as one who recites Hallel on Yom Tov 1.
In a certain respect, Purim is even more exalted than other festivals. Every Yom Tov celebrates overt miracles: Pesach, the Exodus; Shavuos, Matan Torah; Sukkos, the Clouds of Glory. These wondrous revelations naturally serve to inspire us. Purim however, celebrates our victory over Amalek. This battle is never-ending. Amalek symbolises the belief that all events are not inter-connected, but rather a random concoction of happenstance. During the days of Mordechai and Esther, Bnei Yisroel vanquished Haman, the descendant of Amalek. On Purim every year, we once again go forth to battle Amalek and all that they stand for. When reading the Megillah, and perceiving the Hand of Hashem in every detail of our lives, we are not only celebrating a joyous victory of long ago, rather we are continuing to conquer the ideology of Amalek that is ever-present in our world.
Now we can understand why Purim is not only comparable, but also surpasses the holy day of Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur we enter a state of lofty kedusha. We are as angels; we neither eat nor drink, nor engage in any mundane activities, spending almost the whole day in shule wrapped in kittel and talis, standing in prayer, banging our hearts in remorse. In such an ethereal environment, it isn't all that difficult to feel inspired and to connect with holiness. Purim on the other hand is unlike other Yomim Tovim, for, as we've explained, we are totally dependent on our own efforts to achieve insight and spiritual growth.
May we merit this Purim to recognise Hashem's Hand hidden behind the headlines, and in doing so, we will deserve seeing the full revelation of His Presence with the coming of Moshiach, Amein.
1.The Gemarah in Megillah (17a) equates Kriyas Megillah with Shema and Hallel in the fact that they must be recited in sequence. This demonstrates how intricately they are related. Just as Shema and Hallel are powerful reminders of Hashem's might and Providence, so too is reading the Megillah.
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