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Purim: What's in a Name

by Rav Zev Leff

The name of a yom tov usually describes the motif of the day and its significance. Pesach reminds us of the hashgacha pratis reflected in Hashem's passing over the Jewish homes. Shavuos recalls to us the weeks of counting which precede the receipt of the Torah, the consummation of the freedom achieved on Pesach. Sukkos aptly describes the mitzvah which is the essence of the holiday,. Likewise the names Rosh HaShanah and) Yom Kippur describe the function of these days, just as Chanukah describes the rededication of the Mikdash which is the essence of that celebration.

In this light, the name Purim seems awkward, referring, as it does to an apparently insignificant detail in the Megilla the manner in which Haman chose the day to destroy the Jews. The name does not seem to capture the essence of the day.

Another difficulty is the fact that the Megilla finds it necessary to translate the word pur and to tell us, "Pur hu hagoral -- Pur is the lot." According to the Radak, who says that pur is in fact a Hebrew word from the root porer, to crumble, any translation seems unnecessary And even according to the other opinions that pur is in fact a Persian word, there are other Persian words in the Megilla which are not translated, even though we, do not know their, meaning. And surely one translation is sufficient. Why must the Megilla translate the word pur twice?

In order to understand the ' true message of Purim, we must understand Haman's ancestor, Amalek. For this reason Parshas Zachor, relate the mitzvah to wipe out Amalek, precedes Purim After the miracles of yetzias Mitzrayim and k'rias Yam Suf, the entire world stood in awe of klal Yisroel and HaShem who had redeemed and protected them. only Amalek refused to acknowledge that there was a Divine power guiding the events in this world. Where others say the Divine hand, they saw only blind luck and coincidence.

The Torah describes Amalek as "the one who chanced upon you in the way." Amalek views all events as mere chance. Amalek are further described as not yirei Elokim. They did not fear Elokim, G-d as He manifests Himself in nature. They refused to recognise G-d's connection to the world and the events that occur within it. The seforim reveal that Amalek in gematria is safek, doubt. Amalek's adamant denial of G-d's connection to world events weakens belief by introducing doubts. This is the meaning of the statement of Chazal, "As long as Amalek exists, G-d's throne and His name are incomplete." G-d's throne represents our recognition of His rule over the world, and His name signifies the Divine attributes with which we relate Him to the totality of experience. As long as Amalek exists, recognition of HaShem is only partial.

Amalek's initial attack upon klal Yisroel was a manifestation of klal Yisroel's spiritual vulnerability. The Bnei Yisroel asked, "Hayesh HaShem bekirbenu im Ayin -- Is G-d really with us or not?" "Their hands became too weak in their connection to Torah," is how Chazal describe their doubts. The hands represent man's connection to the world, his ability to function within the world. Their hands became separated from Torah. They did not see the connection between the developments in the physical world and the Torah, the Divine Will. Our recognition of Divine Providence was weakened, allowing Amalek, the negation of Divine Providence, to attack the Babylonian exile, klal Yisroel once more were confused as to HaShem's absolute control over the world. When Nebuchadnezzar decreed that they bow to his statue, they complied, fearing the consequences if they refused. They failed to realize that it was G-d Who controlled their fate and not Nebuchadnezzar.

Later they compounded this sin by failing to heed the warnings of Mordechai that attendance at Achashverosh's banquet -- ostensibly a necessary political move designed to secure their position in Achashverosh' kingdom -- would in fact endanger the Jewish people because it was contrary to G-d's will. Even if attendance at the banquet was mandated by the laws of pikuach. nefesh, danger to life, the Jewish people sinned by enjoying the banquet. They thereby showed that they saw the banquet not as something they were forced to attend as a sign of Divine displeasure, but rather as something positive which would increase their status in the kingdom.

Weakened by their lack of recognition of G-d's constant direction of the world, the Jewish people were vulnerable to the designs of Amalek's descendent, Haman. Haman desired to destroy the Jewish people in a manner which would emphasize the random nature of world events. He therefore chose to determine the date of his final solution by a lot, to emphasize the total negation of plan and design in history. In this light the Megilla does not translate pur but rather enunciates Haman's philosophy. Pur, the lot, this is goral, this is the destiny of the Jewish people, to have their fate determined by chance.

The name Purim therefore signifies the turnabout, the refutation of Haman's thesis, to show that even that which appears to be chance is in fact an expression of the Divine will and plan for the world. The Jews had to counteract Haman in precisely those areas in which their weakness had provided him with an opening. Mordechai's not bowing to Haman rectified the Jews bowing to the statue of Nebuchadnezzar. The original bowing to Nebuchadnezzar's statue was based on pragmatic calculations. In contrast, Mordechai acted in a manner which appeared to endanger the Jewish people. But the merit of that deed -- which reflected his absolute trust in HaShem's power -- ultimately saved klal Yisroel The heartfelt tefilla of klal Yisroel emphasized their belief in HaShem as the only true refuge.

Esther, forced to transgress and live with a non-Jew with no enjoyment or benefit to herself, negated the Jews' enjoyment of Achashverosh's banquet. The mitzvos of Purim can all be understood in light of this motif of the recognition of Divine Providence. The reading of the Me Megilla expresses the fact that history itself testifies to G-d's guidance of events. Behind the myriad of causes and effects one can discern the Hand of HaShem directing all towards his goals.

The Gemara says that the parchment of the Megilla needs sirtut -- to be pre-lined -- as is a Torah scroll. The letters and words of the Torah represent the unfolding of events in this world. The almost invisible line on the parchment upon which these letters will be set represents the Divine plan, the path, the dare that is already existent before those events actually occur.

The simcha of Purim is the simcha of knowing that this world has purpose and design and is not left to blind chance. There is no simcha as great as the resolution of doubts. Purim resolves the doubts caused by Amalek The simcha is expressed by ad d lo yadah, by becoming intoxicated until one cannot discern between blessing Mordechai and cursing Haman One who has faith and trust in HaKadosh Boruch Hu and realizes that it is He Who runs this world can be secure even in a state where his own lack of control is most apparent, where he is not even sure what is positive and what is negative.

The realization that the world is not the product of chance and accident but the creation of an intelligent G-d Who gives it purpose and direction, gives the Jew a feeling of intense self-worth, for he is of supreme importance in G-d's plan. The salvation of Purim emphasizes the value of even the Jewish physical body in G-d's eyes and in His plan for the world. For it is only the physical safety of the Jew that was endangered on Purim not his spiritual eternity. Hence, we eat and drink and give mishloach manos, food presents, to others to promote and enhance our physical existence, which is so precious to G-d Himself Similarly we give matanos le'evyonim, gifts to the poor. Even though we realize that G-d controls the world and we are to have faith and trust in His direction, however, as the ba'alei mussar put it, "One must be a believer for his neighbor." If I lose my job and don't know where my next meal will come from, I should have faith and tell myself that all is for the good. However, if my neighbor is in the same situation, I cannot fulfil my responsibility to him by telling him to have faith and trust; I must help him as if his plight depends on me alone.

Purim emphasizes HaShem's control over all worldly events and situations, but we must not abuse this by applying it in a manner which would detract from our responsibility to our needy brethren. Therefore, the mitzvah of gifts to the poor is integral to Purim.

Lastly, the achdus, unity, represented by Purim is also a reflection of the unity of purpose to the world and the importance of each and every Jew in fulfilling that purpose. It is interesting, however, that as a holiday of unity, Purim is the only holiday that all Jews do not celebrate on the same day. There is Purim and Shushan Purim for walled cities. The lesson appears to be that true unity is not necessarily when everyone does the same thing, not when I unite with those exactly like me in every way. Rather true unity comes when the one who celebrates Purim on the 14th, a lesser level (less similar to a Torah yom tov that is celebrated on the 15th of the month) can look upon his neighbor celebrating on the 15th of the month, with admiration and respect. And the one on the higher level. celebrating on the 15th, can still look positively on the celebrant of the 14th, being able to identify with him and look upon him with respect and understanding. This is the sign of true unity, a unity that reflects the unity of plan and purpose in the world.

May we celebrate a joyous Purim appreciating the glorious lot and destiny that HaShem Yisborach has chosen for us as He guides us closer and closer to Moshiach Tzidkenu.

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