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The Greatness of Purim

The grand Kabbalist, the holy Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria Ashkenazi of Tzefas) said that Yom Kipurim, the Day of Atonement, is actually like Purim (in Hebrew, the letter "kaf" when used as a prefix means "like" or "similar to." Consequently, "Kipurim" can be read to mean "like Purim").

This is flabbergasting. It is strange enough to compare Purim, the jolliest day of the year to Yom Kippur, the holiest of the holy. But the full implication of this interpretation is that Purim is even greater, since Yom Kippur is being compared to it! How could this be?

My Rebby, shlita, once explained in the name of the Mashgiach of the Mirrer Yeshiva, Reb Yeruchem Levovitz ztvk"l (printed in Da'as Chochmah Umussar, Volume I, Ma'amar 25).

In Pirkei D'Rabi Eliezer (Perek 45) it is told that on Yom Kippur, even the Satan himself is impressed by the service of the Jewish People and rather than testify against them he bears witness to their virtues and says, "Master of All of the Worlds, You have one People who are like the ministering angels in Heaven; Just as the ministering angels do not eat or drink, so Israel does not eat or drink on Yom Kippur; Just as the ministering angels go barefoot, so Israel goes barefoot on Yom Kippur…; Just as the ministering angels, there is peace among them, so Israel, there is peace among them on Yom Kippur; Just as the ministering angels are pure of sin, so Israel is pure of sin on Yom Kippur."

The issue of Yom Kippur, explains Reb Yeruchem, is the annulment of evil. It is a day when Jews around the world are totally involved in the service of Hashem, repenting for all sins they may have transgressed throughout the year and accepting upon themselves to be righteous in the year to come. Itemizing all of the offenses between Man and Hashem and between Man and Man, every Jew regrets his offenses and resolves to be better from then on. Their worship is so sincere that even the Satan is overwhelmed.

However, there is one downside to all this admiration. After all, one might argue, on Yom Kippur, Jews nullify their bodies and function only with their souls. They are, actually, like angels who have no Yetzer Hara, and consequently are the epitome of good. The skeptic might argue that this is not such a big deal. "Let us see how they behave on a weekday, when they do eat and drink, and their bodies function in full swing. Then we'll observe how they eat each other up alive like animals and are as far removed from ministering angels as one can get."

On Purim, however, we silence even this cynic. For the essence of Purim is eating, drinking and being merry; even getting drunk to the point that one cannot differentiate between "Cursed is Haman" to "Blessed is Mordechai." It is a known fact that when one is drunk, unable to control his behavior, his true, inner self is revealed. And what do Jews do on Purim, when their internal character is in control? They become like one; sending gifts to each other and alms to the poor all day long. On Purim no one investigates those who ask for help but rather, "Anyone who extends his hand, we give to him."

This is the service of Purim which, albeit similar to Yom Kippur, is even greater than that holiest of days. It is a day that Jews prove that not only are their souls totally dedicated to the service of Hashem but even their bodies. It is a day that we let our bodies loose, and yet they cry out that they do not want to be free, to indulge in the lust and desires of this world, but choose to be servants of the Most High and His Torah. This is the greatness of Purim over all other holy days.

And this is the inner meaning of what is brought in the name of the Sages that at some point in time, after the coming of Moshiach, all holidays will cease to exist except Purim and Yom Kippur. Because these two holidays, more than any others, attest to the very essence of the Jew. On Yom Kippur, his soul and on Purim, even his body, are spotlighted, and they shine out as being totally subservient to Hashem and His Torah.

So let us partake in the real joy of Purim, not in a superficial form as so many mistakenly do. Let us experience, once again, the acceptance of the Torah out of delight as the Jews did in the days of Achashveirosh (Shabbos 88a). Let us be thrilled that we were chosen to serve Hashem and go in His ways. And let us share this joy with others and then our own ecstasy will be multiplied manifold and we will always be happy in this world and in the World-to-Come.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel