For the week ending 27 February 2010 / 12 Adar I 5770

Another Reason to Celebrate

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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You are probably familiar with the reason given for Purim to be a day of festive eating and drinking, whereas the Chanukah miracle is celebrated only with the praise of Hallel and the thanks of Al Hanissim. The Mishnah Berurah (Siman 670) quotes the Levush as explaining that since Haman aimed to physically destroy the Jewish people, our celebration of his downfall must be expressed in a physical way. Chanukah, on the other hand, celebrates the triumph over an enemy who tried to spiritually subvert our people, so that our celebration must be a spiritual one.

There is, however, one thing that must be cleared up in regard to this approach.

It is certainly true that the basic celebration of Purim is for the gift of life. This is evident in the rationale given by Chazal for the legislation of the new mitzvah of reading the Megillah.

"If we are required to say the praise of Hallel on Pesach for the transition from slavery to freedom, how much more so should we be obliged to offer praise to G-d through the reading of the Megillah for the transition from death to life." (Mesechta Megillah 14a)

But in the Megillah itself there appears to be another reason for celebration:

"ליהודים היתה אורה ושמחה וששון ויקר" — “The Jewish People had ohra, v’simcha v’sasson, vikar.”

Chazal (Megillah 16b) explain that the four expressions of celebration mentioned in this pasuk refer to Torah study, Yom Tov, Brit Milah and Tefillin. All of these mitzvot, Rashi explains, were prohibited by Haman in his role as prime minister, and when he fell, Jews celebrated the freedom to resume fulfillment of these mitzvot.

This gemara seems to run counter to the above-mentioned point that Purim was only a physical threat and not a spiritual one.

Perhaps the answer lies in another gemara describing the shrewd incitement of Haman to convince the king to approve his genocide. When the king hesitated based on an expressed fear that the G-d of the Jews would punish him as He did all his predecessors who had tried to harm His chosen people, Haman assured him that such Heavenly protection would not be deserved this time because Jews had abandoned the fulfillment of mitzvot. (Megillah 13b)

Haman, unlike the Hellenists, was not interested in turning Jews into idol worshippers, only in totally wiping them off the face of the earth. But he realized that unless he weakened their fulfillment of certain key mitzvot he would not be able to succeed. By coercing them into neglecting those mitzvot, he was able to convince the king and himself that his "final solution" might succeed. What he failed to take into account was the power of fasting, prayer and teshuva which eventually turned the tables in our favor.

Purim therefore remains not only a time to thank G-d for the gift of life but also for the freedom to perform His mitzvot and be deserving of His eternal protection.

“The Jewish People had ohra, v’simcha, v’sasson, vikar.” May it be likewise for us in our generation.

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