Wednesday, March 23, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Did you ever wonder what it is about Purim that generates so much joy and affection? What is it about this holiday that differentiates it from all others—that seems to speak to Jews of all ages and backgrounds?

There is a mitzva to be happy on Pesach and Sukkos as well, yet despite our best efforts, we don’t always manage to attain the level of happiness that Purim seems to trigger automatically.

What supernatural power was invested in the Purim miracle that led Chazal to declare that its commemoration will endure for all time?

Perhaps the reason for its universal and timeless appeal is that the Megillah story is one which everyone can relate to. We all know someone who reminds us of one or another of the Purim protagonists and villains. We can all point to someone we can compare to Achashveirosh, a fickle person playing both sides of the fence, usually making a foolish spectacle of himself. Vashtis abound. We all know someone we can caricature as Haman. We often see virtuous Mordechai-esque figures ridiculed, even by their own constituents.

Many times we find ourselves in dire situations from which no escape seems possible without Divine intervention. We have nowhere to turn to for rescue.

Purim tells us to never give up hope. Purim teaches us that all that transpires to us in this world is part of a Divine plan. It will all turn out for the good, if we are only patient and follow G-d’s word. The Purim buzzword, “venahapoch hu,” reminds us that Hashem can bring about a stunning reversal of a nation’s destiny in the blink of an eye.

To celebrate the miracle of Purim and the joy of knowing that we are under Hashem’s constant supervision even when His presence is hidden, we are commanded to drink wine—so much wine that we can no longer tell the difference between arur Haman and baruch Mordechai.

Of course it must be done responsibly and in the context of the Seudah. But why do Chazal say that losing the awareness of the difference between arur Haman and baruch Mordechai is the yardstick that determines that one has fulfilled his obligation? Why must one become inebriated to such a degree?


Throughout the year we are confronted with all kinds of people and the vast spectrum of human behavior—from righteous and noble to incorrigibly evil, and the many shades of grey in between. Because the Torah expects us to embrace good and reject evil, it is imperative that we train ourselves to discern one from the other.

Because evil often masquerades as virtue, the task of unmasking the “imposter” is often extremely difficult. It demands constant vigilance and sensitivity, as well as emotional and intellectual honesty.

Once a year we are released from this demanding task—and that is on Purim, when one is in fact urged to become so intoxicated he mixes up Haman and Mordechai.

But this once-a-year release only underscores the extreme importance of our mandate during the rest of the year: to constantly scrutinize oneself and one’s surroundings in order to guard against evil in its myriad guises.

We live in a time where up is down and down is up. We have to resist being blown about and confused by the prevailing winds—not only in our own private lives but in the society around us as well.

Just take a look at what is going on in Florida. A mentally handicapped woman is the focus of the entire country as her husband seeks to have her legally killed.

As Congress passed a bill to reinstall her feeding tube, a survey showed that seventy-seven percent of physicians believe it is medically ethical to remove the tube, thus bringing about the woman’s death through dehydration and starvation.

A majority of physicians (83%) felt that a patient’s spouse, immediate family (65%) and peer review physicians (61%) should be required by law to be involved in a decision to remove a feeding tube from a patient who depends on the feeding tube to sustain life.

A minority believed that professional ethicists (30%), psychiatrists (12%), clergy (11%), lawmakers/Congress (6%) should be required by law to be involved in such a decision.

As efforts are underway to save a woman’s life, the majority of so-called “ethicists” and major media condemn those who want to keep the woman alive, as fanatics. They impugn the character and intentions of religious people, conservatives and members of the republican political party who are fighting to keep the woman from being murdered.

Those on the side of life are derided in the media and defeated in court decision after decision, as an enlightened world lobbies to pull the plug on life.

How are we supposed to maintain equilibrium in a topsy-turvy world? How are we supposed to keep faith that good will be victorious over evil?

When good things happen to bad people and bad things to good people, the Megillah reminds us that appearances are deceptive; that the “wheel of fortune” is manipulated by Hashem for His own purposes. The Megillah reminds us that all that happens is part of a Divine plan which we can’t expect to understand until the entire story has unfolded.

The evil force may appear to be advancing but it is only in order for Hashgacha to set that power up for a more drastic descent to the death. Evil may be on the ascent, but it is but a passing phenomenon, destined to fail. Goodness and virtue may appear frail and unimposing, but those who follow the path of G-d will ultimately triumph.

In every generation they plot our destruction but we are still here, thriving and prospering. And we will do so with Hashem’s help until the coming of Moshiach.

That message resonates for all time, wherever Jews find themselves. As we masquerade about exchanging mishloach manos with friends and dishing out Purim gelt to the less fortunate, we tap into the kedusha and message of the holy day.


That message never loses its timeliness. Every year we gain a new appreciation of what took place in those critical times and its relevance to us today. We also gain a new perspective. Was Haman consumed by hatred or was it jealousy that drove him mad? Was he a megalomaniac? Or was he just a common anti-Semite? Perhaps he was all of the above.

The lesson for us is that we should avoid all these forms of evil. Humility may have saved Haman as would have his high status as a trusted confidante of King Achachveirosh—had he been satisfied with that prestige. Had he been less greedy for power, he might not have suffered a devastating downfall and would not have ended up on the gallows.

Had he not been in such a mad rush for power he could have continued climbing up the corporate ladder until he reached the pinnacle. He would have remained there at the height of power instead of ending up dangling from end of a rope.

As we read the story we think of people we know who engage in self-destructive behavior and thank Hashem we are not like them. We internalize the tale and take its message to heart —and feel grateful for the clarity that enables us to be happy with out lot.

Many times we wish we had the guts to do what is right but are worried about the repercussions. What will people say about us? Perhaps they will call us baalei machlokes or say that we are triggering the wrath of officialdom upon ourselves or the community. Then we read the Megillah and study the various Midrashim about what Mordechai Hatzadik did and realize that his actions—though unpopular when he did them—in fact led to the rescue of the Jewish people.


Not everyone in his time agreed with him, but he was vindicated by the Megillah and by history. This is not to be understood as giving blanket permission for headstrong, irresponsible behavior, but rather to convey the truth that when one acts according to Halacha, he need not fear negative consequences.

Mordechai’s words “Umi Yodeiah Im L’eis Kazos Higaat L’malchus” ring in the ears of every Jew who is about to make a fateful decision. As one weighs the risks of taking the more ambitious but nobler route, Mordechai’s profound words goad him on.

Those words are an eternal charge inspiring one not to be daunted by the obstacles but to pour one’s energies into productive projects that benefit themselves and/or our people.

Esther was afraid that she was doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Mordechai was prompting her to appeal to Achashveirosh eleven months ahead of the date Haman had chosen to annihilate the Jewish people. She would rather have stalled, in the hope that between Nissan and the next Adar there would be a more opportune time for her to appeal on behalf of her brethren. Why did it have to be now?

The tendency to postpone doing what we know is crucial for us to do is familiar to most of us. We say that tomorrow will be a better time. We say we have several months in which to get it done and maybe next week we will feel better; maybe next month the other party will be in a better mood; why rush into it now?

Mordechai’s message calls out to us, telling us: “Now is the time. Don’t push it off. Don’t find excuses to do it some other time. Time is of the essence.”


Esther is tested time and again through the period in which the story takes place. Each time it appears that there is no way she can outmaneuver the evil facing her. But she is the heroine of the story because she is galvanized by her hopes rather than her fears. She relies upon the sage counsel of her uncle, the Rosh Sanhedrin. With Mordechai supporting her, she refuses to allow fear to paralyze her.

Faced with situations from which we think there is no way we can extradite ourselves without getting hurt, we can remember Queen Esther and gain strength from the knowledge that by doing the right thing she saved her people from certain destruction. In following Mordechai’s instructions, she became immortalized in the consciousness of the Jewish people, as a righteous and strong woman who put the fate of her people ahead of her personal safety and happiness.

The Jews of Shushan, too, taught us a message that carries down through the ages. They had given up all hope. They felt doomed. The lot was drawn and their fate was sealed. But Mordechai and Esther taught them the power of prayer and fasting. They rose to the challenge, and thanks to the leadership of Mordechai and Esther, G-d heard their tefillos and accepted their teshuva. A day marked for sadness and death was transformed into a day of celebration and deliverance.

During the rest of the year we may get despondent and lose our smiles, but on Purim we are reminded to never become depressed or downcast

We all have problems, everyone has a pekel, and on Purim we are reminded that just as our ancestors were delivered from despair, so too can we be spared of our burdens in our day.

The sun will shine again, good will triumph over evil.

It’s Purim, come on, raise your feet in dance, turn your lips to smiles, erase the frown; stop dragging your feet; let the happiness mask the sadness today and every day. Look at the positive and not the negative, be optimistic not pessimistic. Let the spirit, and spirits, of Purim pervade your psyche and influence your outlook. Simcha is contagious.

It happened in Shushan; it will happen here, too.

Happy Purim.


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