Monday, March 05, 2007

Ah Gantz Yahr Purim

Purim is not only a uniquely joyous Yom Tov; it also is an eye-opener. It unmasks a side of people you don’t get to see during the rest of the year, an unbounded generosity that is truly inspiring.

Every year, I go with a friend of mine to raise money for various causes on Purim. Every year, when we add up what we collected, we are amazed. No, it’s not in the tens of thousands, but it is enough to make a dent. However, when you add that amount to the sums raised by all the people who utilize this special opportunity to collect for their pet causes, the final tally is far beyond what you would expect.

Yes, there are those who complain that Purim fundraising has gotten out of hand, but there are always people who can find something to harp about in any situation. They are the ones who can find the black lining in the silver cloud.

The fact remains that Jews still respond to Purim. People sit in their homes and write check after check for tzedakos of all stripes. The doorbell doesn’t stop ringing, groups continue prancing in, and the money continues to flow.

Young, idealistic people plead for their causes with serious eyes and heartfelt words. They can’t take no for an answer. They have no idea how many checks you’ve written that day, they have no idea how much you have in your checking account, nor do they care. It’s none of their business. They are out to raise money for a good cause and ring in a bit of Purim cheer while they’re at it.

The bigger story is that the Jewish people are so blessed with good hearts that they respond with their hearts, souls and pocketbooks when called upon to aid others in distress. The amount of tzedakah that people give out Purim and all year round is phenomenal.

So often, people seek to find fault in things going on in our community. They ought to take a Purim tour and see how much charity is disbursed on this most happy of days. It is a day of extreme happiness, joy, feasting and drinking and it will be that way forever. It is a day of sharing and caring, of love and devotion; it is a day that brings out the best in our people.

Mi ke’amcha Yisroel.

On Purim, we feel it more than all year around, because on this day we know that we only have a few hours to squeeze in all the people and places we want to get to, to be b’simcha and to be mesameiach. As we go through the day being careful to make sure we have observed its mitzvos, we meet people we have never seen before and make new friends, and we make sure to hook up with old friends. We are introduced to new causes and we introduce others to causes we have long held dear.

We go from one address to the next looking for converts to our charity before time runs out. We shlep our children from rebbi to rebbi and teacher to teacher with one eye on the road and one on the clock. There is so much to accomplish in so short amount of time. With smiles on our faces, we hope we can get it all in.

Part of the simcha we feel on this special day is connected to dressing up and disguising ourselves. What is the connection of Purim to masks? What is there about Purim that people feel it is part of the holiday to alter their appearance?

Purim is a day on which we put everything else aside and spend the time in revelry with broad smiles on our lips. We mask our day-in and day-out preoccupations and concerns. We tailor our mood and impulses to the mitzvah of simcha and mishteh. For many people, it’s as if they’ve been granted a new face; the simcha shines from them with a blessed new countenance. Perhaps through the inducement of yayin, they gain a new perspective on life in general. They realize that whatever worries or pressures may beset them can be put on hold, for at least a day. And thus they smile.

They gain a new “face,” a new perspective, and thus a mask. The test of success is if you can keep that mask on for longer than one day. The lesson of Purim is to keep on the mask after the yayin has worn off and after the last mishloach manos has been eaten. Remember the difference between the toful and the ikar. Remember that whatever you do, do it with a smile. On Purim and all year round.

That Purim feeling should be with us every day. Each day of our lives presents us with one-time opportunities which we can use to increase and spread happiness and G-dliness in this world. Every day is a day on which we can grow, learn and rise to a challenge. Not only Purim, but every day we have is a pure gift from G-d.

And just as on Purim we run around doing the mitzvos hayom with boundless energy; just as on Purim we give and give and when we thought we were done we gave a little more; so must we stretch our material and spiritual resources every day. When we’ve pushed and pulled and extracted every bit of ability and talent we have in carrying out our obligations, we will merit the eternal blessings promised to the eternal people.

As we go through life, we learn that appearances are often deceiving.

In fact, people don’t always behave the way we would like them to. People say the wrong things at the wrong times. People we look to for support and friendship sometimes fail us. Only in books does everyone behave predictably, in ways consistent with the plot. Only in fiction do all parts of the story blend together with a beginning, middle and satisfying end.

Real life is complicated and sometimes not satisfying at all. But then Purim comes and reminds us. As we listen to the Megillah being read, we hear how nothing was the way it appeared to be. The name of Hashem appears nowhere in the entire written transcript of the Megillah story; though, when you put it all together, it becomes obvious that He was orchestrating everything behind the scenes. The Jewish people were all but doomed to destruction, a heartbeat away from being wiped off the map. By following Mordechai’s guidance, Queen Esther was able to use her connections to save the beleaguered people.

At that time, most people had no clue what was transpiring until it was all over. You can be sure that there were people who blamed Mordechai for Haman’s hatred of the Jews and his attempt to annihilate them. There were others who were fed up with Esther and wanted her impeached. They blamed her for not doing enough for them, fast enough; they couldn’t understand why it was taking her so long to get the royal decree annulled.

We misjudge people and their motives. Often, our own motives are misjudged as well. So much enmity is caused by misunderstanding, by preconceptions and unexamined biases. Purim is a day which strips off that instinctive prejudice against others. On Purim, we peel away the layers of sinas chinom which have built up and left their grimy residue on our relationships with others.

Purim is a day designed by Chazal to bring us all together so that we can merit redemption just as in the times of Shushan. The Jews became unified as they faced the edict of destruction. We celebrate the unity on Purim that the commandments of the day bring about. We give more, we share more, we laugh more, and we celebrate more.

If the achdus the day engenders would only last longer than the hangover caused by the mishteh and simcha, then we can also merit a yeshuah as did the Jews of Shushan.

Purim should be a day that teaches us how to behave and how to treat each other; to carry on performing mitzvos and living our lives b’simcha, with joy, happiness and fulfillment. Don’t let it be just a one-day experience.

Let’s try it; we have only to gain!



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