Revivim, rabbi Eliezer Melamed

The Joy of Purim in the Midst of Corona

The observance of the mitzvah of Purim under the constraints of gatherings, accustoms us to return to the deeper aspect of joy and the value of family * Observing the mitzvah of the Purim meal in a limited forum of family only, is an opportunity for parents to educate and give an example to their children how to be especially joyful without slipping into frivolity * There is no obligation to drink excessively on Purim, and each person should consider how much drinking will make him happy and full of life

We thought that by Purim, thanks to the vaccines, we would overcome Corona and be able to rejoice without restrictions, but then came the more contagious variants, and the joy must still be held according to the severe restrictions, very far from what we were used to, in previous years. However, we are duly required to make the best of the restrictions, in line with the meaning of our Sages’ instruction “It is incumbent on a man to bless God for the evil in the same way as for the good” (Berachot 54a), because any evil a person experiences is also an opportunity for tikun (correction) and benefit, as Rabbi Akiva said “Whatever God does is for good” (Berachot 60b).

Restoring the Inner World in the Global Age

One of the important lessons from the Corona plague is the return of the inner world to its central place. In recent generations, the whole world has undergone a process of globalization. Distant societies and peoples have gotten closer; the collaboration between scientists, industrialists, and traders from all countries has led to tremendous development and price reductions, to the point where most people today live a standard of living that was once the domain of only the rich. Life expectancy has risen, and abundant information is available to all in the vast majority of countries.

However, in the event of the pandemic outbreak, globalization has become an obstacle. Within a few weeks, via planes and ships, the Corona virus spread to countries leading globalization – the United States and Europe, and no one can assure us that viruses that are more dangerous will not develop in the future.

The process of globalization placed emphasis on the external relations between countries, societies and peoples, and as a result, caused them to neglect their respective inner worlds. Globalization has led to such great prosperity, to the point where it seemed to many that success depended solely on expanding relations with other external factors, and therefore less effort was invested in developing the inner and unique world of each individual, society, and nation.

Globalization of the Sacred

It can be said that the process of globalization that emphasizes external relations also affects kodesh (the sacred), with the emphasis directed more to religious behavior than to deveykut emunit (faithful devotion); more to guarding the minhagim (ritual customs) of communities, and less to the mitzvot themselves; and more to formal, superficial lamdanut (Torah scholarship), at the expense of deep understanding.

Open for us the Gate at the Time of Closing the Gate

With God’s help, and the efforts of scientists, doctors and health professionals, we hope that we will soon be through with Corona restrictions; nevertheless, this Purim, may it be for a blessing, we have the opportunity to internalize the lessons of the Corona restrictions. On Purim, Israel willingly accepted the Torah anew, and this is our opportunity to pay attention to the neshama (soul), to the spiritual, to education, to the family, and to receive the Torah anew, and in a deeper way. It is customary to say that Purim, similar to Yom Kippur, is also meant for teshuva (repentance), but on Purim, the teshuva is out of joy, and therefore, there is special virtue for the teshuva of Purim.

The more we are able to observe the days of Purim in the bosom of family with more joy, the more we will merit to reveal the inner-joy rooted in the neshama, in the deep connection between man and his Creator, and from this, merit to fulfill all of the Torah and mitzvot in depth and righteousness, and blessing will spread to all realms of life.

Education of Children

It seems that one of the important lessons we need to learn from the time of Corona is that the primary responsibility for educating children lies with the parents. True, as the education system went through global processes, it was able to mobilize more forces from the whole of society to organize a framework that is able to convey more information and rules of conduct to students. However, in the field of education towards emunah (faith) and a life full of moral content, this created a disadvantage. While at a young age in yeshiva and ulpana, enthusiasm and identification with Torah can sometimes be aroused, but often it is superficial and liable to weaken during adult life. And if it does not weaken, occasionally there is reason for concern that it is an alien fire of fanaticism, masking emptiness.

In contrast, the deep foundations of emunah and values ​​that parents instill in their children do not evaporate. On the contrary, as the years go by, they become deeper and more meaningful. Thus, we find elderly people, as the years pass, discover ever more meaning in what their parents instilled in them when they were young. This is because there is nothing comparable to the education that parents provide to their children, which combines Torah, values, ​​and personal example, along with providing care, food and clothing, and everything needed for a good life.

Similarly, students privileged to have had teachers who nurtured them individually and opened a window to their inner world, receive inspiration lasting for many years. Then there are exceptional teachers whose students merit grasping the entirety of the mind of their teacher, only after forty years (Avodah Zara 5b).

Home Education

After years of parents getting used to relying on the education system, we must learn once again how to educate children – how to encourage them to learn, to have deep conversations with them, to engage them to lend-a-hand at home, and have a good time with them at Shabbat and Chag family meals – without relying on parties organized by schools and the community.

The more parents are able to rejoice with their children on Purim, despite the restrictions, the more successful they will be in instilling in them important memories and values, teach them how to deal with difficult times, how to enjoy the se’udat Purim (Purim feast) without losing restraint, how to bring to light the good and deep secrets stemming from disciplined drinking, highlight the good virtues, and express words of friendship towards one another.

In continuation, I will now deal with the halachot of the joy of Purim.

Feasting and Joy

The mitzvah to rejoice on Purim is unique. It is even greater than the mitzvah to rejoice on the festivals (Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavu’ot), about which it says, “You shall rejoice in your festival” (Devarim 16:14). Since most people enjoy drinking wine, it is a mitzvah to drink wine on the festivals; however, there is no mitzvah to drink a lot (SA 529:1-3). Regarding Purim, however, there is an explicit mitzvah to increase one’s drinking. Moreover, the essence of Purim is that it should be “days of feasting (mishteh, lit. ‘drinking’) and joy” (Esther 9:22). Therefore, the Sages said, “A person is obligated to get drunk on Purim until he does not know the difference between ‘Cursed is Haman’ and ‘Blessed is Mordechai’” (Megilla 7b).

Women are also obligated in all the mitzvot of Purim, including increased drinking of wine. However, they must be careful not to get drunk and loose control, because drunkenness is more degrading for women than it is for men, because it constitutes a breach of the mitzvah of tzni’ut (modesty), for which women are praised.

The Mitzvah of the Festive Meal on Purim Day

We are commanded to observe Purim as a day of feasting and joy, because the proper way to express joy is through a large meal, during which the participants drink a good deal. Without a meal, drinking is less gratifying, and can also cause side effects such as headaches and hangover. Therefore, everyone is obligated to participate in one set meal on Purim, for feasting and joy. This meal must be conducted during the day; if one holds the meal at night, he does not fulfill his obligation, as it says, “To observe them as days of feasting and joy” (Esther 9:22, Megilla 7b).

It is a mitzvah to enhance the Purim meal even more than the Yom Tov meal. This is the order of importance of the meals: Shabbat meals, above them Yom Tov meals, above them the meal on Purim, and above it, a wedding meal.

Since it is a mitzvah to prepare especially enjoyable foods for the Purim meal, in addition to wine and other beverages, one must ideally prepare meat for the main se’uda during the day, because most people agree that eating meat makes one happy (Pesachim 109a). One who has difficulty eating meat should try to eat poultry, as poultry brings people joy as well. If one cannot obtain poultry or does not like it, he should prepare other tasty foods and rejoice in eating them while drinking wine.

A Meal on Bread

According to many poskim, one must formalize the meal (kove’a se’uda) with bread, just as it is a mitzvah to rejoice on Yom Tov and to eat bread at the meals (Me’iri, Raavya, Maharshal, and Mor U-ketzi’a). Conversely, there are poskim who say one is not obligated to eat bread at the Purim meal, explaining that the obligation to eat bread on Yom Tov is not based on the obligation to rejoice, but on the concept of honoring Yom Tov, which the Torah calls, “sacred occasions” (Vayikra 23:4). However, since in the opinion of many poskim one is obligated to eat bread at the meal, this is the proper way act.

How Much Should a Person Drink on Purim

Our Sages said, “A person is obligated to get drunk on Purim until he does not know the difference between ‘Cursed is Haman’ and ‘Blessed is Mordechai’” (Megilla 7b), but there are two main methods in this mitzvah.

Some take the words of the Sages literally that one should get drunk, a state in which one is released from the restraints that normally accompany him, to the point where he is liable to behave in a way that, for the rest of the year, is not considered respectable. In any event, this does not include doing ugly things, or harming his friends (Rif and Rambam).

Others maintain that the mitzvah is to drink more than usual, until one becomes tipsy, in other words, he feels a little dizzy and is more relaxed and happy, and has a hard time focusing, but will not reach the level of a drunk who is liable to behave in a disrespectful manner (Rabbeinu Ephraim, Tosafot, and Ran).

The Root of the Controversy of How to Drink

The root of the controversy seems to be that people’s reaction to drinking wine is different. There are people who enjoy drinking a lot and makes them comfortable and kind-hearted, and there are those who become depressed, or go wild or vomit. Then there are those who, at times, are happy drinking a little, and sometimes happy drinking a lot. Since the main mitzvah is to drink and rejoice, each person should examine himself and choose the way in which he will be happier.

Inspiration from Purim for the Entire Year

May we merit receiving inspiration by our observance of the mitzvot of Purim in a moderated manner, to the days when the restrictions are lifted. And out of recognition of the value in mishlo’ach manot, throughout the entire year we merit sending fine dishes of delicious foods from our home kitchens to friends and acquaintances who went through a difficult week, are celebrating a birthday, and so forth. From the joy of the meal that this year we will not be able to hold together as usual, we will understand the value of friendship and joy, and when the shutdowns are removed, try harder to participate in the joy of our relatives and friends, such as weddings, brits, and other gatherings of relatives and friends.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

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