Purim – The Holiday of Exile

  • Rav Itamar Eldar


            Most of the holidays are mentioned for the first time in the Torah: the holiday of Pesach, the holiday of Matzot, the counting of the Omer, Shavuot, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shmini Atzeret. This is not true with respect to Chanuka and Purim.


            In many respects, however, Chanuka shares characteristics of the holidays mentioned in the Torah. Divine revelation through a great miracle, redemption of the Temple, priesthood, war waged over the Jewish spirit, reestablishment of the kingdom of Israel – all these are directly connected to the great miracles, the spiritual messages, and the striving for the kingdom and redemption of Israel that characterize all of the Torah's holidays.


            In this respect, Purim deviates from all of the holidays of Israel, including Chanuka. Purim is a holiday of exile. It grows out of the reality of exile and subjugation to an old and foolish king. Even when the holiday reaches its climax, the Jews remain in the same exile, as subjects of the same king who just yesterday handed over his ring to the enemies of Israel, today gives it to the Jews, and tomorrow – who knows who will receive it.


This point also follows from what is stated in the following talmudic passage:


Rabbi Chiyya bar Avin said in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha: If for being delivered from slavery to freedom we chant a hymn of praise, should we not do so all the more for being delivered from death to life? If that is the reason, we should say Hallel also?

[We do not do so] because Hallel is not said for a miracle which occurred outside of the land of Israel. How then do we come to say it for the exodus from Egypt, which was a miracle which occurred outside the land of Israel? As it has been taught: Until they entered the land of Israel, all lands were counted as proper for chanting a hymn of praise [for miracles done in them]. After they had entered the land, other countries were not counted as proper for chanting a hymn of praise [for miracles done in them].

Rav Nachman said: The reading of the Megilla is equivalent to Hallel.

Rava said: There is a good reason in that case [of the exodus from Egypt] because it says [in the Hallel]: "Praise you, O servants of the Lord" - who are no longer servants of Pharaoh. But can we say in this case: "Praise you, servants of the Lord," and not servants of Achashverosh? We are still servants of Achashverosh! (Megilla 14a)


According to Rava, Hallel cannot be recited on Purim as it is recited on the other holidays, because the rescue of the Jewish people was a passing episode. The fact that we remained slaves to Achashverosh does not allow our joy to be complete.


Rava's explanation can also be understood in another way. So writes the Lubavitcher Rebbe in his explanation of Rava's reason for the absence of Hallel on Purim, "We are still servants of Achashverosh":


For the recitation of Hallel, we require a state of being servants of the Lord. (Likkutei Sichot 36, p. 167)


One who reads the Megilla is surprised every year anew by the fact that God's name is nowhere mentioned in the book. In order to remove God and His providence from the stories relating to the miracles associated with the exodus from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Torah, and even the miracle of the cruse of oil, we would have to work exceedingly hard to turn the unbelievable and unimaginable into something understandable and reasonable; we would have to explain how the miracle is in fact nature. But as for the story of deliverance related in the book of Esther, this can be done with no special effort. We can even say that the Megilla itself does this on our behalf. Possible and logical coincidences, wisdom, daring, lust for women, savvy against arrogant complacency - these are the human elements that shape the story of Esther. This is a story that at first glance seems to share much with second-rate novels.


The problem with "We are still servants of Achashverosh," as it appears from the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, is not only the political reality of the Jewish people, but their mental state – "a state of the servants of Achashverosh." Ostensibly, contemplating reality through the spectacles of nature, of law and even of chance, is the reality of servitude.


This distinction between Purim and the other Jewish holidays raises a great difficulty when we read the following words of Chazal:


"She has killed her beasts; she has mingled her wine" (Mishlei 9:2). Rabbi Abbahu said: This is Queen Esther, for when sorrow reached Israel in the days of Mordechai, what did she do? She arranged a meal for Achashverosh and for the wicked Haman, and greatly intoxicated him, and the wicked man thought that she was showing him honor, and did not understand that she was setting a trap for him, for because she intoxicated him with wine, she acquired her nation for herself for all times. "She has also furnished her table" (ibid.), for she furnished her table in this world and in the world to come. What is that? It is the good name that she acquired for herself in this world and in the world to come, for all the holidays will eventually be cancelled, but the days of Purim will never be cancelled, as it is stated: "And these days of Purim will not fail from among the Jews" (Esther 9:28). Rabbi Elazar said: Also Yom Kippur will never be cancelled, as it is stated: "And this shall be an everlasting statute to you, to make atonement for the children of Israel for all their sins once a year" (Vayikra 16:34). (Midrash Mishlei 9)


It is precisely this minor holiday, from which the name of God and His manifest miracles are missing, and which did not bring about a significant change in the historical standing of the people of Israel – that was selected from among all the holidays never to be cancelled in the future.[1]


At first glance, this is difficult and incomprehensible. The difficulty is sharpened in light of the standing of Purim, as it is understood by the Sefat Emet:


The idea of the festival of Purim is preparation for the building of the Second Temple, by virtue of the awakening from below, for this was the idea of the Members of the Great Assembly, who restored the crown to its former glory. (Sefat Emet, Purim 5643)[2]


While the Torah's holidays commemorate the Divine process of leading the people of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land and then to the establishment of the monarchy and the building of the First Temple, Purim is a preparation for the building of the Second Temple.[3] This is true not only because of Purim's historical location, but also because it expresses the nature of the Second Temple, whereas the other holidays of Israel express by their nature the days of the First Temple.[4]


This only intensifies the question regarding the importance of Purim and its remaining in force even in the future. After all, how great is the difference between the period of the First Temple and that of the Second Temple!


First, there is the matter of prophecy. The long period from the days of Moshe and the exodus from Egypt to the beginning of the Second Temple period is accompanied by the word of God given to the prophets, and the beginning of the Second Temple marks, among other things, the end of this period, the period of prophecy.


The question immediately arises: Were not the prophets of the First Temple period at a higher level than the Members of the Great Assembly? Despite their wisdom, and their righteousness, and the holy spirit that rested upon them, the Members of the Great Assembly did not merit Divine revelation through sounds and visions, as did the prophets of the First Temple – Yirmeya, Yeshaya, Yechezkel, and the others.


Second, there is the matter of miracles. Well known are the words of Chazal about the ten miracles in the First Temple,[5] that were sort of a continuation of the miracles performed for Israel from the time of the exodus from Egypt, through their entry into and conquest of the land, and to the establishment of the Temple. All of these were absent during the days of the Second Temple. Once again it may be asked: Does this not widen the gap between the First and Second Temples, in favor of the First Temple?


Third, there is the national, political situation. The First Temple was built when the kingdom was well established in the hands of King Shlomo. Peace reigned in the land, and the kingdom of Israel was large, strong and broad, and it was a light unto the nations.


The Second Temple was built in the context of exile. Its construction was made possible by virtue of the permission and authority of the Persian kingdom, and the vast majority of Jews did not respond to the challenge and return to land of Israel.


Let us once again ask: Was not the glory of the First Temple greater than that of the Second Temple?


Fourth, there is the Written Law as opposed to the Oral Law. The Second Temple period is the time of the flourishing of the Oral Law, from which the spirit of Israel was built, whereas during the First Temple period the people drew still from the Written Law and the halakhot that were related to Moshe at Sinai.


These distinctions between the First Temple period and the Second Temple period sharpen the distinction between Purim and the other holidays of Israel: miracles, prophecy, the Written Law as opposed to the Oral Law. Why then is Purim an everlasting holiday? The Sefat Emet continues:


This means: Through the unification of the people of Israel themselves, who contain the power of God and the power of the Oral Law, about which it is written: "And He planted everlasting life among us." (ibid.)


It would appear that with these words the Sefat Emet wishes to define the principle that distinguishes between the two Temples. We will try to deepen our understanding of what he is saying by understanding the following marvelous passage, which concerns the dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and the Sages regarding the purity of the “oven of Akhnai”:


It has been taught: On that day Rabbi Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument, but they did not accept them.

He said to them: If the halakha agrees with me, let this carob-tree prove it! Thereupon the carob-tree was torn a hundred cubits out of its place; others say, four hundred cubits. They said to him: No proof can be brought from a carob-tree.

Again he said to them: If the halakha agrees with me, let the stream of water prove it! Whereupon the stream of water flowed backwards. They said to him: No proof can be brought from a stream of water.

Again he said: If the halakha agrees with me, let the walls of the schoolhouse prove it, whereupon the walls inclined to fall. But Rabbi Yehoshua rebuked them, saying: When scholars are engaged in a halakhic dispute, what have you to interfere? Hence they did not fall, in honor of Rabbi Yehoshua, nor did they resume the upright, in honor of Rabbi Eliezer; and they are still standing thus inclined.

Again he said to them: If the halakha agrees with me, let it be proved from Heaven! Whereupon a Heavenly Voice cried out: Why do you dispute with Rabbi Eliezer, seeing that in all matters the halakha agrees with him!

But Rabbi Yehoshua arose and exclaimed: It is not in heaven. What did he mean by this? Rabbi Yirmeya said: That the Torah had already been given at Mount Sinai; we pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice, because You have long since written in the Torah at Mount Sinai: "After the majority must one incline" (Shemot 23:2). (Bava Metzia 59b)


These words can be understood as the Oral Law's "Declaration of Independence."


Rabbi Eliezer zealously tries to hold onto the ancient model of halakhic decision-making and the nature of the revelation of the Torah since the days of Moshe. When Moshe is ignorant of the law, he asks God. When the king wishes to clarify whether or not he should go out to war, he asks by way of the Urim and Tumim. So too the prophets teach the path of God to their contemporaries by way of their prophecies.


Rabbi Eliezer does not want to tell his disputants that his own reasoning is better than theirs. He comes to demonstrate that his position accords with the Divine will. He adduces proofs using the language of the Written Law: the walls of the schoolhouse incline to fall, in the same way that God showed his greatness to all the peoples of the earth when He brought down the walls of Jericho. A stream of water changes its direction in the same way that the Red Sea was split and the Jordan retreated. A Heavenly Voice issues forth, similar to the word of God that was directed to Moshe and Israel at Mount Sinai. What else must God say, so that the Sages will accept the view of Rabbi Eliezer?


The Sages, in their stubbornness, wish to rescue the Oral Law. With their holy spirit, the Sages internalized the dramatic change that took place during the Second Temple period. They understood that reliance on signs and miracles voids the legitimacy of the entire Oral Law, which fundamentally does not rely on such things. They therefore assert the daring principle which contains a measure of provocation toward God – It is not in heaven!


And He planted Eternal life within us


It appears, however, that the Sefat Emet, with no less daring, and perhaps even more, wishes to explain the Sages' ignoring the Heavenly Voice not only as a technical constraint, a lack of prophecy and revelation of the Divine Presence. The Sefat Emet teaches us that the line from the prayer: "Who gave us the Torah of truth and planted eternal life within us," describes two tracks – two channels, by way of which the Torah was given to Israel.


"Who gave us the Torah of truth" describes the revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai where the Torah was given to Israel, through the words of the prophets and through a Heavenly Voice – from top to bottom, in a transcendental manner.


"And He planted eternal life within us" describes the revelation of the Torah through the individual's inner self and personality. The Sefat Emet writes elsewhere:


And the idea of the Oral Law is really the entirety of the positive traits that were implanted in the hearts and souls of the people of Israel, which results from the people of Israel's cleaving to God above. (Sefat Emet,Purim5638)


The reasoning of the Men of the Great Assembly, and afterwards the Pairs, the Tannaim, the Amoraim, the Geonim, the Rishonim, and the Acharonim, does not stand in contradiction to Divine revelation. Nor are they "human rationales" that attempt only to clarify, to analyze, and to understand the Divine revelation at Mount Sinai. They give expression to another manner through which God gives us the Torah and continues to give it to us throughout the generations – the immanent giving of the Torah. The “positive traits that were implanted in the hearts of Israel” are the eternal life that God planted within us, and they reflect the immanent Divine revelation.[6]


It may now be suggested that the decision of the Sages of the Mishna to ignore the Heavenly Voice reflects their desire to listen to the voice of God speaking in their midst. This desire stems from the profound understanding that Divine providence provided them with the opportunity, at this point in history, to expose a new Divine revelation, directly connected to the spiritual situation in which they were found, as follows from these words of the Sefat Emet:


It is stated in the Gemara: Where is there an allusion to Esther in the Torah? As it is written: "And I will hide (haster astir) My face" (Devarim 31:18). And they also said: “They accepted [the Torah] again in the days of Achashverosh.” For in truth, the Torah is the beginning and end of everything. And about this it is stated: "Better is the end of a thing than the beginning of it" (Kohelet 7:8). That is, the people of Israel always cleave to the Torah; therefore, the people of Israel are called "the beginning," for even when they fall, they cleave to “the beginning.” And at the time that they received the Torah, the revelation was the beginning of the Torah, and it was in public, and therefore it was subject to the [evil] eye. But the power of the Torah that is [given] in concealment endures in Israel forever. "And I (anokhi) will hide" – this refers to the I (anokhi) of the Ten Commandments. And with Mordechai was fulfilled: "Who has made us tread upon the high places of our enemies," as it is stated in the Midrash: "And you shall tread upon their high places" (Devarim 33:29) – this refers to Mordechai, a name indicating treading (derikha), since Esther marks the end of the miracles that were given to be written. The beginning of the Torah is "In the beginning," and the end of the Torah is, "And you shall tread upon their high places." And in truth the receiving of the Torah was from the top down, whereas on Purim it was from the bottom up. As it is stated: They confirmed above what was accepted below. This is the meaning of the idea that they accepted the Torah again in the days of Achashverosh. In the days of the hiding of God's face. And over this the evil eye has no control. (Sefat Emet, Purim 5655)


The Sefat Emet opens this section as well with the people of Israel's immanent connection to the Torah. Therefore, there is no reason to be alarmed by falls and declines, which have the nature of an "end," since "better (tov) is the end of a thing than the beginning of it." That is to say, the end is good (tov) when it cleaves to the beginning, and the people of Israel's eternal connection to the Torah turns all of their falls into something that is "tov." It seems, however, that the Sefat Emet wishes to say something more than that, even if he does not do so explicitly.


The simpler understanding of "better is the end of something than the beginning of it" is that the end is better than the beginning, according to which the letter mem in the word me-acharito is not the mem that indicates a source – the end that comes from the beginning – but rather the mem that indicates relationship – the end is better than the beginning.


The matter is alluded to by the famous talmudic passage that is cited by the Sefat Emet at the beginning of the passage:


"And they stood under the mountain" (Shemot 19:17) – Rav Avdimi bar Chama bar Chasa said: This teaches that the Holy One, blessed is He, overturned the mountain upon them like an [inverted] cask, and said to them: If you accept the Torah, it is well; if not, there shall be your burial.

Rabbi Acha bar Yaakov said: This furnishes a strong protest against the Torah.

Rava said: Nevertheless, they re-accepted it in the days of Achashverosh, for it is written: "[The Jews] confirmed, and accepted upon themselves," [i.e.,] they confirmed what they had already accepted. (Shabbat 88b)


Rav Acha bar Yaakov asserts that the overturning of the mountain like a cask provides the people of Israel with an excuse for all generations, allowing them to argue that they are not obligated to keep the Torah, as they only accepted it under duress. This is the strong protest against the Torah. Therefore Rava comes and teaches us that in the days of Achashverosh, they confirmed and accepted – the Jews once again chose God and His Torah, this time by choice, and not through coercion.


From here the Sefat Emet arrives at an amazing distinction: Israel's receiving of the Torah in the beginning on Mount Sinai was a public event, and therefore the evil eye rested upon it, whereas their receiving of the Torah on Purim was done discretely, in a concealed manner, and therefore it was never subject to the control of the evil eye.


The Sefat Emet teaches us that all content and value, every law and obligation that comes to a person from the outside, has an aspect of "overturning a mountain like a cask." The people of Israel were drawn into an agreement to accept the Torah when they said, "We will do and obey," in the wake of a sequence of events of Divine revelation which demonstrated His mighty hand and outstretched arm, with signs and wonders, manifest miracles and great noise. Who would dare say "no" after all this? Who would want to say "no" after all this?


However, the primary problem is not the courage to refuse. It is not the threat: "If you accept the Torah, it is well; if not, there shall be your burial," that opens the door to the evil eye. It is precisely the great light, the total revelation, the great noise, or as the Sefat Emet formulates the matter, the public nature of the event, that divert a person's attention from himself, from his inner desire, from his self-adjustment to the revelation, from introspection, and bring him to a state of ecstasy and an out of body experience. His eyes are lifted to the top of the mountain, his mind is set on the heavy cloud and on Moshe, God's representative, who approaches the thick darkness where God is found.


Is he worthy? Does he want this? Is there any inner assent to the agreement which reached expression in the words: "We will do and obey"? He does not ask any of these questions; he does not even think about them. His mind, his consciousness, his feelings are not directed to any of this.


But in just another minute, the noise will be silenced, the cloud will disappear, and the fog will dissipate. At that point the person will find himself in a relationship, in service into which he was carried away. Now, after the storm, he panics. Really? Is this my place? Is this my choice? Is this my level? The evil eye rules.


When the public dimension disappears, the individual remains in his private domain and asks himself time and time again: Am I in a place that is appropriate for me?


The Torah which comes from the top down, from the mountaintop to the people of Israel, both in terms of the initiative and drama and in terms of the movement, is indeed a "beginning," but it leaves a wide breach for the argument whose halakhic expression is: "This furnishes a strong protest against the Torah." In existential terms this refers to great uncertainty, extensive undermining, terrible detachment, all of which led to the golden calf and the lawlessness that surrounded it.


The repair of this giving of the Torah is "And I will hide My face." The Sefat Emet teaches us that the "I" is the "I" of the Ten Commandments, and the idea of Purim is the hiding of this "I" – "Verily You are a God who hides Yourself; You are the God of Israel who saves them" (Yeshaya 45:15).


Perhaps it is here that the Sefat Emet teaches us the most important principle of all. The only way to reach a receiving of the Torah that is "from the bottom up," an inner receiving of the Torah, one that stems from inner desire, passes through "And I will hide My face."


Only through silencing of the public dimension is this possible. Without thunder and lightning, without ten manifest miracles, without prophecy, and even without the Urim and the Tumim. A deafening silence of God. The campaign is left, as it were, in the hands of an old and foolish king, who determines the fate of the people of Israel. The power of the Written Law dwindles – exile!


And in this darkness, in this great silence, and only in them, can an inner voice suddenly be heard. A voice that had always called out, but owing to the great noise of the public aspects of the event, the great miracles, the voice of God that cuts through heaven and earth from the top down, this inner voice could never be heard.


And the light increasingly grows from the bottom up, the Divine revelation becomes increasingly exposed from the inside out. This time we are dealing with personal, multifaceted revelation that arises in each one of us, in accordance with one’s ability and devotion. There is no public dimension that will obscure the differences, that will sweep away the deficiencies – all in accordance with the truth of "and He planted eternal life within us."


This is cleaving, this is acceptance of the Torah over which the evil eye has no control, because there are no gaps. What there is there is, and what is missing is missing. This is the "end" that is higher, surprisingly, than the "beginning," precisely because it arose in the exile, precisely because it grew from darkness, precisely because it is much less dramatic, much less ecstatic, but it comes from the root of the soul that cleaves to the infinite.


The Sefat Emet teaches us that this is the power of the Oral Law that has a higher dimension than the Written Law. "It is not in Heaven," in this sense, is not a compromise, but rather a striving for a new revelation.


The Written Law was given at Sinai by way of Moshe – from the top down. The Oral Law is given and grows by way of tens of thousands of students, from the Men of the Great Assembly, through the Pairs, the Tannaim, the Amoraim, the Saboraim, the Geonim, the Rishonim, to the latest Acharonim, who will never be the last – from the bottom up. And this Torah is multifaceted, diverse, full of disagreements that reflect the different ways in which God reveals Himself through His Sages. God is pleased by this revelation:


And the entire matter of the Second Temple was the dimension of the Oral Law and the fences and ordinances that were made for the Torah. And the Holy One, blessed is He, agreed with them, as it says: They confirmed above what they accepted below. (Sefat Emet,Purim5643)


God remained silent and stepped aside in order to allow this revelation. He removed Himself and contracted, in order to appear and to reveal Himself anew. The amazing talmudic passage dealing with the oven of Akhnai ends as follows:


Rabbi Natan met Eliyahu and asked him: What did the Holy One, blessed is He, do in that hour? He said to him: He laughed [with joy], saying, "My sons have defeated Me, My sons have defeated Me." (Bava Metzia 59b)


We might say, with love and trepidation, when our hearts are happy with wine, that those stubborn Sages who refused to listen to the Heavenly Voice rescued God from missing the opportunity to appear in a new, inner and repaired light.


For a moment, God wanted to retreat. The darkness of exile and the detachment of the Torah Sages from the direct words of God, terrified, as it were, even Him. Therefore God once again appeared in an uprooted carob-tree, in a water stream that flowed backwards, and even in a Heavenly Voice – as the Torah was given at Mount Sinai.


Let us forget about the exile, He suggests. Perhaps it is better that I continue to reveal Myself and appear before You, so that I may speak My word. He almost pleads, as it were. But the Sages, in their greatness, refuse to give in. They long to reveal the Divine light, the light of eternal life. God smiles and says: Thank you, My dear wise men, My sons have defeated Me.


"And these days of Purim should not fail from Among the Jews"


This principle, according to the Sefat Emet, is also the reason why the days of Purim will not pass, even after the rest of the holidays on the Jewish calendar will be cancelled:


Therefore the days of Purim shall not fail, since the matter was by way of an awakening from below. Therefore they are days of feasting, for “One who eats that which is not his is embarrassed to look upon [the giver]” (Yerushalmi Orla 1:3). But those who attain merit by virtue of the awakening of their repentance, their hearts are happy for themselves. (ibid.)


The acquisition of the Torah from the bottom up is an acquisition that is not subject to the evil eye. This acquisition authentically reflects the seeking of God on the part of the individual and of the people of Israel. It is an eternal acquisition, and therefore it is accompanied by great joy. The Sefat Emet cites the words of the Jerusalem Talmud (Orla 1:3, 6a):


How does he know? Rabbi Bivi said in the name of Rabbi Chanina: If the leaves face the young vine, it is clear that it lives by virtue of the mature vine, and if the leaves face the mature vine, it is clear that it lives by virtue of the young vine. Rabbi Yuden bar Chanin said: The sign is that one who eats that which is not his is embarrassed to look at him.


This discussion relates to what is stated in the Mishna (Orla 1:5) regarding the branch of a mature grape-vine that was grafted onto a different grape-vine and also in the earth. We must consider whether the mature grape-vine provides for all the needs of the vine that surrounds it. There is a practical difference with respect to the prohibition of orla.


Rabbi Bivi in the name of Rabbi Chanina in the Jerusalem Talmud proposes a criterion to serve as an indication: When the leaves face the old grape-vine, this means that they do not draw their nutrition from it; and when the leaves do not face it, this means that they draw their nutrition from it. Rabbi Yuden bar Chanin wishes to establish a sign for this matter which he derives from the normal way of the world: "One who eats that which is not his is embarrassed to look at [the giver]."


The exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Torah, the clouds of glory under which Israel found a haven, were all acts of absolute lovingkindness, great charity for a nation of slaves that had just been liberated from their servitude. The Sefat Emet teaches us that this lovingkindness, with all its marvels, casts a slight shadow on the perfection, the joy, and the devotion. We are certainly dealing with a connection between Israel and God, but it may be said that this connection is "back-to-back." There is embarrassment and discomfort. It is accompanied by the feeling of unwarranted grace – "O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us embarrassment" (Daniel 9:7).


This is not the case with respect to Israel's receiving the Torah on Purim: from the bottom up, out of inner awakening, by choice. This receiving of the Torah is filled with joy and the delight of mutual face-to-face devotion. Inner and profound truth had just been exposed; truth had waited for the exile, for the darkness, for concealment, in order to be exposed.


Sight as opposed to Logic that is heard


The Sefat Emet teaches us that not only is such a connection not subject to the rule of the evil eye; it is also characterized by the fact that it contains an element of eternity. The Pachad Yitzchak writes as follows:


"And the memorial of them shall not perish from their seed" (Esther 9:28). Even when all the festivals will be cancelled, Purim will not be cancelled, as it is stated: "And the memorial of them shall not perish from their seed." The course of events is as follows: This may be likened to two people who were ordered to recognize people at night. One lit a candle and looked at the people by the light of the candle in order to recognize their faces. The second one did not have a candle, and because he had to recognize the people, he trained himself to recognize them by their voices. As for clarity, the first one is better than the second, for recognizing a person through seeing is clearer than recognizing him through hearing. On the other hand, the second is better than the first, because he acquired for himself a new skill of listening to the voices of people, whereas the first one who used a candle lacks this skill of recognizing a person through his sense of hearing. And it turns out that afterwards, when the morning star rises and the first one blows out his candle, for a candle during the day accomplished nothing, all the powers that his work gave him at night by candlelight are now superfluous. In contrast, the second one, though now he too recognizes the people, nevertheless the powers of hearing and listening that his work created at night, will forever be his… It turns out that there are two types of illumination. The first is "The Lord shall be a light to me" in general, and the second is "When I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light to me" (Mikha 7:8). The superiority of Purim lies specifically in the light that shines even in the darkness. And just as the power that guides a person down his path even in the darkness is superior to plain light, so too those pearls of knowledge that shine in the ignorance of "until he does not know" are exceedingly precious. (Pachad Yitzchak, 34)


Here Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner teaches us about inner hearing that is exposed specifically in the darkness, specifically in concealment. At first glance, a candle illuminates with great light, and it is precisely in listening that light is missing. It has darkness, absence, and concealment. In the end, however, inner listening creates an encounter with eternity, with the unchanging. It brings us into contact with dimensions that vision cannot see, and even interferes with seeing them. The Nazir, R. David Cohen,writes as follows:


The main thing is that in addition to light that is visible, there is universal Divine vitality, from the source of life, that is internal, invisible, listened to and heard, that is superior to visible light. (Kol ha-Nevu'a, p. 129)


The Nazir distinguishes between light that is seen and vitality that is listened to and heard. Elsewhere he calls this second phenomenon "auditory logic." According to the Nazir, hearing is not absorbing information, but rather inner listening that does not pass through the world of definitions and concepts, but instead it is absorbed by other means that are not from the world of being. Auditory logic allows for penetration to the roots of existence and an inner meeting with vitality itself, which comes from a supernal source – the infinite, the crown.


The great miracles of the exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea, the assembly at Mount Sinai – were seen with the eyes, and this seeing is a sign that cannot be denied.[7] The miracle of Purim that is hidden in the Megilla, which is entirely devoid of God's name, cannot be seen; one must listen for it.


This is the secret of Purim masks. When a person enters a room filled with his acquaintances, as soon as they see his face, they know who he is. But were he to enter with a mask, they would have to listen to his voice in order to know who he is. If he distorts his voice, they will have to listen to the substance of his words in order to identify him. The more that he conceals, the more that he disguises himself, the more he forces his acquaintances to contemplate him in a more profound and inner manner.


This is the secret of Purim, and the Sefat Emet teaches us that this is also the secret of the exile in general, concealment that necessitates deeper and more inner exposure.


The historical significance of the events of Purim is negligible. As stated, "We are still servants of Achashverosh." However, Purim teaches us, as does the entire exile, to identify the light of God in concealment, in darkness. This trait, which we acquire on Purim and which we continue to acquire against our will in the days of our personal and national exile, is an eternal acquisition, inner listening that touches upon the infinite.


According to the Pachad Yitzchak, this is also the basis of the obligation to drink wine on Purim "until he does not know," for here too we choose to touch the light not through cognition, not through reason or distinctions, but rather through a more inner intuition. The Sefat Emet continues:


Now before the Temple is built, Amalek must be brought down, as it is stated: "Because the Lord has sworn by His throne" (Shemot 17:16) – the Holy One, blessed is He, has sworn that His name will not be whole until [Amalek] is wiped out. And so the mitzva when [Israel] entered the land was to wipe out the seed of Amalek and build the Temple. Therefore also before [building] the Second Temple it was necessary to wipe out Amalek. Therefore there was a reason from the king that Haman should rise so that he could be brought down. As was stated above in explanation of: "But Mordechai did not bow" (Esther 3:2), that this was the main intention. And it says: "Amalek was the first of the nations; but his latter end shall be everlasting perdition" (Bemidbar 24:20), that this wicked [nation] will stand from the beginning to the end. And it will suffer defeat at the beginning and at the end, as it happened immediately following the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt – "And Amalek came." And so too every year on the festival of Pesach which is the beginning of Israel, as it says: "This month shall be to you" (Shemot 12:2). Therefore all of Haman's strengthening was on the thirteenth of Nissan, pride going before destruction. And afterwards by virtue of the Omer, he was defeated. Similarly at the end, the end of the absolute wiping out of his name. There is something like that every Adar, at the end of the year. It is called Purim because of the "pur," the lot. As it is stated in the Gemara: One who has a dispute with a non-Jew should push off going to court until Adar when his luck is good. So too from heaven he is pushed off from month to month until Adar so that his name should be wiped out entirely. (ibid.)


The Sefat Emet takes note of the historical and annual cycles regarding the timing of Amalek's arrival. The First Temple period began with Israel's exodus from Egypt, immediately after which Amalek appeared, and the First Temple period ended and the Second Temple period began at the time of Purim, when Haman of the seed of Amalek was defeated by the nation of Mordechai.


So too in the story of Purim itself, the beginning of the buildup of Haman's strength was on the thirteenth of Nissan, at the beginning of the year, Nissan being the first month of the year. Amalek's defeat was on the thirteenth of Adar, that is, at the end of the year, Adar being the twelfth month. Therefore, every year, the month of Adar is a time suited for the destruction of Amalek and the beginning of a new era.


We have already noted that Amalek came at the beginning in order to cool down, to destroy the enthusiasm of the great light, the great lovingkindness that man merited. Perhaps the Sefat Emet means to teach us that the process of cooling down, of darkening, is essential. Amalek creates an empty space, an abyss of doubt. He cools down the enthusiasm, subdues the ecstasy, and thereby he commits a grave sin and becomes the most dangerous of Israel's enemies. However, the result of this cooling down and darkening, we now learn, is a search for a more inner light, one that is more real and more refined.


We can now say that Amalek's role at the beginning of the process was to create a kind of "exile" in which there would arise renewed, inner, and deeper yearning for the light of God that is revealed inside.


The exile is similar to a teenage boy's running away from home after becoming filled with doubts about everything that he received from his parents. Now he wants to know who he really is, to know himself, to reveal his powers. He must examine what is really his and what he was coerced to receive (in the sense of overturning a mountain like a cask). The doubt destroyed the boy's capability of receiving anything from his parents, but it invites him to engage in deep introspection and uncover the inner truth, which is also his legacy by virtue of his parents, not by way of words, lessons and classes, but in the sense of "And He planted within us eternal life."


Using the terminology of Rabbi Nachman, we can say that Amalek is the doubt that creates the space that is empty of God, and therefore it offers a real opportunity for the world to be created in that space. Rabbi Nachman teaches us that without that space God would not be able to reveal Himself and appear before us.


Exile taught Israel to expose the dimension of "filling all the worlds," which might be hidden, but it is infinite and illuminates with a much greater light than the dimension of "causing all the worlds."


According to the Sefat Emet, it was in exile that we learned to pray, to be alone, to speak to God, to feel, to sense, to listen to the voice of God that speaks inside of us. To know that even in the absence of a great light, God illuminates the darkness of the innermost parts of the body.


Pesach, the exodus from Egypt, the giving of the Torah, the foundational events of the First Temple period, taught us to see with our eyes the light of God that appears in a great noise before the eyes of all living creatures in thunder and lightning, and echoes from one end of the world to the other – "I am the Lord."


Purim, the foundational event of the Second Temple period, teaches us to listen with our spiritual tools to the pulse that beats in routine life. Through inner and deep listening, we will find that it too proclaims with that same great voice – "I am the Lord."


To accomplish this end, God hides Himself from us and puts on a disguise. In order that we should listen, and be more sensitive and spiritual.


To do this we dress up, get drunk and for a moment lose our minds, our sight, and dedicate ourselves to listening, to the dimension of "they confirmed and they accepted" from the bottom up.


The Third Temple period, which with God's help will arrive shortly, will teach us how to join heaven and earth, "Who gave us the Torah of truth" to "and planted eternal life within us." Thus the Prophet promises:


Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Yehuda: not according to the covenant that I made with  their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which covenant of Mine they broke, although I was their master, says the Lord; but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord; I will put My Torah in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people, and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest to them, says the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Yirmiyahu 31:30-33)


Giving that involves a covenant, in which there is a dialogue, not from the outside, but from the inside. There will be no more lessons, no more studies, no more distinctions, no more sound and light shows[8] – but rather inner emanation, the inner light of God, knowledge of God out of devotion and connection, knowledge that involves receiving from the bottom up. However, in an amazing, magical and incomprehensible manner, as can only be in the Third Temple period, at the same time there will be giving from top to bottom. There will be a combination of transcendence and immanence, of inside and outside, of lovingkindness and truth, of revelation and concealment.


On that day, God will be one and His name will be one. Until then, God will continue to listen to us patiently, smile, and say – "My sons have defeated Me, My sons have defeated Me."


Have a happy Purim!


Translated by David Strauss 


[1] The addition of Yom Kippur according to Rabbi Elazar only intensifies the question, for there is a huge difference between Purim and Yom Kippur. 

[2] This teaching is long and we will be citing it in sections.

[3] The Ramban in his novellae to Megilla maintains that the significant background to all of the events described in the book of Esther is Israel's return to Zion during that period.

[4] It should be noted that this distinction puts Chanuka and Purim on the same side as holidays of the Second Temple period, but we will relate to Purim by itself, as does the Sefat Emet.

[5] "Ten wonders were performed for our fathers in the Temple: No woman miscarried from the odor of the sacrificial flesh; the sacrificial flesh never became putrid; no fly was seen in the slaughterhouse; no personal uncleanness occurred to the High Priest on Yom Kippur; the rains did not extinguish the fire of the wood of the pile; the wind did not prevail against the column of smoke; no disqualification was found in the omer or in the two loaves or in the shewbread; they stood pressed, yet prostrated themselves with wide spaces between them; never did a serpent or a scorpion do injury in Jerusalem; and no man said to his fellow: The place is too strait for me to lodge overnight in Jerusalem." (Avot 5:5)

[6] Of course, attention should be paid to the mention of "cleaving" (devekut). The Divine light that reveals itself in each individual requires clarification, refinement and exposure, and for that purpose one must cleave to God. One cannot be God's faithful agent without cleaving to Him. In order to expose the dimension of "And He planted within us eternal life," one must refine oneself and cling to God.

[7] Rabbi Yehuda Halevi tries to base the Jewish faith on these events, as they are proven and undeniable.

[8] This question is not only a question of faith regarding God’s revelations in this world, but also an existential question connected to the act of educating and teaching. The tension between the desire to educate, instruct, convey messages, provide information, establish norms, etc., and the desire to enable inner exposure, to learn to listen to yourself, to allow a comfortable climate for creating and revelation, is a constant tension.

Inevitably we know that the more we teach, the more we pass on, the more we educate, the less room we allow for inner listening, and the person being "educated" is liable to lose himself along with the Divine revelation beating within him. We must learn to be like God and walk in His ways. To go out into exile. To be silent. To leave our students alone. To diminish our power. To be less demagogic, not to be tempted by mind-blowing classes full of drama and attractions. We must learn to make room, to allow ourselves and our students to listen to our inner voices.

On the other hand, God not only fills the world, but also causes it, and it is our foremost obligation to ourselves and to our students to learn to see, to observe, to be prepared for "the overturning of the mountain like a cask."

How sweet is the vision of the prophet Yirmeya who succeeds in leaping between the two poles and uniting them in complete unity. The giving of the Torah, on the one hand, and the receiving of the Torah, on the other. Listening inward which is essentially also looking outward – that is the covenant!