The Observant Jew: From Pesach to Purim
By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz
A few weeks before Purim I saw a sign. No, G-d wasn’t talking to me again, at least, not directly. It was an actual paper sign written in Yiddish and it spoke to me. Forgive my translation but it roughly said: “Attention: This entire building is already Purim’dik. It is strongly prohibited to bring in any sadness or bitterness.”
It was clearly a play on the commonly-seen sign when people have already cleaned their homes or offices for Pesach, and they warn people not to bring any chametz or leavened items in. To me, I found it brilliant and funny at the same time. In the true Purim spirit of taking one thing and turning it into another, they’d found a way to utilize this popular approach to Pesach in a Purim jest.
I wondered what the world would be like if people really treated Purim like Pesach. Now, I know some people do, and just as you have folks planning menus and inviting Pesach guests months in advance, there are those whose Mishloach Manos food has been in the freezer since the kids were in camp and costumes which were decided upon three years in advance.
Most of us, however, would rate Pesach at a higher level of importance and need of focus than Purim. Granted it is one of the Shalosh Regalim, Judaism’s Big Three holidays (not to be confused the three cardinal sins, Judaism’s OTHER Big Three), but let’s not be so quick to dismiss Purim. The Ari z”l among others, for example, comments that Purim is greater than Yom Kippur. The name Yom Ki’Purim should be a tip off that it’s only like Purim, but not quite there.
What you can achieve on Purim through joy is more than you can achieve on Yom Kippur through awe. In fact, the Ari z”l himself said that most of his success in Torah and Avodas HaShem came from the joy with which he served G-d and performed mitzvos.
Now back to my concept. What if people took Purim as seriously as Pesach? What if we went to the same extremes for Purim that we do when cleaning for Pesach?
Let’s start with Matanos L’evyonim, gifts of money to the poor. Giving tzadaka is how we partner with HaShem. Here’s how that works:
Imagine a woman sees a person collecting tzedaka. She might or might not give, but if she has her young son with her, she’s more likely to give the kid money to give to the poor person. She’s training him to give. HaShem does the same thing. When there are people in need, He gives another of His children the dollar or two or a hundred that He wants to give to the other person so they get used to giving.
On Purim, we have the specific mitzvah of giving gifts to the poor. But why do we do it? Are we being trained to give like that young boy, without really understanding what we’re doing, or are we perhaps being trained that we should not feel satisfied until others are taken care of?
It’s quite a difference. Just as most of us would not be comfortable giving a room a casual sweep and say, “OK, it’s ready for Pesach,” we should not be satisfied that we’ve fulfilled our need to fulfill the needs of others.
We should feel that as long as some people don’t have, it’s like leaving chametz in the house. Maybe we start to shift some of the dollars from Mishloach Manos to Matanos L’Evyonim. But then again, maybe we start to understand the great importance of Mishloach Manos itself!
Is it about giving people a gift that says, “I’m talented and creative,” or one that says, “You inspire me and I’m so glad to know you!”? We are supposed to improve relationships on Purim, and that should be reflected in our gift-giving. The punishment for eating chametz on Pesach (Shmos 12:15) is kareis, or being Divinely cut off from Klal Yisrael. Shouldn’t that teach us the importance of staying connected to them?
And finally, as the sign said to me, Purim and the seudah are intended to teach us how to enjoy life and turn physical things into spiritual ones. If we recognize that just as chametz hinders our spiritual lives on Pesach, we should take the lesson that sadness, worry, and anger hamper our spiritual lives all year round.
We should treat bitterness and stress like the chametz in our homes and businesses and banish them from our lives! Especially on Purim we understand how much sense this makes since what we thought was bad turned out to be good and HaShem was planning our salvation long before we started planning our costumes.
Yes, I saw the sign, and I think it’s one we should all put up in our homes. I’m sure we’d all be a lot better off if we kept our lives Purim’dik all year.
Jonathan Gewirtz is an inspirational writer and speaker whose work has appeared in publications around the world. You can find him at www.facebook.com/RabbiGewirtz and follow him on Twitter @RabbiJGewirtz. He also operates JewishSpeechWriter.com, where you can order a custom-made speech for your next special occasion. Sign up for the Migdal Ohr, his weekly PDF Dvar Torah in English. E-mail info@JewishSpeechWriter.com and put Subscribe in the subject.