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A More Selfless Purim

Should Purim look the same this year?

Last Purim, I had an experience more impactful than anything else I’ve experienced in my two years at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh. My Rebbe hosted a Seudah along with our Shoel U’Meishiv, Rav Noam Lawee. Anybody who knows Rav Lawee will undoubtedly agree that you’d be hard pressed to find a man more pure, kind, compassionate, and selfless than him. At the Seudah, people were in great spirits, the yeshiva food was wonderful, and of course, wine was flowing (in a responsible manner). A few minutes in, a sober Rav Lawee stood up to share some Torah, but prefaced with a sentence I will never forget. He said “Purim is a wonderful and joyous time, but we must also take a moment to remember and pray for our brothers and sisters who are not celebrating Purim like us this year. Some because they or their family members were killed in terrorist attacks, and others because they are out protecting our nation and our land.” And as he said it, his voice cracked, and he began to cry. He concluded by speaking about Purim, and the Seudah went on as most yeshiva Purim Seudahs do. If I gained nothing in my time in Yeshiva other than those 30 seconds of introductory remarks, it would have been well worth it.

Rav Lawee’s words have been seared into my mind and heart since then. To have the sensitivity, empathy, and compassion to pause one’s own happiness to cry for an unknown person’s pain and loss, to appreciate a soldier’s service, is something that left me in awe, and shakes me to the core to this very day. These are not only the words of Rav Lawee – Esther herself so viscerally expresses the same emotion in the Megillah. Although she is safe from Haman’s decree in the security of the palace, she pleads with Achashveirosh to retract the decree to destroy the Jews, and in a moment of raw vulnerability, she cries out, “For how can I bear to see the disaster which will befall my people, and how can I bear to see the destruction of my kindred!” (Esther 8:6).

In the worst of ways, Rav Lawee’s words from that Purim Seudah are exponentially more relevant this year. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to balance the upcoming Simchas Purim with the tremendous sorrow and tragedy we’ve encountered and continue to face, both personally and nationally, in recent months. Perhaps this year’s Purim celebration should be a little different. How can I engage in a regular Purim full of exuberance, drinking, and joy, when the avreich that lives 30 seconds from my dorm hasn’t been home for months and his family is spending Purim without him? When instead of a funny video of soldiers drowning out “Haman” with gunshots on a shooting range, the sounds of very real gunshots reverberate through Khan Younis? When close to 2000 families suddenly have one more chair than they need? Many soldiers might respond that they fight so that we can celebrate freely, but their motive does not necessarily absolve us of the responsibility to bear the burdens of our fellow Jew.

I don’t think there is one universal answer for how each person should celebrate Purim this year. However, after almost half a year of turbulence, many of us have understandably grown accustomed to the constant pain of our people, and are back to regular life, more or less. Despite that, we mustn’t forget that there are still over 90 hostages in Gaza, 30 corpses being held by various terror groups in Gaza, soldiers engaging in daily battles with terrorists, more than 100,000 people displaced from the north and south, and that tensions on the Lebanese border are only rising. 

To be clear, one need not celebrate less, but we must celebrate differently. We must keep a routine, but we mustn’t do it routinely. We must reorient and repurpose our Simcha. We must remind ourselves that Purim is a day of prayer and recognition of God’s salvation, a day of community, and a day of selflessness. Half of the Mitzvot of Purim – Mishloach Manot and Matanot L’evyonim — are about communal and social responsibility, and it is crucial that we not only observe these Mitzvot, but also internalize their underlying ethical principle: that Purim is a holiday rooted in being concerned for and uplifting our brothers and sisters. 

Reorienting our mindset is no light task, and for many it is difficult to do on a whim. Therefore, we must heed the wisdom of the Chinukh (Sefer HaChinukh 16), ’אחרי הפעולות נמשכים הלבבות’ — our actions can influence our emotions – and make conscious changes to our Purim this year in order to aid us in bearing the burden of our fellow people. Here are a few things you can do this year (and every year!): 

Spend a little less money on Mishloach Manot or your Seudah and give that money to those affected by the war. In the eternal words of Rambam (Hilchot Megillah 2:16) “There is no greater and more splendid happiness than to gladden the hearts of the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the converts.” 

Pause your Seudah, as Rav Lawee did, to remember and pray for those we have lost, and those currently protecting us. As Rav Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin teaches (Pri Tzadik Purim 1), just as on Purim we are required to give charity to whomever reaches out to us, so too, God indiscriminately answers the prayers of those who call out to Him on Purim. 

Go to one less Purim party, and spend that time learning, davening, or saying Tehillim in the merit of our soldiers or the fallen. 

Find the family whose father is on reserve duty, and offer to take one or two of the children around with you on Purim to give the mother time to breathe and her children a chance to have an exciting Purim day. 

If you know how to read Megillah, volunteer to read for an injured soldier who can’t attend a Megillah reading. 

Go with a few friends to a hospital that treats injured soldiers and sing, dance, and share Torah with them. 

Find a displaced family and cheer them up. Maybe even invite them to your Seudah. 

These are just a few suggestions that come to mind, but there are so many more ways we can make our Purim more about Am Yisrael, and less about ourselves, while still celebrating Purim with the same level of Simcha we always do. And I have a sneaking suspicion that if done right, it will even enhance your Simchas Purim. 

You may decide to do one of the things I suggested or come up with your own. Again, I can’t say what each person should do. However, our national crisis demands that each and every one of us think about how we behave this Purim in light of the war and loss that has tainted this year with a bleak shade of black. For how can we bear to see the disaster which has befallen our people? 

About the Author
Binyamin Meiri is 20 years old and currently a student at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh. Originally from New York, he recently made Aliyah, and will be joining the IDF in April.
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