A post-Purim reality check

Gosh, was I disappointed to find cellphone coverage on a 4500m mountain peak. The upside was I could text the sceptical folks back home that I had summitted Tanzania’s Mt Meru. I was sure the guys at Shul had taken bets on my chances for success. A good friend, who had climbed Kilimanjaro some years earlier, was the first to shoot back a text: “Well done on reaching the top; just remember that now you have to get back down.” My burning calves over the next two days explained what he had meant. 

That was ten years ago, but I often think of the spiritual implications of that exchange. Judaism is replete with spiritual mountains for us to scale. We push hard and feel tremendous satisfaction when we reach the peaks of Yom Kippur’s final shofar blast or Pesach’s “Next year in Jerusalem”. And then? Well, then we crash down to earth and slog our way through life until the next headline Jewish occasion.   

Purim is a great example. Purim takes us to the pinnacle of joy and loopy celebrations. Following Purim’s climax, we might experience a national hangover. Wow! That was fun. Now back to reality. And reality ain’t so pretty.    

I almost missed the Purim festivities this year, which got me thinking. I was down with a bug for most of the day and crawled through the jovialities. Did that mean that I’d missed the once-a-year stab at unbridled joy? Will I have to wait a whole year to cash in?

One of Chabad’s famous stories popped into my head the day after Purim. The story sees the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak approach his father on the day after Yom Kippur. “Now what?” he asks. It’s a simple, yet profound question that talks to the heart of our struggle to keep inspiring moments alive. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak wanted his father to explain what spiritual step you take after you’ve experienced the heights of a transformational Yom Kippur. 

“Now?” the Rebbe Rashab, his father, responded. “Now we can begin to do Teshuvah”. 

Special dates are Divine gifts of opportunity. Pesach empowers us to break free of toxic habits, Yom Kippur invites us to redefine ourselves, and Purim challenges us to experience genuine simcha. The real power of those dates lies in what we do with them a day, week or month later. 

Purim is all fun and good; a powerful day chock-full of spiritual resources. Post-Purim is where the magic lies. We all benefit from a special day of joy; we only grow when we generate simcha from within. If I need a happy day to make me happy, I don’t have happiness. Simcha is work, not a windfall. You could be glum at the Purim seudah or joyful in a hospital bed. Simcha doesn’t happen to us but by us. 

Yeah, so I missed most of Purim this year. All I hear in my head is a variation on the post-Yom Kippur theme from that story. 

“Now what? Now we can begin to experience true simcha.”

About the Author
Rabbi Shishler together with his wife, Naomi and their eight children, runs Chabad of Strathavon in Sandton, South Africa. Rabbi Shishler is a popular teacher who regularly lectures around the globe. he hosts a weekly radio show in South Africa and is the rabbi of Facebook's largest Ask the Rabbi group.
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