Purim in Eretz Yisrael, like all holidays, is very special. But there’s a twist about celebrating Purim here that is unique. We have cities which were walled in the days of Yehoshua’s conquest of the Promised Land. As a result, we have communities celebrating on either the fourteenth or the fifteenth of Adar. That little variation in the timing of Purim means that many people can choose which day to celebrate, based on where they sleep on the fourteenth and fifteenth of Adar. Many younger people opt to celebrate both. I vaguely remember having the energy to keep both days. It was cool. But this year for my first time I am going to celebrate PURIM MESHULASH, the three-day Purim.
I’m not going to explain the whole process, because I’m sure there will be numerous sources to check for details. But very quicky: When the fifteenth on Adar falls on Shabbat people living in ancient walled cities, like Yerushalayim, read the Megila and give monetary gifts to the poor on that Friday. The Purim SEUDA and MESHALOACH MANOT food packages are performed on Sunday the sixteenth. That leaves the fifteenth, our actual day of Purim, without any of the four famous mitzvot of the day. How can it be Purim without the mitzvot? What can we do to make this Shabbat feel like Purim?
I know very well that the fun feelings of Purim are inextricably bound up with these performances. We love dressing up for either the SEUDA or the reading, and the distribution of MESHLOACH MANOT is always fun. So, what does that leave to do on Shabbat? Well, we read the Torah reading at the end of Parshat B’Shalach, which is about Amalek and is always read on Purim. And we recite the AL HaNISSIM paragraph for Purim in the Amida and Birchat HaMazon.
Since, we only recite AL HaNISSIM on Shabbat, we’re definitively stating that this is the only real day of Purim. But what should we do to actualize that reality? We are a religion of action. Perhaps, Judaism is really a ‘praxis’ or set of practices. Jews are at a loss when we don’t have specific activities to express our festive celebration. Take Shavuot for example. When we had the Beit HaMikdash, Shavuot was about the special offerings, especially the SHTEI HaLECHEM, but in the post-Temple world the rabbis had to make up customs, like staying up all night.
Well, the Talmud came to our rescue, and rules: If Purim falls out on Shabbat, Rav Yehoshua ben Levi said that there should public learning about Purim (Megila 4a). The Mishne Brura rules that there should be public lectures on the Megilla and Purim when it falls on Shabbat, because on a regular Purim the Megilla itself is the public lecture (688:16). It declares all the salient points this festival comes to represent.
So, what should we learn on that special Shabbat, here in Yerushalayim, IR HAKODESH? Obviously, the Megilla is always a great topic, but I’d like to nominate another candidate: AL HaNISSIM. This modest paragraph states a powerful reality, which is worthy of our attention.
We read AL HaNISSIM on both post-Chumash holidays, Chanukah and Purim. However, after the opening praise of God’s miraculous behavior the two descriptions of the holidays really couldn’t be more different. On Chanukah, we’re thanking God for supporting our efforts against an enemy who ‘rose up against Your people, Israel, to make them forget Your Torah and to force them to transgress the statutes of Your will.’ On Purim, on the other hand, ‘Haman, the villain, rose up to destroy, slay and exterminate all Jews, young and old, children and women.’ Except for the ‘rose up’ (AMAD), the two scenarios are totally different.
There is another significant difference. On Chanukah, God ‘championed their cause…and delivered the strong into the hands of the weak.’ On Purim, God ‘thwarted his counsel, frustrated his plans’. These two celebrations are very different. In one, God saved us from heresy and assimilation; in the other God saved our necks, literally. Also, the means of salvation was very different, In the case of Chanukah, God supported our efforts; in the case of Purim, God did all the heavy lifting. We appeared to be very passive on Purim.
It’s easy, and common, to lump these two later events in Jewish history together. However, when we stop to read what the rabbis wrote about them, we see two very different kinds of events. One was a spiritual war, which we waged. The other was a life-saving event totally orchestrated by God.
What are we supposed to learn from these major historical events? Perhaps, that wars of the mind and conscience must be waged by the person involved. God can fight for us, but not think for us. Maybe. But I believe strongly that the difference is Eretz Yisrael and the Diaspora.
The Jews fighting against Hellenists were in Eretz Yisrael. The Jews defending themselves from Haman were in the Persian exile. In Israel, we have greater control over our fate than our beloved brethren in CHUTZ L’ARRETZ. In exile, we often have to dress the part and a good, stiff drink helps us to forget that we are guests in another’s land.
So, on this Shabbat which is only celebrated (without discussing the few claims of ancient walls elsewhere) in Eretz Yisrael, it’s a great time, and with a clear head (because the drinking should with the SEUDA on Sunday), to think about the different experiences of the holidays. Then we can remind ourselves: There’s no place like home.