Why I Love Purim

Purim is not simply a holiday—it’s a state of being. One is obligated to become intoxicated ON Purim, but more importantly IN Purim—in the essence of the the day itself.

On Purim we believe that:

The world can change in a heartbeat as our destiny can transcend our fate. However dark the world may seem or actually be, Purim reminds us that nothing is permanent as we have the innate power to radically transform our realities.  Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik taught, “One’s mission in this world is to turn fate into destiny, an existence that is passive and influenced to an existence that is active and influential.” Instead of the Jews relying on a miracle to overcome Haman, the Jews themselves took action. As the mystics remind us, an awakening from below causes an awakening from above.

A lonely orphan can save the Jewish people. Long before Disney started having female protagonist in their movies, the Torah had Queen Esther. She is an eternal symbol of spiritual resistance and civil disobedience. Like many of our great leaders throughout Jewish history, she reminds us that true leadership emerges from conviction, not lineage.

Happiness is found in giving. On Purim we celebrate by eating and drinking but this is not ultimately where our happiness derives from. Rambam teaches that, “there is no greater and more splendid happiness than to gladden the hearts of the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the stranger.” On Purim we are commanded to give gifts to the poor and to our friends as a way of teaching us that giving is the true source of happiness.

Doubt is our biggest enemy. Haman was a descendant of Amalek, the eternal enemy of the Jewish people. The sages remind us that the war against Amalek is also internal as the numerical equivalent of Amalek in Hebrew is the same as the word safek (doubt). According to Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, “Amalek seeks to encourage and perpetuate doubt”.  Doubt is what often inhibits growth and progress. Amalek is that little voice deep inside ourselves that continually seeks to undermine us by questioning our worth and strength. Purim is about overcoming self-doubt by recognizing our full potential.

We’re stronger when we’re are together. Esther’s very first call to action in the  rebellion against Haman was to “gather all the Jews”.  Jewish unity is not just a lofty ideal but integral to our survival. The Midrash teaches, “If a man takes in his hands a number of reeds bound together, can he break them? Only if they are separated, each from the other, can they be broken.” With the rise of antisemitism and so much internal divide among Jewry today, we should deeply consider internalizing her ancient call.

Happy Purim!

About the Author
Jonathan Leener is the rabbi of the Prospect Heights Shul in Brooklyn and is pursuing a master's degree in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Yeshiva University
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