Rabbi Lazer GurkowRabbi Eliezer (Lazer) Gurkow, currently serving as rabbi of congregation Beth Tefilah in London, Ontario, is a well-known speaker and writer on Torah issues and current affairs.
The Happiest Day of the Year
Purim is arguably the happiest day of the year. I say arguably because it is in close competition with Simchat Torah, the day we complete our annual reading of the Torah. I am not sure which is happier, but I will say this, if they both vie for the title happiest day, there must be a connection between them.
At first blush the two days appear completely disconnected. Purim celebrates the salvation of our people, Simchat Torah celebrates the Torah. Where is the link? Our sages provided the link when they read the Megillah and noted the words, “They [the Jewish people] sustained and undertook” the holiday of Purim. The proper order of this verse should have been they undertook and sustained. First one undertakes a commitment and then one sustains it by following through. The reversal of order clues us into a subtext, otherwise unapparent in this verse.
On the surface the verse speaks of the Jewish commitment to observe the holiday of Purim. The subtext speaks of our commitment to the entire Torah. This commitment was made generations earlier, at Sinai, but it had never been given sustenance until Purim. The subtext of the verse “They sustained and undertook” is that they finally sustained what they undertook at Sinai. What took so long?
G-d Wants To Be Chosen
To answer that we have to answer another question that on the surface seems irrelevant to the subject at hand. The question is why did G-d create the world, what was He lacking that He fulfilled by creation? The answer is as startling as the question – G-d wants to be chosen.
Do you harbor a secret desire to be chosen? It is not respectable to acknowledge such selfish cravings, but there is hardly a human on the planet that doesn’t crave it. It is precisely why marriage proposals are fraught with anxiety and why their acceptance is such a thrill. We want to be chosen, fear we might be rejected and are thrilled to be chosen from among all possible candidates.
Everything about the human condition reflects the Creator in Whose image we were made. If we crave to be chosen, so does G-d, but with a caveat. G-d doesn’t crave it for self affirmation and isn’t insecure. G-d craves it because He does. Why? Because He wants to be chosen. And because He craves it, so do we. Our cravings are imperfect as is all of creation. Our craving is born of insecurity and is geared toward self affirmation, G-d’s craving is perfect and pure.
Before He created the world G-d could not be chosen for one simple reason, there was no one to choose Him. He was alone in His world. Suppose you got tired of society and broke away to live on a desolate mountaintop. You would have all the serenity and quiet you need, but you would lack for one essential ingredient. There would be no one to connect with. No one to touch you and no one for you to touch. No one to choose you and no one that you could choose. This can be debilitating.
In response you surrender your serenity and emerge from isolation. Your quest for friendship and intimacy begins, but so does your challenge. Now you have to get in line and vie for the attention of the few you choose. You know that you need to stand out in order to get to the front of the line so you allow all your inner qualities to shine. You dazzle them with your brilliance, show your humor and display your wealth and sure enough people begin to choose you as their friend, confidante and even mate. So many choose you that you begin to suspect they aren’t really choosing you. They are choosing what you can do for them. They aren’t your friends, they don’t care about you. They care for themselves, which is why they chose you.
You are back to the drawing board. Your emergence didn’t really help you because you weren’t chosen. You overplayed your hand by revealing too much and now it’s hard to find someone who chooses you for you. You now change your tactic; ou play down your beauty, understate your brilliance, conceal your wealth and obscure your talents. You are now playing to the few friends who see past your low-key exterior and seek out the true you. They will choose you for who you are, not for what you do for them.
You are now where you were when you first emerged from isolation; wary of not being chosen, uncomfortable with getting in line and wanting a shortcut to the top. You discovered that shortcuts get you to the front of the line, but not of the line you wanted. You give up on the shortcut and get in line, but you have matured. You no longer seek the adoration of shallow minded throngs. You are now after real friends, you want the few, who can really appreciate value and quality when they see it. When you are chosen this way, you know that you were chosen for yourself and that is a thrill.
A Long Process
This entire analogy applies to G-d sans the fears and insecurities. Before creating the world G-d was all alone. He had everything He wanted and everything went His way, with one exception. There was no one to choose Him. G-d’s solution was to create a world. Now there was someone to choose Him, but the foolish people of this world saw G-d as one option among many. They chose idols over their Creator. He tried punishment, but to no avail and besides, who wants to be chosen for fear of retribution?
G-d’s solution was to dazzle them with His brilliance. He gathered us at Sinai, putting His infinite grandeur and exquisite splendor on brilliant display. We chose G-d, but then again, who wouldn’t? He had literally and figuratively swept us off our feet. We pledged ourselves to G-d and undertook to serve Him with unswerving faith. A pact was born. We would worship G-d and G-d would provide for and shelter us. In peril G-d saved us, in famine G-d fed us and in peace, G-d sustained us.
This went on for a long while, but it wasn’t enough.
Where is the joy in being chosen for what you provide for others? It was time for G-d to be chosen for who He is. Enter the story of Purim. For the very first time we were imperiled and G-d did not swoop down on a figurative white horse to save us. He left us to save ourselves and here came the real test. If G-d would not provide, would we still choose G-d?
The Purim story showed for the first time that when we chose G-d at Sinai, we did it for G-d, not for us. Had it been only for what we got from G-d, we would have abandoned Him at Purim. We didn’t and with this we confirmed that we were in it for the real reason. We gave true sustenance to the commitment we made at Sinai. Until Purim it was unclear whether our commitment would survive without the benefits. On Purim our commitment was given sustenance. It survived the trials and deprivations.
A Final Thought
In the analogy we presented a person who seeks to be chosen for crass reasons, who seeks a shortcut for shallow reason and who discovers true value in life through experience. With G-d, the opposite applies. G-d chose to display His brilliance because He knew that this was required at that stage for a people to choose Him. He moved away from this during Purim because He perceived that we were spiritually mature and capable of choosing Him despite being seemingly abandoned.
When this saga plays out to its end, however, the analogy will unravel completely. Because in the analogy there are only several people who learn to recognize this person’s true qualities. With respect to G-d, the whole of the world will recognize, acknowledge and choose Him. When Moshiach comes, G-d will be king to the entire world, on that day G-d will be one and His name will be one.
On that day the world will know that G-d does not have to get in line. Not so much because He is brilliant enough to be at the front, but because without G-d there is no line. At that time we will return to the very beginning, that place where G-d and only G-d exists. But we will arrive there having learned this truth for ourselves. We will discover that we, our minds, hearts and egos, are all part of the nothingness that surrounds G-d or even deeper, we are all part of the everything that G-d is.