Here are a couple of short thoughts from Rabbi Sacks to help enhance your Purim experience! And if you prefer, you can click on the "Listen here" option underneath each title. And below is also a Purim spiel video Rabbi Sacks recorded a couple of years ago with the comedian Ashley Blaker for your enjoyment! Wishing you and your family a Purim Sameach!
The Therapeutic Joy of Purim
There’s something very strange about Purim. It is notably a festival of joy, “Yameimishtei b’simcha”. And not only is the day itself a joyous one, but uniquely, we begin that joy two weeks beforehand: “Misheh nichnas Adar marbim b’simcha” means that from the very beginning of Adar we begin to increase our joy.
And it is not only in the weeks leading up to Purim. This joy is present throughout the year. Every motzei Shabbat, during the Havdallah service, we remind ourselves of that line from the Megillah, "Layehudim haitah orah v’simcha," meaning, “For Jews there was light and joy”.
Yet what exactly are we celebrating on Purim? The mere fact that we survived? That Haman's decree of genocide was not enacted? That the evil decree: L’harog u’lehabed u’lehashmid, to kill, destroy, and exterminate every single Jew, young and old, men and women, on a single day, was averted? That is not a cause for joy, it is cause for relief. That is not a cause for celebration, but really for post-traumatic stress disorder. So the question I am presenting here is, what is this unique joy of Purim?
I would like to propose the following answer. There are two kinds of joy. There's expressive joy, the joy you experience and communicate because that's how you feel. But there's also therapeutic joy, the joy you will yourself to feel in order to protect yourself against negative emotions.
And when we rejoice on Purim, on this festival which is actually the festival about antisemitism, we are saying something very important. “We will not be intimidated. We will not be traumatised. We will not be defined by our enemies. We will live with the threats and even laugh at them because what we can laugh at, we cannot be held captive by.” And that therefore is really what the joy of Purim is about. It's about surviving, and beyond that, thriving, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It's a way of saying, "I will eat and I will drink and I will celebrate and I will not let dark clouds enter my mind or my heart."
So therefore, Purim holds a real message for our time, when we have seen antisemitism return. We must never let ourselves be intimidated. And the Jewish way to avoid this is to be marbim b’simcha, to increase our joy. Because the people that can know the full darkness of history and yet rejoice, is a people whose spirit no power on earth can ever break.
So let me wish you a Purim Sameach, a Purim full of joy.
God's Hidden Call
The Sages noted something remarkable about Purim and about the Megillah. They asked, "Esther min haTorah minayin?” “Where can we see a hint of Esther in the Torah (in the Mosaic Books)?" And they answered, “’V’anochi haster astir et panai." God warns that in future days when the Jews abandon Him, “I will surely hide My face on that day.” The name Esther has the same root as the Hebrew word astir, and that means the hiddenness of God.
Now, the quote from the Torah is God’s warning that at certain dark moments in Jewish history, it will seem as if God isn't there. And therefore, what the Sages were saying by finding this link to the name Esther is profoundly insightful. First of all, the Book of Esther is one of only two books in the whole of Tanach where the name of God is absent. It is as if God were hiding His face.
Secondly, Purim is supremely the festival of Diaspora, of Galut, of exile, because it's set in Persia, where Jews are a tiny minority who they cannot defend themselves, they can't fight back, and the only way really they can protect themselves is by shadlanut, that is, behind the scenes diplomacy.
And thirdly, it really is the book in which we come face to face with the first explicit warrant for genocide. Haman's threat to destroy every single Jew on one day.
It is a book of the hiding of the face of God. And what the Torah is telling us, what the book of Esther and the festival of Purim are telling us, is that God is still there even if He seems hidden. He was there giving Mordechai and Esther the courage to fight back. He was there, somehow protecting the people from destruction, somehow salvaging redemption.
And the book of Esther is therefore a testimony to hope against the odds, of God's spirit that lives in the hearts of those who care for their people. That somehow Esther is a promise that v’nahafochu, the situation will be reversed, that there will be an overturning of fate, that this tiny vulnerable people will outlive, as it has done, every single enemy and every empire that sought its destruction.
The book of Esther teaches us the same message that was found written by a Jew, a prisoner during the Holocaust in Cologne in Germany. They wrote a simple, powerful testimony of faith: "I believe in the sun even when it's not shining. I believe in love even when I can't feel it. I believe in God even when He is silent."
That is what the book of Esther is about. Telling us that even when God seems to be hiding His face, He's still there, still alive, still in our hearts.
Purim Sameach to you all.
Rabbi Sacks and Ashley Blaker discuss Purim...