Ra’anana Community Kollel
Can You Spare Some Change?
Rabbi Aharon Liberman
Purim is definitely the holiday which contains the most fun. Costumed children spin their groggers as loud as they can. The day is full of frolicking and feasting. Shloach manot are exchanged and tricks are played. Perhaps the most popular mitzvah of the day is the abundant drinking. Is Purim really the silly day that we perceive it to be, or is there a deeper meaning behind its costume?
The Vilna Gaon is bothered by this very issue. He calls our attention to a statement of the Talmud that every festival is celebrated in two parts. Half of the day should be dedicated to spiritual matters such as prayer and Torah study, while the other half is designated for family and personal celebration through festive meals and extra rest. The Vilna Gaon points out two holidays which appear to be an exception to this rule, Purim and Yom Kippur. While Yom Kippur is reserved entirely for spirituality in fasting and prayer, Purim is purely physical. The Vilna Gaon explains that there is indeed no deviation from the rule. Rather, Purim and Yom Kippur are actually two halves of one holiday. In fact, Yom Kippur is sometimes called Yom Kippurim, which means a day like Purim (Yom Ki Purim).
Based on this, we see that Purim is actually a festival similar in holiness to that of Yom Kippur. If prayer and the opportunity to change our lives are the order of the day on Yom Kippur, they must be on Purim as well.
Prayer and repentance are actually central to Purim, as they were instrumental in bringing about the great miracle. Upon hearing of Haman’s decree, the Jews immediately donned sackcloth and ashes, a symbol of mourning and humility. They fasted, studied Torah, and repented. Esther instituted the three day fast prior to her uninvited audience with King Achashverosh; there was another fast before the Jews engaged in battle against their foes. The fast which we observe on Purim Eve is in commemoration of this final fast and its intention is to inspire us as well to return to Hashem. So crucial were prayer and repentance in ensuring the miracle that even though there was no time to waste, Mordechai did not request that Esther approach King Acheshverosh until the process of nationwide self-examination was first well underway. Moreover, Mordechai refused to remove his sackcloth, as an integral part of his penitence, even though it prevented him from speaking to Esther personally.
There is an interesting law on Purim that points to the area which we need to focus on. Throughout the year we have the right to investigate appeals for charity to determine whether or not there is genuine need. On Purim, however, we have a special mitzvah to provide for anyone who stretches out his hand, without first ascertaining whether he is deserving. Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner writes that this concept also applies to Hashem’s response to our prayers on Purim. During the rest of the year, Hashem grants our requests only if we’re worthy. But on Purim Hashem listens to our prayers without assessing our deeds! Hashem is prepared to shower blessings upon us, if only we would ask. Surely, if one extends his hand to Hashem, He will provide.
Let’s make this year a special Purim. Let’s take a step back from all the parties, drinking, and fun for just three moments during the course of the day. Each of the three tefilot of Purim is replete with treasures and the opportunity to change our lives forever. Presented with the ability to ask Hashem for whatever we want, who wouldn’t take advantage?