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Challenging Distinctions: The Purim Enigma

Purim appears to be straightforward on the surface, but in fact may be the most enigmatic day in our entire calendar.

What is enigmatic about Purim? In modern times, it along with Hanukkah, has been considered the quintessential children's holiday. With its boisterous reading of the scroll of Esther and its costumes and general all around hilarity, it does not seem to be an obvious candidate for containing hidden profundities. However, there are a couple of things said in the Talmud that imply that Purim is actually the most important holiday of the year. In one place the Talmud states that Purim is the only holiday that will continue to be celebrated after the coming of the messiah, and in another it notes that an alternative name for Yom Kippur is Yom Hakippurim, which can be understood to mean "the day that is similar to Purim," thus leading us to the conclusion that Purim is the day against which all other holy days, including and especially Yom Kippur are measured.

How are we to make sense of this idea? How can a holiday which seems to be filled with frivolity, and associated with a story that ends in an amazing amount of bloodshed, have the potential to take us higher than other observance? One possible answer resides in yet another very unusual Talmudic dictum that states that on Purim, one should drink until one is unable to distinguish between the phrases "cursed by Haman" and "blessed be Mordechai." Many of us may have adverse reactions to a sacred text recommending intoxication. However, the deeper teaching of this admonition is that Purim is about the resolution of opposites.

It is the day on which we confront ourselves with the fact that we are sometimes limited by the roles we play. If we are challenged to see the artificiality of the distinctions we create, we might be better able to see and bear witness to the underlying unity of all creation. Perhaps it is for that reason that Purim alone, of all our holidays, is the only holiday the Talmud claims will be celebrated in a post-messianic world.

Type: Dvar Torah

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