June 17, 2024
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After the miraculous sequence of events in the Purim story, the Gemara (Shabbat 88) writes that at that moment there was a dramatic turnaround in the hearts of B’nei Yisrael. For as opposed to by Mattan Torah where they were forced to accept the Torah, here by Purim they accepted it willingly.

The question is, yes Hashem seemingly forced us to accept the Torah, however, didn’t we ourselves say “na’aseh v’nishma,” showing that we wholeheartedly want the Torah? What then was the necessity to be forced?

The Tanchuma (Noach, 3) explains, when the Jews said, “na’aseh v’nishma,” that was only in regards to the written Torah, but when it came to the oral Torah (“Gemara,” as we have it today), they had to be forced. However, by Purim, they accepted it as well wholeheartedly.

The Gemara is the code to understand what the written Torah means. If so, how can we have only accepted the written Torah if much of it is largely understood through the Gemara?

Perhaps we can suggest that in addition to wanting the written Torah, B’nei Yisrael also meant to accept the bottom-line halachot of the mitzvot presented in the written Torah. The Gemara however, which consists of myriad opinions, intricacies and details, apparent contradictions and their resolutions, questions and explanations, concepts and depth—that much is too much. The Gemara indeed presents bottom-line halacha, but much of Gemara is the journey to get there. And this world of analysis, toil and discovery was perhaps what they originally did not want, and so they had to be forced into it.

What was it about the Purim story that specifically, then, inspired them to want the Gemara? We can explain based on Rashi (GM Shabbat 88) who explains that because of their love of the miracle of Purim, this moved them to accept the Torah with love. Even if that’s so, R’ Chaim Friedlander asks, what about the countless miracles that occurred from Egypt till Matan Torah, and of course the revelation of Hashem Himself, so to speak, at Matan Torah—was that not enough for them to accept the torah with love?!

The Maharal writes that at Matan Torah, the Jews reached such a superior level of “seeing” Hashem and of understanding the importance of Torah and how the entire universe is dependent upon it, that they were pretty much “forced” to accept the Torah. Something so obvious doesn’t require much free will—it’s simply like a reflex. As the Zohar says, “Hashem and the Torah are one,” hence, the Nefesh Hachaim (4:10) writes that when one is absorbed in Torah study, he becomes attached to Hashem, His Will and that which He says.

Thus, R’ Friedlander explains that we see from here that at Matan Torah they accepted the Torah from a state of awe. Yes, they already had experienced many open and unfathomable miracles, but those were hardly a motivation that inspired one’s free will, but rather they were such glaring truths that their “choice” to accept the Torah wasn’t born from a “we want to,” but from a state of “we have to, since it’s so obvious.”

However, at Purim, the miracle of Purim wasn’t so open, nor so obvious. As the B’nei Yissaschar (מאמרי חודש אדר, מאמר ה׳) says, the miracle was “clothed” in nature. Indeed, it was dressed in a sequence of events, happenings, and one thing leading to the next. Says R’ Friedlander, by Purim the Jews had to invest their own human effort and free will to see Hashem’s providence and how it was He Who brought out the miracle. They had to utilize their own free will to contemplate and realize Hashem’s love and care for them, and therefore, only now did they want to accept the Torah.

Based on this we can explain why by Purim the Jews wanted the toil and exertion of Torah study. Doing mitzvot and keeping halacha is adhering to Hashem’s Will, and shows our loyalty and faith.

However, the process of the Gemara is one that develops our minds and hearts to be able to perceive (each on our own level) the wisdom of Hashem Himself, how Hashem “thinks,” and how we can get to know Him. In fact, the Midrash in Teruma (S”R 33:1) writes that Hashem said He “sold” us the Torah, and that he sold Himself with it. The Zohar says that “Hashem and the Torah are one,” and hence, the Nefesh Hachaim (4:10) writes that when one is absorbed in Torah study, he becomes attached to Hashem.

Therefore, when we give ourselves—our time, energy, etc.—to strive and strain to understand the wisdom of Hashem, this demonstrates our love for Hashem, as if we’re saying, “Hashem, I want to get to know about You and Your Will more and more.” Indeed, the Tanchuma writes that only someone who loves Hashem entirely engages in this study (ibid). For when you love someone, even something difficult can be greatly enjoyable. By Purim we made the effort to see Hashem’s providence and love for us, which translated into our love for Him. Therefore, specifically now (as opposed to Matan Torah) did we want to accept the Gemara willingly despite the challenge it may present, in order to get to know Hashem more.

If anyone would be asked what the holiest day of the year is, one may easily say Yom Kippur. Certainly, after many days of teshuva, working on ourselves, coming close to Hashem—we then come to Yom Kippur, a day of abstinence from physically nourishing our bodies, and instead absorbing our souls in the holiness of the day. Yet, the Arizal notes that Yom Kippur can actually be read as an acronym of “yom” [a day], “ki” [which is like], “pur” [purim]. Essentially, it’s only like Purim. Hence, the level one can reach on Purim can actually be higher than what one can reach on Yom Kippur. How and why?

If anything, Purim seems to be a day of much physicality—eating, drinking, gifts, etc. Even the spiritual activities seem quantitatively far less than Yom Kippur! Yet, based on the above, Purim marks our own efforts and desire to recognize Hashem, and the love that was born from this self-made understanding led us to accept the entirety of Torah with love, for we genuinely desired and were willing to give of ourselves in order to know more of Hashem. Yom Kippur is a day of awe of Hashem, but Purim is a day of love for Hashem. Perhaps then, is Yom Kippur only like Purim.


Binyamin Benji can be reached at [email protected]

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