April 12, 2024
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Purim Versus Chanukah

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 670:2) states that we are not obligated to have a special meal on Chanukah, in contrast to Purim. As such, we can understand that the Purim miracle alone does not generate our seudat Purim obligation. What, then, is the difference between Purim and Chanukah?

The Mishna Berurah (670:6) cites the Levush’s classic answer. On Purim, we celebrate with a meal since our physical existence was threatened. Haman (like Hitler) sought to eliminate every Jew, even if we converted to “Zoroastrianism” (Haman’s pagan religion). By contrast, we would have been in no danger on Chanukah had we been willing to accept Greek culture and abandon Torah living. Thus, on Chanukah, we focus on hallel (praise) and hodaah (grateful acknowledgment) that Hashem enabled us to remain Torah Jews.

Another reason for seudat Purim is that the threat of extermination was punishment for enjoying Achashverosh’s parties. This seudah serves as a tikkun for our ancestors’ mistakes; instead of the grossly inappropriate lavish parties of Achashverosh, we engage in a Torah-appropriate feast.

 

Our Seudot Versus Achashverosh’s Seudot

While the Persian emperor’s festivities ranged from one week to half-a-year, our celebrations are marked by restraint and are limited to one day. The conversations at the different parties must also differ, as expressed by the Gemara (Megillah 12b):

The verse states: “On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine,” (Esther 1:10). The Gemara asks: “Is that to say that until now his heart was not merry with wine? Did it take seven days for him to achieve merriment?” Rava said: “The seventh day was Shabbat, when the difference between the Jewish people and the gentiles is most apparent. On Shabbat, when the Jewish people eat and drink, they begin by occupying themselves with words of Torah and words of praise for God. But the nations of the world, when they eat and drink, they begin only with words of licentiousness.”

The Gemara continues to detail what occurred at the feast:

“So too, at the feast of that wicked man, Achashverosh, when the men began to converse, some said: ‘The Median women are the most beautiful,’ while others said: “The Persian women are the most beautiful.” Achashverosh said to them: ‘The vessel that I use, i.e., my wife, is neither Median nor Persian, but rather Chaldean. Do you wish to see her?’ They said to him: “Yes, provided that she be naked, for we wish to see her without any additional adornments.”

No room was made for Hashem at the Persian parties. In contrast, at our seudot, we invite Hashem to our homes when we sing His praises and discuss His holy Torah. Our seudot elevate our neshamot, while the Persian emperor’s parties demean and degrade our spirit. We conclude with satisfaction, while Achashverosh’s indulgences conclude with frustration.

 

Laasot Kirtzon Ish Vaish Versus Mishloach Manot and Matanot Levyonim

Achashverosh’s parties were self-centered affairs. Megillat Esther 1:8 describes the parties as catering to the “retzon ish vaisheach—participant’s desires.” By contrast, we precede our seudot Purim with a day of mishloach manot and matanot levyonim, gifts to neighbors and the poor. Many observe that merrymakers demand a treat on Halloween, but we extend treats to others on Purim.

 

Mishteh Versus Mishteh V’Simcha

Ten parties are mentioned in Megillat Esther: five held by Achashverosh, and five are Jewish occasions. Interestingly, Megillat Esther describes Achashverosh’s parties as a “mishteh—party.” However, our events are called “mishteh v’simcha—party and joy.” Achashverosh’s festivals involve physical pleasure but do not generate happiness. The Jewish parties—in sharp contrast—bring enjoyment and happiness.

A poignant message is hereby conveyed. A life marked by hedonism is not a recipe for happiness. We live in an age where much of society condones all sorts of illicit indulgences. However, unhappiness is prevalent in contemporary society. Living the Torah is the recipe for a balanced, centered life that generates happiness. Mishteh alone is for hedonists; mishteh v’simchah is for us!

 

Conclusion: The Proper Seudat Purim

Our seudot Purim not only celebrates our physical survival, but also highlights and showcases how a Torah Jew conducts a celebratory meal—in contrast with Achashverosh. Jewish homes must remember this objective when we sit for our seudat Purim each year. May our Purim festivities meet the lofty and honorable goals that serve our best interests.


Rabbi Jachter serves as the rav of Congregation Shaarei Orah, rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County, and a get administrator with the Beth Din of Elizabeth. Rabbi Jachter’s 18 books, including a brand new one entitled “In the King’s Court: Exploring Megillat Esther — Our Most Subtle Victory,” may be purchased at Amazon and Judaica House.

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