April 11, 2024
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Why We Need the Holiday of Purim Now More Than Ever

At first glance, it seems like the holiday least appropriate for the situation in which we find ourselves—totally incongruent with our mood and state of mind—is Purim. Purim, the chag that represents משתה ושמחה, partying and happiness, that is full of laughter, levity and humor, seems totally contrary to what we are currently feeling and what we should be feeling. How can we celebrate this year’s “happy season” while we are still at war and fighting for our survival?

Perhaps it would be most appropriate to cancel or limit this year’s Purim celebrations?

However, I believe that in reality, the most appropriate thing for us to do this year is to celebrate Purim wholeheartedly, for a few reasons.

Firstly, on a most basic level, our timely observance and celebration of Purim is a statement to all those around us that despite all that is going on, we continue to live our lives. This does not mean that we forget about the war raging on around us, or that we stop davening for and thinking about our soldiers and all those affected by this horrible situation. Rather, it means that even as we are conscious of all that is happening, as a nation, we are resilient enough to continue our routine, and not let our enemies prevent us from that as well.

The Jewish calendar has a rhyme and rhythm to it; it is meant to take us on a journey of emotions and reflections, it is designed to guide us towards spiritual growth. The “push and pull” of the Jewish year and its holidays is an essential part of our daily lives, part of our ongoing routine. It is, therefore, crucial that as we aspire to maintain our routine during these challenging times, the events of the Jewish calendar are preserved: Chanukah in its time, Tu B’shvat in its time, and Purim in its time.

Secondly, on another level, humor, laughter and wit are part of how humans, particularly Jews, deal with challenge and tragedy. Of course, every person is different, and there are times when such reactions are appropriate and other times when they are not. But, fundamentally, humor is a major part of how we cope with the events of our lives, both personally and nationally. The same impulse that gave rise to the thousands of videos and memes that were circulated during COVID, even as we understood the gravity of the virus, has also given the rise to many similar memes and videos that have been disseminated concerning the war. Once again, this does not mean that we do not appreciate or care about the gravity of the situation that faces us; it simply means that as human beings, we experience and tap into a range of emotions to help us handle the challenges that come our way.

In this way, the humor and wit of Purim can actually be a part of our coping and healing. While it may be proper to mitigate excessive laity or levity, laughter, comedy and happiness may act as an appropriate coping mechanism for us as a community. This is particularly true for children, who have been thrust involuntarily and suddenly into a world of war and tragedy. So much has been taken away from our children these past few months since October 7. They deserve to enjoy and celebrate Purim as part of their healing and recovery.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, when properly understood, the message of Purim is, in fact, most appropriate for our current situation.

Am Yisrael, and in particular Medinat Yisrael, finds itself in a state of chaos and uncertainty. We face an existential threat encircling us, with no clear end in sight. We face an enemy that is hellbent on destroying us, and does not play by any rules. We face a larger world that seems to have lost its moral compass, that is unable to properly distinguish between good and evil. Antisemitism has reared its ugly head all over the world, shattering the sense of comfort and security that we previously felt in so many countries and cities across the globe. The events of October 7 seem to have turned our world upside down, and, worst of all, there is no obvious path forward, no light at the end of the tunnel. We feel hopeless.

It is during these dark and challenging times that we need to hold onto the fundamental lesson of Purim. No matter how bleak things look, there is always hope. God is always present, even when He seems to us to be hidden. And even when it seems to us that there is no path forward, things can change in an instant.” ונהפוך הוא, אשר ישלטו היהודים המה בשונאיהם”, “…it was turned upside down:, the Jews ruled over those who hated them” (Esther 9:1).

The Jews of the Persian Kingdom also faced a cruel autocrat bent on their destruction, and a king complicit in this planned pogrom. The date for the pogrom had been set and enshrined into law, signed and stamped by the king himself. There was no turning back and no path ahead. And yet, ultimately, everything was turned “on its head,” as the days of destruction were turned into days of salvation. Although we didn’t see it or realize it, Hakadosh Baruch Hu was there all along, guiding us.

And so, as we find ourselves in this current situation, with no path forward, and a feeling of hopelessness and despair, the Purim story urges us to realize that even if we don’t see Him, Hashem is here, guiding us along. We may not see a path forward, or have a clear vision of the future, but with God’s help, that path will come. We don’t know how, and don’t know when— but we do know that Hashem will once again turn our days מיגון לשמחה ומאבל ליום טוב, “from anguish to happiness, from mourning to days of celebration.” (Esther 9:22).


Rav Yossi Goldin is the director of Young Israel in Israel, runs the shuls department at World Mizrachi, and is the Israel Immersion Program Coordinator and Placement Advisor at YU/RIETS Israel. He currently lives in Shaalvim with his wife and family. He can be reached at [email protected].

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