Purim: Pleasure, Enjoyment and the Evil Decree

    March 2011 Purim          
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Purim and Enjoyment

By Menachem Levinsohn

The story of Purim is a fascinating story full of ideas and concepts that aid us in developing our belief in G-d. The Talmud (Megilah 12a) relates a conversation between the students and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. They asked him:

“Why were the Jews in that generation condemned (from heaven) to a death sentence?”

He answered them, “what do you think?”

They answered, “Because they enjoyed the meal that Achasverous made for them.” (This refers to the meal that Achasverous made to commemorate seventy years that the Temple had been destroyed and even though there was a prophecy that after seventy years the temple would be rebuilt and the Jews brought back to their land, the prophecy appeared unfulfilled. Achasverous, being joyous that this prophecy was unfulfilled, took out the holy vessels that had been looted from the Temple, which until now he was fearful of using, and placed them on the table for this feast.)

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said to them that if this is correct, then only the Jews who participated in the feast should be condemned to death, not the Jews in the outlying provinces who did not attend the meal. The Talmud continues but we are going to explore the thoughts of the students:

Now according to the thoughts of the students of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the Jews who did attend this feast did deserve to die. We must understand why these great minds could think such a thought. If it were for eating non-kosher food, that is not a sin deserving of the death penalty - besides kosher food was available at the meal and they were not forced to eat non-kosher food. Rather the reason was because they ‘enjoyed’ the meal. By enjoying the meal we are not talking about the food but rather about a different aspect; they enjoyed the privilege of being invited to the feast and being in the company of such an evil person such as King Achasverous.

Let us understand what is so wrong with this:

Jews are supposed to be different from their gentile neighbors in their worldly outlook. Whereas the gentiles may look upon the world as a series of random happenings that occur, a Jew is to believe that everything that happens only happens because of the constant watch and control of the world by G-d. Nothing just ‘happens’ rather everything that ‘happens’ is directed from heaven by G-d.

Once the Jews began to see Achaverous as the person who has power and control over their lives to such an extent that they believed that it was he who controlled their fate and destination, and they turned away from G-d. Because of this, G-d took away from them the Heavenly protection that He provided for them and left them to deal with the world of fate that can exist without His constant watch. G-d ‘abandoned’ the Jews to the laws of fate and nature as a punishment for their abandoning Him and seeking favor in the eyes of King Achasverous. What followed was that the cruel forces of anti-Semitism that existed then ‘naturally’ created a situation in which the Jews were to be exterminated.

Perhaps a gentile lives in one world, but a Jew lives in two. We live in the physical world, a world governed by the laws of nature and we must relate to the world as such. However in spite of the world being under the laws of nature, we must always realize that G-d is above the laws of nature and utilizes nature to do His will. The second world we live in is the world above nature, the realm of the holy in which G-d directs current events. Although we must live our lives in accordance with the laws of nature, we must turn to G-d for our successes. We must always realize that it is really He who guides and directs nature to help us.

However if we abandon Him by turning our hearts and heads to the laws of the natural world, He will abandon us to the laws of nature and then we are but a hated minority like a lonely lamb surrounded by seventy wolves. As long as the shepherd watches after the lamb, he is safe, but if the lamb drifts away from the shepherd’s constant watch, the wolves will attack.

That is one of the many important messages of the story of Purim. Let us realize that today like long ago in history there are those who wish to see our demise. It is only when we cling to our Rock and Redeemer that we can not only have hope for survival but He will help us until we succeed.


from the March 2011 Purim Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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