Purim afterthought

 

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You know what’s so unique about Purim? Everyone is misbehaving. Kids are eating tons of junk food. Grown men are prancing around and yelling. In general, the level of tzniyus dramatically declines for some reason. Even in shul there’s much more freedom of expression, with those wild noises during the Megilla reading. And I’m not only talking about the less observant Jews. I think it’s fair to say that the B’nei Torah, those who are very particular about their mitzvah observance and spend time studying the Talmud and its relevant laws, are the ones who get the most wild. It’s commonplace for these guys, who never drink alcohol, to over-drink, destroy property, get wasted, throw up and pass-out.

You might sarcastically say it’s the alcohol that makes Purim different, but I think this behavior change is because it’s a day that we can really get in touch with ourselves. During the year we are too inhibited by our self-image. We’re afraid to admit that we’re not perfect. Everyone goes around dressing the same and following suit. There’s no space for self expression, especially if it implies that you might not be successful. לב יודע מרת נפשו, everyone knows their own shortcomings. But it’s just unacceptable during the year to speak truthfully, to share real feelings and to admit our weaknesses. But on Purim we mostly do what we want to do. Firstly, we’re not coerced to spend too much time in shul. Even the time we do spend in shul is more fun. We don’t have to fast, or partake in mitzvos that most of us don’t understand too well, such as shaking a lulav. Instead, the mitzvos of the day allow for great self expression. Giving mishloach manos engenders a meaningful bond between two people, which brings out authenticity. Especially because we can choose who we want to give it to and what we want to give. The same is true with the gifts we give to the poor.

Giving is Good

Then we have a festive meal together with the people we love. We drink an inordinate amount of wine because as we all know “When wine goes in, the secrets come out” (Sanhedrin 38). What do we do at the meal? Shmooze and shmooze some more, hopefully baring some de-oxygenated soul and maybe a few tears. The point of purim is to be real. People get dressed up in one of two types of costumes: Either they wear something they deeply relate to, but are ashamed to wear (many times for good reason), or they wear something they totally don’t relate with, symbolizing that their outside says nothing about their inside.

The miracle of Purim happened when Esther came clean about who she was. As Reb Nosson says (‘בכור בהמה ד), Esther represent us, the downtrodden weakling Jews who don’t always do everything right. I don’t get why we all walk around wearing costumes all year long? Why are we so afraid to be real about who we are? If we need help, we should get help. If we want to change course, we should. Speak up and get in touch with the real you! Who are we faking but ourselves? A great person once told me, “There’s no point in posing to make people like you; If you get them to believe you, they only like the person you’re pretending to be, not you. And if you be yourself and they don’t like you, then you won’t want to be their friend anyways”. This is why Purim is the only holiday that will never cease, even in Messianic times. Because when Moshiach comes the whole world will be filled with truth, which is exactly what Purim is all about: Learning to be the true you.

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You’re worth it

mind

Why do we replay old uncomfortable episodes in our heads time and again? Granted, we’re not that happy with how we acted or reacted, but what’s the point in tormenting ourselves? Innate health professionals might say that we’re even coercing ourselves to feel negative by taking our thoughts so seriously, when naturally we could let go of those thoughts and move on.

Listen to the words of Reb Nosson:

When some people learn mussar books, which talk in detail about the bitterness of punishment in Hell, they get very scared. When that happens, ‘the evil one‘ trips them up and makes them fall into a deeper depression until sometimes, God forbid, it could actually lead them to heresy” (בכור בהמה ד’ אות י״ז).

I think that when we obsess about fixing our past, we are living in that narrow-minded world Reb Nosson is describing called ‘fear of punishment’. Our souls know where we came from and where we’re going, so we want to improve. But one of the unhealthy ways of expressing desire to change could be perfectionism, nit-picking and an infatuation with our past mistakes.

This leads us to the following question: Although the Holy Zohar is critical of someone who’s fear of Heaven is only from ‘fear of punishment’, Rebbe Nachman said unequivocally that our main עבודה (service of God) is via ‘fear of punishment’. He said it’s impossible to start without it. Even the Tzaddikim need it, because there are “very very few” who serve Hashem out of love (Sichos Haran 5).

So is fear of punishment a bad thing or a good thing?

Back to Reb Nosson:

In Hashem’s mercy He send us Tzaddikim, who teach us that even the lowest most despicable person has hope, because Hashem’s compassion is very very great. This celestial insight helps us not only avoid the depression associated with fear of punishment, but actually bring us so much joy” (ibid).

What joy is Reb Nosson talking about? Why would I be happy to be punished for my wrongdoings? Because it shows that I count. My actions count. I am significant. Even a person as dirty as me is important to Hashem. Even punishment itself isn’t some imaginary crane lowering me into an erupting volcano. It’s simply the exact actions I did with all the knowledge of it’s repercussions. When the veil is removed from this world and the truth shines, we’ll fully appreciate our actions. If they were good, we will experience their bliss. If they weren’t…

The fact that our actions count is reason enough never to give up hope and never to fall into the clutches of the other side, who wants to bury us when we mess up. Because if you believe that you can mess up, you have to believe that you can fix yourself too.

You are important reminder note

To fear or not to fear

fear

Fear is a dirty word these days. Fear holds us back and inhibits us. We wish we weren’t afraid of anything. The human race aspires for the inner courage to act as they wish, even if it might bring with it some shame. We are inundated by the media with slogans such as ‘just do it!’, ‘go for it’ and ‘have no fear’. Even Rebbe Nachman famously said that, “A person must pass over a very narrow bridge [in life] and the main thing is not at all to be afraid.” (Tinyana 48)

There’s more.

Our enemies wish to instill fear in us. ‘Terrorism’ is a term that really only started some forty years ago. Western civilization wants nothing more than to eradicate it and live free of fear. In fact, one of the major keywords of democracy, which most of the world views as the correct and fairest governmental body, is freedom. Of course in democracy, for the safety of civilization we must obey the law, but what’s imperative is the freedom to practice whatever it is we want, without fear of punishment. A major drawback of democracy’s goal for freedom has been liberalism, with its skewed views of truth and blurry boundary lines.

In Bechor Beheima 4 Reb Nosson brings from the Rebbe that our ultimate perfection in this world comes through fear, (that is fear of Heaven). As Moses said to Israel before he passed (Deuteronomy 10), “What does Hashem want from you but to fear Him”? And as King Solomon ends his mysterious Ecclesiastes, “After all is said, fear God”.

Reb Nosson explains that the main point of life is to find and recognize Hashem in this world. The only way to truly acknowledge and identify Hashem in our lives is by negating our ego in acceptance of His will. In an amazing line he says, “the nullification of our will is greater than any contemplation we could ever have of God, כי ביטול הוא למעלה מהמחשבה”. After someone authentically experiences this negation, he’s left with an imprint of Hashem’s infinite light. That imprint is the fear of God. That fear is the purpose of creation. The Tikkunei Zohar scrambles the letters of the first word in the Torah, בראשית, to read as ירא בשת, fear and shame, because Hashem’s desire in this world is to be the King. His ultimate ambition is to have His kingdom of kindness spread throughout the world, bar-none. Those who are familiar with basic Kabbalah understand that Malchus (Hashem’s Kingship) is the final of the 10 emanations and symbolizes the doing and action of all the other emanations.

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I think this is why in our time fear is so detested. Christianity basically stole all the lovey-doveyness of Judaism and deleted all the fear of Heaven. The same is true with Reform Judaism and all the new-age religions. Nobody wants to be told what to do anymore. Everyone thinks they know best now, and it’s not fashionable anymore to bear the yoke of Heaven. I struggle with this too. I am a cool guy. Being cool means to have no cares. It means you don’t have to answer to anybody because you think for yourself. When I learn the laws of Halacha, I’m overcome with feelings of ‘don’t tell me what to do’. I don’t want a boss. I even find that when I associate with more secular Jews, even those thirsty for more inspiration, I too much shy away from teaching fear of God. I am afraid to admit that I fear. And it makes sense that this is a struggle in these last minutes before Moshiach. Amazingly, Moshiach is the one with the task to make the whole world fear God. Sounds impossible but ‘והריחו ביראת ה (Isaiah 11), his fear of God will be phenomenally contagious. We need to pray for fear of Heaven. We need to pray to allow ourselves to negate our own ego and accept His dominion. Don’t be afraid to fear!

כי ביטול הוא למעלה מהמחשבה