What Does Purim Mean?
February 12, 2010
Yesterday I was asked to participate in a little survey, put out by a new on-line Jewish learning institution. The one question on the survey: what does Purim mean to you? My answer is below; what’s yours?
Blessings of peace and joy in the month of Adar,
The joyous celebrating, the outrageous costumes, the raucous and high-spirited band music inspiring hours of sweaty dancing, the creative song parodies of our community's famous R-rated Purim spiels--all serve, for me, to frame and intensify Purim's paradigmatic story of threatened annihilation and redemption for the Jewish people—and, symbolically, for each individual soul.
At the heart of the holiday is the chanting of Megillat Esther, the Scroll of Esther, weaving together themes of hiddenness and revelation, ascent and descent, sleeping and waking, grave danger and ultimate salvation. I see the psycho-spiritual trajectory of our spring holy days this way: during Purim's full moon of Adar, we sense the hidden hand of the Holy One, which will only be revealed in all of its Power, masterminding the struggle to break the stubborn, controlling Pharaoh aspect of psyche, a month later, during the full moon of Nisan.
Pesach’s retelling of the passage out of the narrow straits (mitzrayim) of unconsciousness and enslavement, through the birthing waters of the Sea, leads us toward Shavuot and matan Torah (the giving of the Torah), an explicit, overwhelming encounter with the Divine at Sinai, some seven weeks later. Revelation represents a stretching of consciousness, our “graduation” to a more expanded state, in which we open wide to receive the particular Torah of this year.
I understand the rabbinic injunction for Purim--"khayav adam liv'sumei ad d'lo yada," "it's incumbent for people to become 'drunk' to the point of not knowing" (i.e. not being able to distinguish Haman, the villain, from Mordechai, the hero)--as a way of pointing us toward Purim's true spiritual work. "Liv'sumei" means "to become intoxicated," and comes from the same root as b'samim, the heady spices we sniff during the havdalahsoupcon of Gan Eden, the World to Come, we imbibe each Shabbat.
To enter Purim fully, then, means to become G~d-drunk. We are enjoined to leave behind mokhin d'katnut, the "narrow" mind that that feeds on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. On Purim we leap into and beyond the pain of history, subject-and-object, us-versus-them, into the realm of pure Life. We are invited, enticed, intoxicated, and bounced into resting in the shade of the One Tree at the center of the Garden. Perhaps this is why the mystics taught that of all the holy days, only Purim will be celebrated in y'mei ha-mashiakh, the time of Messianic Consciousness yet, please G~d, to come.