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Purim: Celebrating the Inner Battle

by Rabbi Lazer Gurkow

  

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A Curious Distinction
Among the many rituals observed during the holiday of Purim are those of Mishloach Manot, sending food baskets to fellow Jews, and Matanot Laevyonim, sharing gifts with the poor.

The Talmud lays out the minimum requirements for these rituals and dictates two distinctions between them. A food basket must be sent to at least one recipient but the basket must contain at least two food types. The gifts to the poor must be offered to at least two recipients, but a single coin to each suffices.1

As is the case throughout Torah, we must ask ourselves what inspiration or lesson we might derive from these, otherwise curious, distinctions. 2

In place of the Sacrifice
Most Jewish holidays were celebrated in the Temple through the offering of sacrifices. However, when the holiday of Purim was established the temple lay in ruins and our ancestors were exiled in Persia, where the offering of sacrifices was forbidden by Torah law.

As the sacrifice was consumed by the altar's flames, they reflected on sublimating their base instincts by utilizing them for G-dly purposes
Because our ancestors could not offer sacrifices to celebrate the holiday of Purim, our sages established new rituals of celebration, but in an effort to preserve the spirit of the sacrificial rite, they ensured that the new rituals mirrored the ideas of the sacrificial rite.

The Sacrifice
The sacrificial rite was offered in two separate stages. First the sacrificial animal was put to death through the shechitah ritual. Then the carcass was raised upon the altar and offered to G-d.

These two stages provided our ancestors with two distinct opportunities for reflection.

As the sacrifice was put to death, our ancestors considered their own animalistic natures and reflected on silencing their improper urges and impulses. As the sacrifice was consumed by the altar's flames, they reflected on sublimating their base instincts by utilizing them for G-dly purposes.3

The distinct characteristics of the Purim rituals reflect these two stages of the sacrificial rite.

Many Food Types to One Recipient
The battle to rein in our animal nature is unique to each individual. No two people are alike.

One person's nature is aggressive, the other's is docile. One battles a voracious appetite, the other is obsessed with physical appearance. One is overly confident, the other is excessively paranoid. One is relaxed, the other is anxious. One is frigid, the other lusts after all manner of temptation. We each battle our own beast.

Because our individual beast is multi-faceted we must fight our battles on many fronts. The struggle against our many impulses means that every instinct must be weighed, every desire must be measured and every response must be scrutinized. Is it too intense or too mild? Does it bring me closer to G-d or drive me away from G-d? We must root out the negative dimension of each instinct and enable its positive dimension to flourish.

Footnotes

  • 1. Bab. Talmud, Megilah, 7a.
  • 2. This distinction is derived from the book of Esther, from where the instruction for these rituals are derived. The book of Esther states that Mordechai decreed that every man send foods (plural) to his fellow (singular) and that gifts must be offered to poor people(plural). This, however, only defers the question to the book of Esther, why did Mordechai insist on these distinctions? For why these distinctions were established in the first place see Commentary of Beis Yosef (R. Yoseph Karo, Safed Israel, 1488-1575) on Tur Orach Chyaim, ch. 595 and commentary of Maharsha (Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Edels, Posen, 1555 – 1631) on Bab. Talmud, Megilah, 7a.
  • 3. See Torah Ohr, Parshas Pinchas(R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chassidus Chabad, 1745 – 1813).

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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Purim
A one-day holiday celebrated in late winter commemorating the miraculous deliverance of the Jewish people from a decree of annihilation issued by Persian King Ahasuerus in the year 356 BCE.
Mishloach Manot
Gifts of food which every Jew is required to give to an acquaintance on the holiday of Purim.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.