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Holy Purim Day

I was told by a friend that Purim is considered the holiest day in the Jewish year. That sounds a little far-out to me. This guy likes to party a lot. Is what he’s saying true?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Talmud says that every Shabbat and Jewish holiday is "half spiritual, half physical." We spend part of the day praying and learning Torah (the spiritual), and the rest of the day eating a fine meal and resting (the physical).

One exception to this rule is Yom Kippur, when both halves are spiritual: We spend our entire day praying in the synagogue, with no food, no marital relations, and minimal rest.

The other exception is Purim, when both halves are physical: We feast, make lots of noise to drown out Haman's name, imbibe, and wear funny costumes.

Interestingly, we see the balance of half-physical/half-spiritual reflected within each holiday itself. On Yom Kippur, we prepare for the fast by having a feast the day before. On Purim, we prepare for the feast by fasting the day before (Ta'anit Esther).

The Vilna Gaon (18th century Lithuania) explains that "Purim" shares the same letters as "Yom HaKippurim" - the Biblical name for Yom Kippur. That which we accomplish on Yom Kippur with spiritual pursuits, we accomplish on Purim with physical pursuits. These holidays are two sides of the same coin, two halves of the same day.

We would assume that Yom Kippur is the greater of the two days. But in one sense, Purim is even greater. Why? Because it is easier to achieve spiritual elevation on a day like Yom Kippur, when we spend all day in the synagogue and have no time for forbidden activities such as gossiping or getting angry. By fasting, the soul achieves dominance over the body. However on Purim, in our state of mild inebriation (and it shouldn't be more than mild!), it is much harder to maintain our human dignity.

Rabbi Eliyahu KiTov writes: "If one attains holiness through affliction, and another attains holiness through indulgence, who is the greater of the two? It may be said that the one who attains holiness through indulgence is greater, for the attainment of holiness through indulgence requires an infinitely greater degree of striving and effort" (Book of Our Heritage).

In this way, the potential for spiritual elevation on Purim is greater than on Yom Kippur. And this is reflected in the Hebrew name: Yom HaKippurim can be translated to mean "a day like Purim" - i.e. Yom Kippur is a shadow of the greatness of Purim. (Literally, "Yom HaKippurim" means "day of atonement.")

This Purim, as we're drinking and partying, we should keep this in mind and not let the opportunity fly by. So party hearty - and party holy!

(I should reiterate that we should not drink ourselves senseless. Jewish law – as well as common sense – dictate that we drink more than our wont and no more. A glass or two of wine is typically quite enough to get in the proper spirit.)

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