During the month of Adar, the Talmud tells us, we increase our joy. This sense of celebration culminates with the holiday of Purim, with costumes, Megillah reading, drinking, eating and the exchanging of gifts of food. Who doesn’t smile at the young girls dressed as Queens Esther or Vashti or the little boys acting as Mordecai or Haman? A little liquor, a little feasting – what could be more joyful?
Except that’s not really the source of the happiness. It’s not based on frivolity and laughter. It’s not based on sumptuous food and a good Scotch. It’s joy founded on a deep insight about the world, on important understanding of the Almighty’s role in our lives, of His constant providence.
When we drink on Purim there is only one goal (and it’s not what you think it is) – to drink just enough to remove the barriers we’ve erected in our minds and psyches that block us from seeing the Almighty’s presence in the world. This is particularly true in situations that appear negative, desperate, painful or hopeless. Those are the moments when we are the most blocked, when we retreat behind our blockades. Those are the times we most need to peel back the layers and recognize that everything is from the Almighty and it is all in His hands.
The true lesson of Purim is that everything -- the seemingly good and the seemingly bad -- are one; they both stem from our perfect Creator. It is this realization that brings us joy. It is the recognition that everything is exactly as it should be, that there are no other forces at work, that allows us to accept our challenges with true joy.
All the commentators point out that the Almighty’s name is not mentioned once in the Purim story. At this bleak moment in the Jewish people’s history, He is behind the scenes, pulling the strings, turning sorrow into joy, revealing the meaning of our individual and collective travails.
This year, as I confront the medical challenges facing a loved one, I haven’t felt in the mood to celebrate Purim. Seeing and experiencing the pain of a terrifying illness, I haven’t been able to access that joy. I feel inclined to cancel all but the most obligatory of Purim activities.
But I know that’s a mistake. I know it actually misses the whole point of the day. This situation, too, is from the Almighty. This struggle too, is part of His plan. Although the curtains remain closed and we can’t peer behind them to discover the ultimate meaning, it is a fundamental tenet of our belief that the Almighty is in control, that there are no other powers.
We need to invest our experience of Purim with exceptional fervor on the years when it is hardest. It is the teaching of Purim, it is the relationship with the Almighty, it is the deeply internalized understanding that this too is good that will sustain all of us during our struggles. And that’s something to celebrate.