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Purim: Holier than Yom Kippur?

By: Rav Yonny Sack

Before one enters the spiritual oasis in time that a festival presents, one needs to prepare oneself properly. Without due preparation, one could have the potent spiritual energy of the chag ‘in the air’ and yet miss out completely simply due to not knowing how to ‘plug in’.

Purim is around the corner and for many this is a festival which is often seen from a superficial standpoint. This misconception is understandable seeing that we spend most of the day feasting, dressing up and having fun. It certainly doesn’t come across as a day of potent spirituality. Yet our sources explain that Purim is in fact one of the most spiritually powerful days of the year, a day in which you can achieve spiritual heights like no other. The great Kabbalist, the Arizal, teaches that Yom Kippur, referred to as Yom Kippurim in the Torah is actually only Yom Ke-Purim (the prefix ‘Ke’ meaning “like”) a day that resembles Purim. In fact the Chassidic master and Kabbalist, Rav Tzadok of Lublin wrote [1] that Purim is a time that holds certain spiritual potency for growth and connection that far outscores Yom Kippur!

On Purim we have a mitzvah to give gifts to the poor. The Halacha states that “anyone who stretches out their hand” should be given something. This is unlike other times in the year where recipients may be scrutinized for worthiness. The Netivot Shalom writes that on Purim the same energy of giving without scrutiny exists on High. Anyone who stretches out to try and grow spiritually on this day of Purim is given Divine assistance; they are pulled upwards, without scrutiny.

What is the connection between Purim and Yom Kippur? What beautiful insights can we glean from this enigmatic teaching?

Yom Kippur is a day of forgiveness, a day of no jealousy, hatred, arguments. It is a day of compassion and love from Heaven downwards and from man to his fellow. The evil within a person is transcended, purity fills the air, barriers are lifted as we stand as pure angelic souls, fasting, praying and connecting. Purim seems to be the opposite. On Yom Kippur we preface with a meal and spend the day fasting, while on Purim we preface with a fast (Wednesday this week) and spend the day feasting. Instead of a day spent in prayer and disconnection from the physical world, we spend the day entirely submerged in physicality, eating, drinking, dressing up and having fun.

From one angle, while Yom Kippur presents as the obvious paradigm of the spiritual, we as Jews do not in fact aspire to a spirituality which is divorced from the world. Much holier is the person who can be holy while submerged in the physical than one whose holy level is dependent on his abstinence [2].

In many Torah sources it describes Hashem’s purpose in creation of the world as rooted in a Divine desire to have a dwelling place in the lower realms. The Tanya [3] beautifully writes therefore that the G-dly light produced in the dark lower realms of this physical world through our G-dly actions is a light far greater in its potency and luster that the light that shines in the upper spiritual worlds. In other words, the light of being holy while doing normal things like eating and drinking, is uniquely brighter than that of ‘easier’ spirituality that is divorced from anything physical.

On Purim we are instructed as follows: “a person is obligated to Livesumei on Purim until he no longer knows the difference between blessed is Mordechai, Cursed is Haman”. This Livesumei is practically expressed through drinking, but in essence the word comes from the word Besamim, meaning spices. It is the sense of smell, the Reiach, which is seen in Torah sources as the most spiritual (Ruach). Smell is a sense that transcends that which the physical world conveys for the eye to see. When you want to check if your milk is still good, for example, you won’t get too far by looking at it, rather, you instinctively smell it to know whether it is as good as it looks or really just a sour imposter in disguise. Livesumei thus means to transcend the physical world, a world of illusion and hiddenness, a masked world where truth is deeply embedded beneath layers of falsehood. But this transcending is done, not through abstinence, but rather while immersed in the very physicality that we are to transcend. One can nullify the material by abstaining from it, or better, one can nullify it by transforming it to a vehicle for holiness. Purim is therefore an elevating of the physical, lighting a torch of holiness while in the darkness. Such a light is enormously powerful. If done properly, one can achieve levels of intense connection with Hashem, rising to levels akin to that of Gan Eden before the sin, tasting of olam Haba, nullifying evil altogether. Indeed, our Sages teach that all other chagim will be nullified in the future times, all except for Purim. Purim is a taste of the future world of perfection of the physical.

Similarly, the energy of Purim is one of revealing the hidden face of G-d. It is all about seeing Hashem’s light in the darkness. Hashem is ‘hidden’ in the purim saga, never mentioned in the Megilla, teaching us the need to look beyond the seeming ‘natural’ coincidences and see His hidden hand in our lives particularly and in history in general. Thus the Halacha is that the megilla must be unraveled before reading in Shul, expressing the idea that when you focus only on part of the picture you miss the G-dly hand of providence. Seeing the bigger picture ‘unravelled’ allows the transcendent view of the events. Similarly, the Megilla itself is called Megillat Esther, which literally translates as “the revelation (Megaleh/Gilui) of the hidden (Hester)”.

Thus Purim presents a unique challenge and opportunity. Instead of ascending to the Heavens as we do on Yom Kippur, we bring Heaven down to earth. On Yom Kippur we remove the physical barriers impeding our ascension by not connecting to physicality. On Purim, the barriers are also removed, but this time it is nullified as it becomes a medium as we rise through the mundane. When we connect to Purim in this way, we are able to access some of the light and happiness that the Jews in the time of Esther felt, an elevation of faith and clarity that was unparalleled. An elevation that takes us beyond evil, to a place of pure good.

“La Yehudim Hayta Orah VeSimcha, sasson Veykar, Ken Tehiyeh Lanu” - “For the Jews there was light, happiness, rejoicing and honour. So may it be for us!”

Shabbat Shalom


[1] Resei Layla, ot 58, כי פורים הוא ימי רצון הרבה יותר מיום הכפורים

[2] That does not mean that there is no room for abstinence in Torah. In fact it plays a critical role. There are many forbidden, immoral usages of this physical world and abstinence from such impurity is absolute. Even from the permissible, abstinence is seen as holy, and does indeed help a person to learn to use the material world in the right way, mastering it, rather than letting it mastering him. Despite this, the ideal is not detachment but rather elevating the mundane. We eat and enjoy food but we ensure it is Kosher, we make brachot, we don’t over eat and we eat like a mensch thus turning a potentially animalistic activity into a G-dly one. In such a case, the table is likened to the altar in the Temple.

[3] Chapter 36:

אלא התכלית הוא עו"הז התחתון שכך עלה ברצונו ית' להיות נחת רוח לפניו ית' כד אתכפיא ס"א ואתהפך חשוכא לנהורא שיאיר אור ה' אין סוף ב"ה במקום החשך והס"א של כל עו"הז כולו ביתר שאת ויתר עז ויתרון אור מן החשך מהארתו בעולמות עליונים



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