Why to Eat, Drink and Be Merry: Purim
“. . . and the month which was turned to them from sorrow to joy, and from mourning to a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and joy. . .” (Esther 9:22)
Rav Tzadok of Lublin writes in Machshavos Charutz (19) that the holiday of Purim is encapsulated in the last portion of the verse cited – “days of feasting and joy.” In practical terms, we find specific celebratory mandates: that one is obligated to drink wine on Purim, that one is obligated to have a special Purim feast. Clearly, there is a focus on this rejoicing with food and drink on Purim.
The story of Purim itself revolves around feasting with food and drink. At the beginning of Megillas Esther, we read of the extravagant parties that King Achashverosh threw. It was because of these parties that the nation of Israel found itself in trouble. They were not to have derived any benefit from the feast of the wicked king (Megillah 12a). Yet they did, and for that reason, they deserved punishment. Later in the Megillah, we read how the king having too much to drink led to Vashti being removed and Esther becoming queen. This feast was the beginning of the salvation of the nation.
What is the point of feasting? Why do we have celebratory gatherings? Rav Tzadok says that feasting and celebrating are meant to bring people together. Such events should join people in feelings of brotherhood and love. The feelings of joy lead to heightened feelings of closeness and endearment. There is a true value to such gatherings.
Yet, the feasts that we read about in the Megillah did not accomplish the purpose that they should. As stated above, Achashverosh threw an elaborate feast for all of his subjects. The Megillah states (1:8) that Achashverosh ordered that the will of “ish v’ish,” every man, should be fulfilled. The Talmud (Megillah 12a) notes the repetition of the word “ish” in the verse. One mention alludes to Mordechai, one to Haman.
The Maharsha quotes the Targum on this verse, and explains that Mordechai was there to serve the Jews, to ensure that they did not partake of forbidden food, and Haman was there to do the will of the citizens of the other nations, to feed them and ply them with the drink they desired. Although all were together in the same room, there were no bonds of kinship. They stayed separate. They ate separately. They drank separately. And Mordechai ensured that it stayed that way. This was not a party that brought people together. Vashti, as well, bore witness to that.
Esther herself threw two small parties. Haman and Achashverosh were the only guests at those small feasts. Haman truly believed that the point of these parties was to engender closeness and to establish a relationship with the new queen. He could not have been more wrong. The point of these parties was to establish a distance between Esther and Haman. As Haman eventually learned, the parties actually led to his demise.
The Megillah mentions the “reversal” of fortune for the nation of Israel. In the Megillah, we read of deception. That which appeared to be true was actually false. We read of people manifesting a desire to bring people together, to foster unity, by celebrating together. In actuality, these celebrations accomplished just the opposite. They created vast divisions and pushed people away from each other.
Purim is the time when we are supposed to truly celebrate. We recognize what true joy and happiness is – a joy that unites people. We do not engage in the farce of a celebration the Megillah describes. We have a tradition, as the Megillah states, of the “reversal” on Purim. When we celebrate on Purim, we are to do the opposite of what happened originally. We are supposed to have a day of feasting and joy – when we feel united, as one family, rejoicing together. We celebrate the close relationships we have with one another. We celebrate the close relationship we have with Hashem. Our celebrating with food and drink is not a mere physical indulgence; it is a tool to bring the nation of Israel together, using expressions of happiness, thanks and joy as the ties to bond us. It is this celebration that has value. It is this celebration that Purim is all about.
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Yehudah Prero and Torah.org.
The author has Rabbinic ordination from Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem, NY.