The Week of Purim

This week, in addition to being the week in which the Torah portion of tsav (Leviticus 6 – 8) is read out in the synagogues, is also the week of the holiday of Purim. Known mainly for its joyous nature—the costumes, the cookies, the abundance of alcohol—the story of this holiday contains a profound message.

In a nutshell, the story of Purim, narrated in the Scroll of Esther in the Bible, is a story of a miraculous deliverance from a great calamity. Esther, its namesake, was an exceptionally beautiful young Jewish woman in ancient Persia, who was selected by the reigning king, Ahasuerus, to be his consort and queen. Ahasuerus’ chief vizier, Haman, plotted to kill all the Jews living in the Persian kingdom on a particular day, which was selected by casting a lottery (pur in Persian, hence the name purim). Haman’s plan was foiled by Mordecai, Esther’s adopting father, with the help of Esther herself. The day selected for the annihilation of the Jews became, instead, a day of great rejoicing.

The Kabbalistic message of the holiday is conveyed by the name of the book that narrates the story: Esther (אסתר). The peculiarity of the Hebrew alphabet makes the spelling of this word identical with that of the word esater, meaning “I shall hide”, in an allusion to God’s words from the book of Deuteronomy:

וְאָנֹכִי הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר פָּנַי
And I shall hide [asther asthir] my face (Deuteronomy 31:18)

The meaning, according to this Kabbalistic interpretation, is that God is hiding himself in the world. This is a similar idea to the one expressed in the Indian Upanishads:

“Having created, the Creator entered his creation”.

How is this “hiding in creation” take place? Through through the unfoldment of events in time, through destiny (purim). God hides in the world, but this hiding is also a means through which he is revealed, in the course of the unfoldment of events. God’s hiding is for the sake of his revelation.

Which is why the book of Esther is actually called “the scroll of Esther,” megillat esther (מגילת אסתר). The Hebrew word megillah (מגילה), which literally means scroll or “that which is rolled out”, or “that which unfolds”, comes from the root meaning of “to be revealed” (להגלות). The words megilat esther can be understood as “the revelation of the hidden.”

Interestingly, the idea that the events of time are an expression of God, or of Spirit, were articulated thousands of years later by the German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel, who wrote as follows: “Becoming, History, is a conscious, self-meditating process — Spirit emptied out into Time.”

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Purim contains another profound idea. It is the holiday of joy, and the Talmud instructs us to get so intoxicated that “one would know the difference between ‘cursed Haman’ to ‘blessed is Mordecai.’”

מיחייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי

This intoxication is normally taken to mean consumption of large amounts of alcohol. However, from the point of vew of consciousness, this could be understood as complete absorption in the non-dual state of consciousness, the state of the One without a second, which transcends all opposite values, while being at once their source and goal. This is he state of consciousness alluded to as the Garden of Eden, the primordial garden of delight before Adam and Eve age from “the tree of knowledge of good and evil,” and tree of duality.

Rather than a call to get drunk, this may be seen as an invitation to enjoy the Absolute bliss of enlightened consciousness.

Happy Purim!

Copyright © 2014 Igal Harmelin-Moria
(Copyright does not pertain to illustrations)