Translated by Levi Morrow and Alan Brill. This text was first published in: kavvanah.wordpress.com
a talk for rosh hodesh Adar: on the ecstatic happiness of Purim, comparing to the rest of the holidays.
The happiness of Purim is an ecstatic happiness, different from the happiness associated with the other Jewish holidays. Hasidic texts explain that the happiness of the holidays is joy (ששון), the word used many times throughout Tanakh. Those verses make clear that joy is bound up with eros, with the happiness of a bride and groom: “As a youth espouses a maiden, Your sons shall espouse you; And as a bridegroom rejoices (משוש) over his bride, So will your God rejoice (ישיש) over you” (Isaiah 62:5); “Who is like a groom coming forth from the chamber, like a hero, eager (ישיש) to run his course” (Psalms 19:6). Similarly, the expression “The sound of joy and the sound of happiness, the sound of a groom and the sound of a bride” that is common throughout the prophecies of Jeremiah, as well as in the context of salvation.
The Mittler Rebbe of Habad differentiated between the happiness of the other holidays and the happiness of Purim as the difference between happiness contained within a vessel and happiness that is beyond and above any vessel (Sha’arei Orah 99). The happiness of the other holidays is the happiness of commandment, a Jewish happiness that flows from a sense of security in Jewish existence and its value. I am secure not necessarily in what will happen to me, but in the value of what I do. A deep happiness that contains fullness and satisfaction, faith and security in the value of my life.
The classic expression of this happiness is in acts of kindness. We are truly happy not when we are receiving but when we are giving. Because giving willingly is a gesture that expresses a deep faith in its own value. Through this giving, we establish our existence as a worthy existence, of infinite value. This satisfaction comes from doing good acts, the faith in Jewish destiny, and the value of his life. The happiness of the holidays is the happiness of commandment and kindness, happiness based on fullness and actuality, a happiness of existence in its very existence and the Jew in his Jewishness.
In contrast, [the joy of Purim,] is ecstatic, which is based on loss (אובדן), “and if I am to perish (אבדתי), I shall perish! (אבדתי)” (Esther 4:16), and on the discovery that within this loss and absence, there is an unlimited presence, even more than in the fullness of presence itself. The source of ecstasy is the foundation of terror that lies at the basis of the jest of the Megillah, the ability to turn this capricious and frightening story into a joke.
Ecstasy is ignited by an encounter. A person is confronted by strong mutual presence, which always appears as a present reality; an experience of “Whom else have I in heaven? And having You, I want no one on earth” (Psalms 73:25). More than anything else a person desires presence itself. A presence that is an uncontainable intangible now, beyond restraint. He wants to dissolve in love that is as strong as death. The nature of the event is an instantaneous encounter, [illuminating] how today we are here and tomorrow we are not, without a sense of security. In this lack of security, there is an existence much deeper and infinite.
The happiness of the encounter occurs against its fleeting background and its basis in loss. In overcoming these factors as well as accompanying naught (אין) and terror, a person arrives at ecstasy. The discovery of the ability to turn arbitrariness into fate and accept it. This ecstasy reveals the infinite nature of human existence, exactly because of its transient nature and lack of a need to be anchored.
In the writings of the Arizal, Purim is depicted as an exceptional situation, which occurs specifically against the background of the crisis of exile. The word “Megillah” (“מגילה”) alludes to revelation (“התגלות”), the happenings and chance [of the Purim story] enables temporary and transitory revelation of what is generally concealed and hidden.
A happiness of a life that draws on the naught, turning it into joy. A revelation that “we are here,” in the presence of the fleeting moment. After this, when the present turns into the past, joy will turn into your home, into being-with-yourself. However, in the moment of the encounter there is an unlimitedness beyond the home, which, in turn, sanctifies the home. Correspondingly, the ecstasy of the death of Aharon’s sons was the condition for the creation of the Mishkan.
Similarly, Rebbe Nahman wrote regarding the holiness of Shabbat, which is stronger for our awareness of its temporary nature, of the loss that threatens it. “Due the immense pleasure of the extra soul that arrives on Shabbat, we immediately begin to feel pain and yearnings over the loss of the soul with Shabbat’s exit” (Lekutei Moharan I:126)..
Ecstasy reveals in me an ability to be free and independent. The discovery of this very real possibility is enough to ignite us with “darts of fire, a blazing flame” (Song of Songs 8:6), with the rejoicing of a groom over a bride. Overcoming the self by way of the joke is the greatest form of self-sacrifice, thereby creating a center of lightness not weightiness.
In this manner, the chaotic lights of destruction (tohu) are gathered in the vessel of repair (tikkun), which are not understood as independent entities, rather the [repaired vessels] embody something beyond them. A belief in God without believing, God exists without existing. This destruction is vital to the creation of a sense of being at home, so the home should not become a prison. Only then will be built a Tabernacle into which the Shekinah could descend, thereby satisfying the desire of He that spoke and there was the world.
The joke of Purim is a joke of negation and nullification, the complete opposite of the affirmative fullness of the rest of the year, which stresses the positive and discussable. Normally, mockery is wickedness and nihilism, and mocking is therefore forbidden (except for the mocking of idolatry, Megillah 25b). On Purim, however, the mockery is turned towards the Amalekite mocker himself, becoming a negation of negation, a joke about Haman’s joke. In overcoming the self and in this double-negation is formed a positivity, a saying yes that takes as its own the strength of the negativity of the naught.