Dvar Torah for Purim


Based on Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #83 and # 74

First, I apologize for failing to include last week the source of Queen Esther’s prayer (“My God, My God, why have You abandoned me?”). It is from Psalms 22:2.

Second, I just wanted to mention a small item from the Piasetzner Rebbe (o.b.m.) who was killed in the Warsaw ghetto. I think it’s worth mentioning in and of itself and also because of the advice it affords. Despite the fact that Purim is a day of almost overwhelming joy, it does present its own challenges. The Piasetzner Rebbe (o.b.m.) said that just as on Yom Kippur one may not let hunger pangs force him/her to break the fast, so, too, on Purim. One must not let worry/anger/depression “pangs” get the better of him and force him to break the joy of the day.

One of the most joyful aspects of Purim is the masquerading that goes on. Many people, not only children, dress up in costumes that are unusual (at least for them) and/or wear a mask. Achashvarosh dressed up as the kohen gadol, High Priest (Megillah 12a). Queen Esther herself did not reveal her nationality to anyone (2:10). In fact, her name wasn’t really Esther. It was Hadassah (2:7). Or is it the other way around? >:-) Many of our holy works offer various interpretations of this custom. Here’s my humble offering.

In section 83 Rebbe Nachman writes that a person may have an obsession or a phobia despite the fact that s/he knows, rationally, that its cause is harmless or meaningless. The Rebbe writes that the reason for this is that there is something else, something other, within the person that is in fact afraid (or obsessed) with the object in question. That is, the Rebbe is telling us that even though you think that it is you who are afraid, in fact it is someone else, i.e., someone is masquerading as you! And this “someone” has the most authentic costume—your own body and mind! You think it’s you because because it walks, talks and behaves exactly the way you do!

But it’s not. It is an impostor who has so cleverly usurped your personality, your existence, that even you—the real you!—are convinced that it’s you. Rebbe Nachman writes that the only way to unmask this impersonator is to focus yourself very, very well (yishuv hadaat) until you realize that the object of fear/desire has nothing to do with you. At that point you can exercise your free will and stop giving in to the impostor and his idiosyncrasies (meshugassen).

So much for unmasking the bad guys. But as you certainly remember from your comic book-reading days, we super-heroes also wear masks.  >:-) And Rebbe Nachman tells us why this can be a good idea. Sometimes, for example, you can’t seem to cheer yourself up. What to do? Pretend you’re happy. Put on a happy face. You won’t be truly happy right away, but eventually you will be. The Rebbe writes that this works for any holy endeavor—start off pretending that you’re excited and interested about it and eventually you will be.

The merriment of Purim in general, and a Purim party in particular, offers an opportunity to practice both of these suggestions. With all the noise and excitement (and some help from an intoxicating beverage) you can sit on the sidelines and retreat into a personal “cone of silence” till the real you stands up. Let go of your inhibitions—people will think your just acting anyway—and start pretending to be excited about Judaism.

So use the days remaining before Purim to recognize who’s who and who’s you and give the scoundrel the boot; and to decide which “mask” you want to grow into.

A very happy Purim to you and yours. Please—if you drink, don’t drive! (Good advice a whole year long.)

agutn Shabbos!
Shabbat Shalom!