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How Do We Celebrate Purim in a Time of War?

Purim is a time of joy.  Parties, costumes, singing, dancing, and yes some drinking too.  And not just on Purim but throughout the whole month it is a mitzvah to be happy.  The Talmud tells us “When the month of Adar comes in, we up our joy.”  Yet this year is different. Our people are still reeling from the terrible events of October 7, a war is going on in Gaza with IDF soldiers putting their lives on the line, almost every day there is news of another fallen hero and over a hundred of our brothers and sisters are still captives in Gaza.  On top of this, Jewish communities outside of Israel are being assailed by verbal and physical attacks on Jewish establishments and people. So how do we navigate the holiday of Purim given this reality?

Let’s take a deeper dive into the meaning behind the joy of Purim in order to navigate our dilema.  On Jewish holidays, the Torah tells us, we should celebrate with Simcha, with happiness. On Purim there is an extra dimension of celebration.  When Haman was hung and the Jews received the decree allowing them to defend themselves, the Megila (8:16) tells us “And for the Jews there was light, simcha (happiness), sasson (joy) and yikar (honor).” Purim has an extra quality of sasson. What is the difference between simcha and sasson? The Maharal of Prague tells us that simcha is more of an internal state, a contentment, a feeling satisfaction and peace with oneself and the world. Sasson is the external joy, the feeling of elation. What is surprising about this moment of joy for the Jewish people is that although Haman had been hung and Mordechai appointed in his place to be viceroy of Persia, there was still a great danger because of the decree that the Jews across the Persian empire could be attacked in Adar.  Even though the Jews were still in danger they understood that the tides had turned, that the Almighty was with them, and that there was a light from above shining on them.  G-d had begun the salvation of His people.

There is another element that we see in the verse. Yikar is honor Rabbi Meir Leibish Malbim explains in his commentary on the Megila. And what was the honor? It was the fact that the Jews could defend themselves.  The people realized their fate was in their hands because of the counter decree issued by the king that allowed them free rein to protect their communities. And sure enough, they would go on to hang the ten sons of Haman, and to eliminate the followers of Haman of the Jewish people from the Persian empire. 

Over the past five months in Israel we have gone through a period of great darkness, and we are still facing enormous challenges.  But the light is emerging; the country has united to face the enemy, the morale in the army is extremely high and there is great resolve to defeat our enemies so nothing like October 7 every happens again. We are in our own land, with our fate in our own hands, and with the ability to defend ourselves with honor.  This honor in itself brings simcha v’sasson, the light emerging brings simcha v’sasson. So even if we have not yet seen victory, even as we still have great challenges to face, and even as we know there is going to be more loss and grieving, even if there still hostages, like the Jews of ancient Persia, this Purim we can already begin to feel the simcha v’sasson. 

The Shabbat after October 7th, there was a big question of how could we find the peace of mind to celebrate Shabbat with joy in the shadow of the great tragedy that had just happened. Should we be singing in synagogue during kabbalat Shabbat and our Shabbat meals? Word went out from the soldiers that they wanted us to sing, they wanted us to celebrate Shabbat with a full heart. Our heroes explained that this is why they are fighting, so we can live full lives in our land as Jews connected to Shabbat, the Torah, and the Almighty. And so we sang. We sang for those we lost, we sang for the bravery of our soldiers, and we sang for the hope of a better future.

This Purim let’s celebrate with simcha v’sasson, let’s celebrate for our people, for those who are putting their lives on the line, for those who are not yet freed and for a future of Shalom in our land.  There is still much darkness, much of it coming out of Persia as it did in the times of Purim.  This Purim may the Almighty continue to shine more and more light upon His people and upon His land.

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