The holiday of Purim celebrates one of the happiest times in Jewish History. With the destruction of the first Beit Hamikdash and all of its desolation, the salvation of the Jews during the times of King Achashveirosh was a holiday of renewal. The rescinding of the decrees of Haman set the stage for the completion of the construction of Bayit Sheni, the second Temple period. Megillat Esther (chapter 9) notes that the entire month of Adar is one of happiness and joy. Simcha, in Jewish thought and tradition, is something that relates to growth, inner peace and spiritual fulfillment. Happiness that is unchanneled or misdirected can lead to a complete distortion of the nature of the holiday and lead to other personal consequences.
On Purim, it is common to have parties. Some refer to them as masquerades or costume parties. Even the actual seudah (festive meal) on Purim has an element of “partying” to it. However, the nature of this “partying” needs to be defined appropriately in order to understand the true essence of the day.
My children know that their father (that’s me) has two favorite days of the Jewish calendar year. The first is Yom Kippur (which is for another discussion) and the other is Purim. Why is Purim one of my two favorite days of the year? It is because when going through the streets, everyone seems happy! People look happy, act happy and are all wearing funny costumes! It is almost impossible to miss the happy atmosphere that permeates the day.
Purim is also a day that is full of giving. Throughout Jewish thought, many of our great Sages point to the fact that inner happiness has a lot to do with giving to others and including others. Perhaps the greatest expression of this is the Rambam, who comments in Hilchot Yom Tov, that the greatest happiness is to “gladden the hearts of the widow and the orphan.” The Rambam continues and says that if people sit among themselves, lock their doors and don’t look to include others in their happiness, this is not real Simcha but rather “Simchat Creiso,” the simcha of the stomach. A day that is full of giving is a day that is also full of happiness. We give Mishloach Manot to our friends and neighbors; some we know well, while others we want to get to know better. We provide for the poor and include others in our festive Seudat Purim. Therefore, we see clearly that our festive partying has much to do with others, including others and being there for others. These deeds become our complete focus for the day, with the goal of it carrying over to other days of the year.
While it goes beyond the discussion of this article to discuss the nature of drinking on Purim, it becomes very clear that uncontrolled drinking is completely antithetical to the nature of the day. Happiness is about connection, community and giving to others. “Artificial” feelings of happiness are fleeting. As parents, we need to serve as good role models for our children, by teaching them what true happiness is all about. On this Purim, our “partying” should have parameters and restrictions. Let’s set the right example for our children by showing and teaching them the meaning of true happiness. Mishenichas Adar Marbim Bisimcha! May everyone merit a happy month, a month of connection, giving and thinking of others
By Mark Staum, LCSW
Rabbi Mark Staum, LCSW, is a child and adolescent therapist and is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Link.