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Purim Eternal: Inspiration and depth


In an essay titled “Double Adar,” Rabbi Berel Wein writes that “there is an underlying value that the month of Adar possesses that no other month in the Jewish calendar can lay claim to. This idea of the joy of survival, of the ultimate downfall of the wicked, of the better tomorrow in physical, spiritual and national terms, belongs exclusively to Adar. There is no substitute for it in the rest of the year’s calendar.”

It is from this observation that we proceed to the teachings of Rabbi Avi Feiner of Lawrence, reflected in a chapter excerpted from his book Purim Eternal: Inspiration and Depth (Mosaica Press, 2019).

Selective Memory

“And these days should be remembered (‘nizkarim’) and celebrated in every generation.” This verse is the source for many of the laws regarding the mitzvah of reading the Megillah, and may be the actual source for the obligation to read the Megillah on Purim. The Gemara even labels the mitzvah of reading the Megillah as one of ‘zechirah,’ meaning ‘remembrance.’

“But why is Megillas Esther called ‘remembrance?’ If it is because the main purpose of the reading is to commemorate the miracle, then why not refer to all of the mitzvos of Purim as a remembrance or commemoration? Are not the mitzvos of seudas Purim, mishloach manos, and matanos l’evyonim also commemorations of the great miracles that occurred at the time of Purim?

“To gain a greater understanding of the word ‘zecher’ (or ‘zechirah’), let us look back to find the first time that this word appears in the Torah. There is a famous principle brought from Rav Tzadok HaKohen m’Lublin that the essential meaning of a word can be best understood by analyzing the first time that word appears in the Torah.

“The first place that a form of this word ‘zecher’ (to remember) appears in the Torah is in Parashas Noach. The verse states, ‘Vayizkor Elokim es Noachvayashochu hamayim’ — And Hashem remembered Noach … and the waters subsided.’ Hashem’s remembrance of Noach took place while he was inside the teivah in the midst of the Great Flood, and it was this remembrance that ultimately prompted Hashem to cause the waters to subside.

“Rashi on this verse explains that obviously Hashem never forgets anything and therefore has no need to ‘remember.’ Rather, G-d’s remembrance signifies that the attribute of Hashem’s strict judgment (Elokim) was now substituted with the attribute of Hashem’s mercy, which became manifest as a result of the tefillos of Noach.

“We see from Rashi’s explanation that ‘zechirah’ refers to the vehicle of tefillah that causes Hashem to display mercy — even when mercy may not be deserved.

Rabbi Yisroel Reisman pointed out that this may be why this very verse from Parashas Noach is the first verse that is quoted in the Zichronos section in the Mussaf of Rosh Hashanah. On Rosh Hashanah, our lives are on the line. We are begging for compassion from Hashem, even if such compassion may not be warranted based on our actions from the past year. But, we pour out our hearts and plead for Hashem’s mercy to inscribe us in His Book of Life.

“According to this definition of ‘zechirah,’ we can better understand why the Megillah is referred to by this very word. The miracles found in the Megillah took place during a time of middas hadin. Hashem’s strict justice was evident in the decree that was issued against the Jewish nation. But, as a result of the prayers of Mordechai, Esther, and all of the Jewish people, Hashem’s mercy was aroused and the decree was reversed. The Purim story is a story of Hashem listening to our tefillos and pouring out His incredible compassion and kindness toward His children. That is precisely why the Megillah is called a ‘remembrance,’ because it reflects how tefillah can prompt Hashem to ‘remember’ His covenant with His nation and to save them, even when they do not necessarily deserve to be saved.

“It is then very fitting that the words at the end of this verse in Noach are  ‘vayashochu hamayim’ — ‘And the waters subsided.’ The shoresh of this word, which is ‘shoch,’ is not a very common word in Tanach. However, a form of this same word appears also in Megillas Esther. After Haman is hanged on the gallows, the verse says, ‘Vachamas hamelech shochocho’ — ‘and the anger of the king subsided.’ The Gemara, therefore, uses this parallel word to compare these two passages. The Gemara comments that just as the anger of the king cooled down, so too the waters of the Flood cooled down, thus implying that the Flood waters were originally boiling hot and therefore had to cool down before Noach was safely able to exit the teivah.

“This comparison that the Talmud is making between these two passages is not only that they both contain the same (unusual) term. The Gemara may be further illustrating to us that the meaning of remembrance in both instances is the cooling down of the heat and fury of Hashem’s strict justice. Just as Hashem ‘remembered’ Noach in the time of the Flood and caused the boiling and destructive waters to cool down, so too in the time of Purim, Hashem ‘remembered’ Mordechai, Esther, and the Jewish people, and His attribute of strict justice was thus similarly cooled down. The Gemara in Megillah even suggests that when the verse says that the king’s anger subsided, it may not only be referring to Achashveirosh’s anger, but may also be a reference to the cooling down of the anger of the King of the World.

“Therefore, it is very appropriate that Megillas Esther be called a ‘remembrance.’ Not only does reading the Megillah enable us to recall and to publicize the tremendously miraculous events that occurred, but it also teaches us how we can cause Hashem to ‘forget’ about His attribute of strict judgment and to instead ‘remember’ His love and compassion for the Jewish nation. Even if we are undeserving, we must pour out our hearts in prayer and supplication, and through the vehicle of tefillah we can cause Hashem to suppress His anger and instead pour His great mercy and rachamim upon us.”

• • •

Below, you will find an online interview with Rabbi Feiner wherein he explains his reasons for writing this book. 

I decided to write this sefer for the following reasons:

1) When you even mention the word “Purim” to most people, it puts a smile on their faces. There is such an extreme element of simchah on Purim that expands even to the rest of the month of Adar - as we see from the Talmudic statement, “Mi’shenichnas Adar Marbim B’Simchah.” These divrei Torah bring simchah to my heart and I truly hope they can bring simchah to your hearts.

2) Related to (and perhaps the cause of) the centrality of simchah on Purim is the concept of “nitzchiyus” (eternity). The miracles of Purim are a testament to the eternal nature of Klal Yisrael.  Purim, according to Chazal, and as codified by the Rambam, will exist eternally. This concept pervades the day of Purim and allows us to experience a deep connection to Hashem and His eternal world in a way that can be transformative. Some of the divrei Torah in the sefer are intended to bring out this idea, which will hopefully allow the reader to reflect and connect in a deeper way to this amazing day (and month).

3) There is an abundance of seforim in Hebrew that provide insight into the machshavah of Purim and into the mitzvos of the day. However, I have not found many seforim of that nature written in English. The sefer is divided into 26 essays (in addition to my brother, Rav Eytan Feiner’s excellent introductory essay) that can be read independently of one another, each focused on a different facet of Purim. I tried to choose topics and express ideas that have relevance throughout the year; not only on Purim.