I’m sure I’ll probably say this regarding every holiday, but man, if Purim isn’t all about bitachon, I don’t know what is. In recent weeks, I’ve been writing about the character trait of trusting in God, studying the book Sha’ar Habitachon, listening to lectures, etc, I really do have to pause for a minute to contemplate the story told in Megillas Esther as everything about it demonstrates what bitachon is all about.
Just as a refresher, bitachon is the behavior one has when they trust that God runs the world, that He is intimately involved in your life, and is orchestrating everything ultimately for your benefit. The story of Purim, encapsulates these ideas so well, I could probably pick any line and demonstrate a startling connection. But this is a blog post and not a book, so I’ll just hit some highlights.
From Doom to Blessing
Purim takes place in the Jewish month of Adar. And Adar has this weird energy to it. We’re supposed to increase our joy over the month, but what’s weird is that it’s not a revealed joy. What do I mean by that? Well let’s look at the circumstances of the story.
Megillas Esther starts in the Persian capital of Shushan. The Jews have been in exile after losing the first Temple. A prophesy had been given that the Jews would return from their exile after 70 years. 70 years comes and goes and there is no new Temple. This seems irrefutable proof God has abandoned the Jews. And this is what motivates King Ahasuerus’ 180 day celebration. If that weren’t bad enough, Haman’s decree to wipe out all Jews takes feeling down in the dumps to catastrophic danger. Amidst all that doom and chaos, God seems nowhere to be seen. This is highlighted by the fact that the text of the Megillah contains no mention of God whatsoever!
Yet despite these dire circumstances and lack of Godly presence, a bizarre series of events perfectly line up to not only save the Jews from destruction, but elevate them to levels of prominence and joy. Everything flips. The gallows built for Mordechai are used to hang Haman. The Jews as a nation are sentenced to death, they all survive. Mordechai weeps in sack cloth and ashes, he becomes the 2nd in command to the King. Jews indulged in celebration of their freedom from God at the beginning of the story, by the end they drink in celebration of reaccepting God’s Torah (more about that later).
The joy we are to find in Adar is in the realization that what looks like our troubles will actually turn into our greatest blessings. If that’s not the spirit of bitachon, I don’t know what is.
A Day Like Purim
Yom Kippur, translates as the day of atonement (kapara is the Hebrew word for acceptance of your apology). However the Rabbis of the Talmud say Yom Kippur can also be translated to mean “a day like purim.” With Yom Kippur, the Jewish people receive forgiveness by subverting their physical desires and elevating to their highest spiritual level. However, with Purim, we take our physical desires and elevate them. For our desires for business and money we give gifts to our friends and to the poor. For our desires for honor and ego, we read the Megillah to remind ourselves it’s all about something bigger. And for physical indulgences we have the Purim meal.
However that all stems from the element of bitachon. Though we eat, drink, and are merry on Purim, an essential part of the experience is the Fast of Esther observed the day before. What’s the bitachon part? The fast we do on Yom Kippur comes from a guarantee of atonement. As long as you partake in the day, you know you’re going to get forgiveness. But when it came to the story of Purim, the Jews had no such guarantee of salvation. It was only because of the trust in God that the salvation came about.
A Day Like Shavuos
If Yom Kippur weren’t enough, Purim is compared to another major holiday. Shavuos commemorates God giving the Torah to the Jewish people at the revelation at Mount Sinai. The magnitude of that miracle is so profound, I’m surprised it’s not more celebrated outside the observant world. That being said, there is a bizarre Midrash in Talmud Shabbos that describes the experience that God elevated the mountain, held it over the Jews’ heads and essentially said, “Do you want the Torah? If yes, great. If not, this mountain will come crashing down on you.”
Did God really threaten the Jewish people into accepting his Torah? Not really, clearly there’s deep metaphorical meaning to be unpacked here. But in a way God did coerce the Jews. So the Rabbis ask, was the acceptance of the Torah valid? After many arguments, the Rabbis then say, regardless of that answer, the Jews eventually reaccepted the Torah in the story of Purim. (In Chapter 9:27 “The Jews confirmed and undertook upon themselves…”)
So what’s the bitachon message?
When you’ve just been taken out of slavery amidst the most mind boggling miracles the world has ever seen, walked on dry land between two walls of suspended water, your food falls from the sky, and you have a pillar of fire and clouds guiding and comforting you, it’s easy to sign on God’s dotted line. However when God seems completely absent from your life, you’ve just had to fight for your life to survive genocide, and you’ve been living in exile, to accept the Torah at that point is on a whole different level. That’s when the rubber hits the road and cleaving to God has extraordinary merit. That’s bitachon.
The Opposite of Bitachon
The Shabbos before Purim we read parshas Zachor which recalls when the nation of Amalek attacked us. Tradition tells us that Haman was a descendant of Amalek and thus why we read the Torah section before the holiday. However Amalek, the arch enemy of the Jews, isn’t just about hatred. The word Amalek has the numerical value as the Hebrew word for doubt. If you’re not familiar with Gematria, it is a way of reading Torah that assigns numerical values to the letters, giving each word a number. When two words have the same number, there is supposed to be profound connection. Amalek’s essence is doubt. Doubt in deeper meanings, doubt in looking at the bright side, doubt in God’s presence. Doubt is the very opposite of bitachon.
Could all the events of the Megillah happened through random chance and coincidence? Sure! That’s the beauty of the story. You have a choice to look at it either way. In fact, the very name of the holiday, Purim, refers to how Haman decided which day he was going to kill the Jews. He did so by casting a lottery (which is Pur in the Persian language) to specifically say, it’s all chance. The way God operates in the world now is hidden, giving us that choice. Our job is to eradicate that doubt and we do it with bitachon.
Jewish Drinking Day?
Last idea I’ll point out is that there is the mitzvah to drink to the point where one can’t tell the difference between “wicked Haman and blessed Mordechai.” Did the Rabbis feel the Jews were missing out on a Mardi Gras or a St. Patrick Day style holiday? I’m pretty sure that’s not the idea. Okay so we’re supposed to get so messed up we’re celebrating our enemies? Imagine a group of yeshiva students singing the praises of Adolf Hitler! That can’t be what the commandment means either.
I think this is the answer. There are two Jewish mottos often recited for getting through difficult times. One was said by Rabbi Akiva, “Kol man d’avid Rachmana l’tav avid,” meaning, “All that God does, He does for good.” But then there are the words of the Rabbi Nachum Ish Gamzu, “Gam zula tova,” or “this too is good.” What’s the difference?
Rabbi Akiva was from a younger, less connected generation. So his perspective was that when something bad happens, through faith you trust that it will work out in the end. However Nachum Ish Gamzu has a clearer perception of God and for him, he didn’t see the bad at all, but immediately was able to know what “trouble” that was happening was for his benefit. It’s a tremendous level of bitachon to live at and it is nearly impossible for any of us to exist there.
Except on Purim. On Purim the drinking isn’t for the sake of base reasons. We’re given the unique opportunity to get to a level where the veil of Hashem’s hidden nature is pulled back and we can see there is no bad, only good! It’s not about the threats of Haman or the inspiring actions of Mordechai. It’s all about Hashem getting us back on track to live a life of meaning, connection, and growth.
364 days of the year we do that through bitachon. But if we take Purim seriously (but not too seriously, it is Purim after all) we can get to a place of not just faith, but revelation in spite of the hidden.
Have a bitachon filled Purim!