Ben Zoma says, “Who is wealthy? Someone who takes pleasure in what he has.” Ethics of Our Fathers 4:11
Thankfully, the holiday of Purim has its own book amongst the Writings, called the Scroll of Esther, that explains the entire historical event we’re celebrating, and gives us an understanding of the meaning behind the holiday. In this book, an annual party is instituted for future generations. All other holidays have a special meal to celebrate them. Purim has a full-blown party. Why are we taking food and drink to an extreme on this day? Because Purim is a symbol of the enjoyment of blessings.
It is not only a celebration, but the party itself also restores a blemish in our relationship with God. In what way did we damage our relationship with the Almighty? The Purim story begins with an ostentatious party King Achashverosh had in order to show off his wealth. The gold goblets and pouring of wine, expensive food to excess were all the gaudiest exhibitions of wealth you could possibly imagine. Everyone was obligated to come to the party, and the Jews were no exception. Of course the food for the Jews was Glatt Kosher Mehadrin. Only one man had the insight and the guts to not show up – Mordechai. He tried to convince his fellow Jews to send in a regret RSVP card, but they wouldn’t listen.
In order to understand Mordechai’s concern, we have to know a metaphysical point regarding blessings, that it’s difficult sometimes to use a blessing properly. It is designed in our spiritual make-up that we have tests, and one of the most important tests of life is the challenge of receiving a blessing. Rich or poor, strong or weak, wise or foolish, every individual has more of something than someone else. We need to take God’s gifts and use them properly. This was part of the test in the Garden of Eden, and it’s part of every person’s challenges in life.
For a while, my four-year-old daughter who takes ballet lessons, was also being treated to lunch by my wife on ballet day. My daughter seemed to appreciate the extra attention and time with my wife. It disturbed me, however, when I overheard my daughter bragging to her sisters, “I get to go out for lunch every week with Momma and you don’t.” She was misusing her blessing. Unfortunately, we do this as adults also. God is a loving parent showering us with blessings. He wants us to enjoy them, not flaunt them. The Torah forbids envy and jealousy. Why should we encourage anyone else to violate that commandment?
As noted by many, the word Esther means to hide. There are many elements of hiddenness surrounding Purim. They serve to remind us not to flaunt or show off our blessings. Fish, the symbol of the Hebrew month of Adar, are a symbol of protection from the “evil eye”, jealousy, because they are hidden from our sight under the water. When you show off a blessing you run the risk of inviting jealousy and negative feelings towards you.
A specific way we combat jealousy on Purim is to give gifts to our friends and to the poor. By sharing our blessings we are using the blessings to do mitzvos. It’s not only a mitzvah in its own right, but sharing a blessing is the greatest protection against jealousy also.
Therefore the party of Achashverosh was a huge orgy of indulgence that ran opposite to one of the most important principles in the Torah. No matter how kosher the food was, no Jew should have set foot at that party. A Purim party is done as reparation for the original mistake of going to Achashverosh’s party. Now, every year we get together and celebrate our relationship with the Almighty with food and drink, song and praise for all our blessings physical and spiritual.
Enjoy your blessings.
Share your blessings with others.
And then expect to receive even more.
Rabbi Max Weiman