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March 6, 2007 – 12:38 am | 1,550 views

Two Fears
In his first inaugural address, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself. “ (1) Contrast that with Moses, who proclaimed, in his final address to the nation, “All G-d your lord desires from you is that you fear him.” (2)

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Home » Purim

Purim: Celebrating the Inner Battle

Submitted by on March 13, 2006 – 5:24 amNo Comment | 1,912 views

A Curious Distinction

Among the many rituals observed during the holiday of Purim are those of Mishloach Manot, sending food baskets to fellow Jews, and Matanot Laevyonim, sharing gifts with the poor.

The Talmud lays out the minimum requirements for these rituals and dictates two distinctions between them. A food basket must be sent to at least one recipient but the basket must contain at least two food types. The gifts to the poor must be offered to at least two recipients, but a single coin to each suffices. (1)

As is the case throughout Torah, we must ask ourselves what inspiration or lesson we might derive from these, otherwise curious, distinctions. (2)

In place of the Sacrifice

Most Jewish holidays were celebrated in the Temple through the offering of sacrifices. However, when the holiday of Purim was established the temple lay in ruins and our ancestors were exiled in Persia, where the offering of sacrifices was forbidden by Torah law.

Because our ancestors could not offer sacrifices to celebrate the holiday of Purim, our sages established new rituals of celebration, but in an effort to preserve the spirit of the sacrificial rite, they ensured that the new rituals mirrored the ideas of the sacrificial rite.

The Sacrifice

The sacrificial rite was offered in two separate stages. First the sacrificial animal was put to death through the shechitah ritual. Then the carcass was raised upon the altar and offered to G-d.

These two stages provided our ancestors with two distinct opportunities for reflection.

As the sacrifice was put to death, our ancestors considered their own animalistic natures and reflected on silencing their improper urges and impulses. As the sacrifice was consumed by the altar’s flames, they reflected onsublimating their base instincts by utilizing them for G-dly purposes. (3)

The distinct characteristics of the Purim rituals reflect these two stages of the sacrificial rite.

Many Food Types to One Recipient

The battle to rein in our animal nature is unique to each individual. No two people are alike.

One person’s nature is aggressive, the other’s is docile. One battles a voracious appetite, the other is obsessed with physical appearance. One is overly confident, the other is excessively paranoid. One is relaxed, the other is anxious. One is frigid, the other lusts after all manner of temptation. We each battle our own beast.

Because our individual beast is multi-faceted we must fight our battles on many fronts. The struggle against our many impulses means that every instinct must be weighed, every desire must be measured and every response must be scrutinized. Is it too intense or too mild? Does it bring me closer to G-d or drive me away from G-d? We must root out the negative dimension of each instinct and enable its positive dimension to flourish.

The Purim food basket reflects this inner struggle. celebrating the inner battle - innerstreamThe plurality of food types that it must contain is a metaphor for the multi-faceted nature of every Jew’s struggle. That it is sufficient to offer the basket to only one recipient is a metaphor for the unique nature of every Jew’s struggle.

One Coin to Many Recipients

Notwithstanding the distinctiveness of our animal natures, the effort to sublimate our animal nature and to harness its energies to the service of G-d is common to all Jews. When we seek to sublimate our animal nature, our attention is not focused on ourselves, but on G-d.

This is not a struggle to attain perfection. It is a struggle to abnegate our ego and our sense of self. We learn to perceive the entire world as a manifestation of G-d and of G-d’s creative energy. We struggle to view ourselves as extensions of the divine, to devote ourselves to this newfound reality and to direct our energies to G-d.

From this vantage point, our primal impulses are utterly transformed. The inner beast, who formerly directed its passion towards materialistic urges, is now devoted to the love of G-d. The powerful energies that it previously expended on selfish desires are now dedicated to G-d.

In this quest we are all alike. We all seek the same objective, we all seek the same connection, we all seek the same G-d, regardless of our natural differences.

The Purim gifts to the poor reflect this desire. That they must be offered to many recipients indicates that all Jews engage in the same pursuit. That it is sufficient to offer only one coin indicates the single-mindedness of this pursuit. (3)

Strengthening one Another

Sending these baskets to our neighbors and sharing these gifts with the poor indicate that we cannot and would not undertake this effort alone. On Purim we reach out to our fellow Jews and offer them some of our own inspiration. We urge them forward and, in the process, also stimulate ourselves.

Footnotes

  1. Bab. Talmud, Megilah, 7a
  2. This
    distinction is derived from the book of Esther, from where the
    instruction for these rituals are derived. The book of Esther states
    that Mordechai decreed that every man send foods (plural) to his fellow
    (singular) and that gifts must be offered to poor people (plural). This,
    however, only defers the question to the book of Esther, why did
    Mordechai insist on these distinctions?
  3. For
    why these distinctions were established in the first place see
    Commentary of Beis Yosef (R. Yoseph Karo, Safed Israel, 1488-1575) on
    Tur Orach Chyaim, ch. 595 and commentary of Maharsha (Rabbi Shmuel
    Eliezer Edels, Posen, 1555 – 1631) on Bab. Talmud, Megilah, 7a.
  4. See Torah Ohr, Parshas Pinchas (R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chassidus Chabad, 1745 – 1813).
  5. Furthermore,
    that the coin can purchase any food type that we choose indicates that
    every one of our base animal natures can be sublimated in this
    manner.
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