Shushan Purim: From Purim to Pesach

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

“When Adar enters, we increase our joy” (Taanit 29a). Presumably, the increased joy is due to the upcoming Purim festivities, the most joyous of Jewish holidays. Yet somewhat surprisingly, Rashi explains that our increased joy is due not only to the miracles of Purim, but to those of Pesach as well.

It is because we want to link Purim and Pesach that we celebrate Purim in Adar II (Megillah 6b). By all rights we should have celebrated Purim a month earlier, in keeping with the principle that we should do mitzvot at the first opportunity. Yet the Talmud rejects that line of reasoning, preferring “lismoch geulah legeulah, to juxtapose redemption to redemption”.

Purim and Pesach celebrate two very different types of redemption. One is centred on G-d (we do not even mention Moshe at the seder) and one is centered on man (we do not even mention G-d in the Megillah). Highlighting the partnership between man and G-d, these two holidays of redemption must be juxtaposed.

It is no coincidence that the key elements of the Megillah—the three-day fast, Esther’s party and the hanging of Haman—took place during Pesach which was, for all intents and purposes, cancelled that year. The rabbinic directive to begin studying the laws of Pesach thirty days prior means that we begin our preparations for Pesach on Purim itself.

That Purim is a time to celebrate the redemption of the Jewish people is a beautiful idea. Yet this concept is actually astounding when one considers another Talmudic passage just a few pages hence. The Gemara notes that Purim is an even greater holiday than Pesach itself. “And if from slavery to freedom we must give praise, from death to life how much more so” (Megillah 14a). If that is the case, the Talmud queries, why do we not say Hallel on Purim?

To this question the Gemara gives three answers. Rav Nachman argues that we actually do say Hallel—just not the same Hallel we sing on other holidays. “Kriatah zu Halleila, the reading of the Megillah is its Hallel”. (Megillah 14a). Instead of saying a few chapters of Tehillim, we read an entire book. And the praises of the Megillah are so great that there is no need for any other form of Hallel.

Yet the two other answers downplay the significance of Purim, explaining that, while we must celebrate on Purim, it does not rise to the level of saying Hallel. The initial, anonymous (and Zionist) answer is that the miracle of Purim took place outside the Land of Israel and hence, its significance is less. Only in Israel do we have a national identity, and only holidays celebrating national events are worthy of Hallel. Individual events must be celebrated and acknowledged but do not rise to the level of saying Hallel[1].

The third approach, that of Rava, stakes out a middle ground. “Acatei avdei Achashverosh anan.” When the story began, we were servants of Achashverosh and at the end of the story, “we were still servants to Achashverosh.” Hallel is not dependent on the Land of Israel, but it does require something more than the removal of a threat. True, our lives were in danger; but at the end of the day, nothing had really changed and we would have been no worse off had the story never happened. There was no exodus, no revelation, and no arrival in Israel. It is for good reason the Megillah ends with Achashverosh taxing the populace.

Purim is the holiday on which we celebrate the redemption of the Jewish people. Yet contrary to what many think, redemption need not mean the Messianic Era, or the building of the Temple, or even having the majority of the people living in Israel. Having the opportunity to pay taxes, to be treated as an equal citizen, is also redemption. And a Jewish life saved anywhere in the world is an act of redemption worth celebrating.

Perhaps it is davka by not saying Hallel that we acknowledge an aspect of redemption. Our Sages teach that saying Hallel every day is a form of cursing G-d (Shabbat 118b). Hallel is reserved for special, out-of-the-ordinary occasions: the exodus; receiving the Torah; G-d’s protection in the desert; and rededicating the Temple. Purim is the holiday of the ordinary. G-d’s name is nowhere to be found and it is man who takes centre stage. There are no overt miracles, and the twists and turns of the Megillah—taking place over the course of nine years—read like a political satire or a suspense thriller.

As the Ramban notes in his introduction to Shemot, sefer Shemot is the story of the redemption of the Jewish people. It is for this reason it ends with the construction of the Mishkan. While that may be the redemption we yearn for, we can also find redemption in the day-to-day of life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] That being said, our tradition maintains Purim Katan, when an individual may say Hallel to acknowledge a momentous event. Such is the case, for example, for those who were rescued from Entebbe.