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The Misery or Ecstasy of Purim

When we moved into our Ashlag community four and a half years ago we had no idea what Ashlag meant.  For us, it didn’t much matter.  When we saw the warm community atmosphere, of which we were sure didn’t exist in Israel, surrounding a house three times the size of the tiny Jerusalem apartment that we were living in at the time, these factors were more than enough to make us want to “buy in.”  Furthermore, it intrigued us to live in a community comprised of Charedi (questionable if they really are) looking people and Dati looking people who were friendly and getting along.

Four and a half years later, while still not considering ourselves Ashlag Chassidim, my wife and I have certainly learned a lot and are much more informed about what Ashlag is.  In short, Rav Yehuda Leib Ashlag , some 80 years ago in Eretz Yisrael, cultivated a path which is dedicated to following in the ways of the Holy Baal Shem Tov and Chassidus in practice; and in Torah learning, the primal focus is placed on Kabbala.  Rav Ashlag himself wrote a commentary on the two most important works in Kabbala, the Zohar (Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai) and Etz Chayim (teachings of the Ari Z”L)

The most fundamental teaching in Ashlag thinking, conceptually and practically, and the thing which has struck a deep chord in me, revolves around the poles of רצון לקבל (will to receive) and רצון להשפיע (will to influence/give).  While we are all familiar with these concepts, to one extent or another, Rav Ashlag’s elaborate expression of them as connected to Kabbala is unique.

The following is a small taste:

The will of the בורא Creator in creating the world was and is in order that the נבראים created beings could enjoy from Hashem’s goodness.  It is therefore in the DNA of all created beings to have the will and desire to receive this goodness.  Kabbalistically, this will to receive only fully expresses itself in our world, the lowliest of all worlds.  The upper worlds serve as a transition between The Creator, the Complete Giver, and beings in our world – the receivers.

In the layman’s language, what we are saying here is that our natural “will to receive” (one meaning of the word “Kabbala”) is the way God created us. This is important to keep in mind any time we find ourselves at odds with a child, friend, or co-worker.  Their desire to be served and lack of desire to be helpful is just the way they were shaped.

Based on this, it seems like us and God are a perfect match!  God, ית’ שמו, can only be a Giver and we are happy to receive the goodness which emanates from the All-Mighty.  Where do things break down?

Firstly, things break down when society becomes dysfunctional as a result of everyone waiting to receive and not give.

In theory, the break down occurs because of our שינוי צורה difference in form from Our Maker.  If God can only give and we can only receive, that makes us completely opposite and therefore incompatible.  As we see from human relationships, the more similar two people are the more likely they will be able to relate; and the more dissimilar two people are the more likely they will struggle to have a connection.  (This is at the core of why PM Netanyahu and President Obama are not on the same page.)  The same applies to our relationship with Hashem.  The more that we attempt to be like The Ultimate Giver the more we will have a true relationship with Hashem.  By being givers we achieve Godliness.

We understand well what it means to be a giver and not a receiver (let alone taker) when it comes to relationships between man and his fellow.   But what does it mean to become a giver in our relationship with God?

Rav Ashlag and others describe this mode as a רצון להשפיע נחת רוח ליוצרו, the will to give nachas to our Creator.  And how do we do that?  Very simply.  We become שיוויון צורה  similar in form to Hashem by following that which Hashem revealed to us to do – תורה ומצוות learning Torah and keeping the Mitzvot.

We can understand this quite well.  For example, by dragging ourselves out of bed each morning and going to shul we are overriding own will to receive, that which we want to do- stay in bed, and becoming “givers” in our relationship with God.  Similarly, the more Torah, God’s will, we learn the deeper our connection with God will be.

Purim is the holiest day of the year.

There are many shades and expressions of this but the prime reason as to why this is so is because of the above idea.  Purim, unlike no other day is completely filled with Torah and Mitzvot.  There isn’t even enough time to take a nap!  From the time we start Maariv Purim night until the end of the Seudat Purim, some twenty five hours later, we are consumed with Torah – the Megilla – and Mitzvot – Matanot Levyonim, Mishloach Manot and Seudat Purim.  Between Jew and his/her fellow it is the peak day of giving.  When done in Purim style, to the maximum, the day is spent endlessly giving gifts, tzedaka, blessings and joy to fellow Jews.  We get a taste on a micro level of what the world is meant to be – עולם של חסד, עולם של אהבה.

But for people that are used to receiving or worse – used to taking, Purim is a misery.  “I have to give 20 bucks to that bum on the street!”  “You want me to give him Mishloach Manot?  What did he do for me?”  The joyous, party atmosphere, the ridiculous costumes, the disruptive dovining and “עד דלא ידע” drive people nuts.  It is craziness and madness!  Many anxiously await the day to end.

Growing up, Purim usually fell on a Thursday in March.  That meant that all I really cared to receive was the latest scores in the NCAA Tournament.  The thought of going around the community to pass out Mishloach Manot was the furthest thing from what I wanted to be doing.  But growing up in the Miller home meant that it was inescapable.  During the climax of the game, I was “forced” into the car and we went around passing out my mother’s creative Purim presents to half the world.

Having completely lost my ties with the NCAA and its tournament, my Purim presently is more reflective of those, now cherished trips in the car with the family.

We have less than two weeks to prepare for the Ultimate day of emulating the Ultimate Giver.

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