Is every day like Purim?

March 24, 2019 by Rabbi Chaim Ingram
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In Spirals of the Soul (p. 115) I cite the AriZa”l, R’ Isaac Luria, who famously declares that Yom Kippur, known in the Torah as Yom Kippurim, “is like Purim” – Yom K’Purim. I go on to suggest that the implications of this go far deeper than a play-on-words.

Rabbi Chaim Ingram

Be that as it may, on a strictly simple (p’shat) level, it is difficult to think of two more different days in the year than Purim and Yom Kippur!

For one thing, one often hears children (my own grandchildren no doubt among them) declare at this time of the year: I wish it could be Purim every day!! Whereas, I have never heard anyone voice this sentiment about Yom Kippur, exalted a day as it is!

And yet, in a sense, there was an era when every day was a bit like Yom Kippur!  And we now live in an era where every day is more than a bit like Purim!

At the beginning of Yom Kippur, hierarchy and formality reigns.  Everyone enters decked in their best apparel. The most senior members of the congregation are honoured either by carrying Sifrei Torah in stately fashion around the shul or by flanking the chazan on the bima, or both. This respect for elder statesmen of the community continues with the allocation of appropriate kibudim for Maftir Yona and for petikha (opening the aron kodesh) at Ne’ila.  Respect is given to the deceased (at Yizkor) and children leave the shul.  In fact in many shuls, with dedicated children’s activities paralleling the long and often continuous services, parents hardly see their children the whole day.  Men and women (I speak of course of Orthodox synagogues) are in separate parts of the shul and since the services go on all or most of the day, the distinction between the sexes is keenly felt. The mood of the day (until the passionate exultancy at the end of Ne’ila) is solemn and austere.

Those who remember growing up in the Anglo-Jewry of the 1950s may tend to agree that every day of the year in those days was a little bit like Yom Kippur.

Gender roles were well-defined.  Men were men and women were women.  Elders were respected.and children “knew their place”.  Often they were brought up in an austere fashion and the saying used to go that they should be “seen and not heard” Formality held sway.  Please note that I am not holding up the mores of the 1950s as a shining example in every respect.  I am merely painting a picture of how that era could be viewed in some senses as “Yom Kippur every day of the year”!

Now let us look at Purim.

On Purim, everything is meant to be upside-down.  Dressing in costume is de rigeur and according to many authorities even the rules of not dressing in clothes of the opposite gender are relaxed, certainly for children. At the Purim se’uda, a child or a simple Jew will appear in a rabbinic frock-coat and be designated the “Purim Rav”. Distinctions between young and old, learned and unlearned, will be nullified or even inverted for one blissful day of the year.  That is as our tradition affirms.

But in today’s world, doesn’t it sometimes appear as though it is Purim every day of the year?

In today’s universe, respect for elders has somehow been corroded. In the Internet era, the youth hold hegemony.  Ageism has corrosively invaded the work-force like a virus.  The old bow submissively to the strutting young (See Sota 9:15).  Genders have become blurred and there are schools where one is not to refer to “boys” or “girls”. In one such “gender-inclusive” school in Lincoln, Nebraska, the suggestion was made to call all children “purple penguins”. (I kid you not!)  Now that’s a good idea for a Purim costume. Except that we are speaking about every day of the school year!

Authority-figures have lost their sheen.  Scholarship is rubbished.  In the Internet Age any patient can look up a diagnosis and argue with their doctor.  And any Jew can consult Rabbi Google – or indeed their own “superior moral sense” – and, often on the basis of a superficial study or reflection, think that s/he knows better than the (real) rabbi. A Purim Rav every day of the year!  We indeed inhabit a topsy-turvy reality…

Again, I am not claiming that contemporary society is all bad.  I am merely highlighting ways in which it sometimes seems that in today’s world every day is becoming more and more like Purim!

Now when my grandchildren grow up to be adults, .they will probably stop wishing every day to be like Purim. They certainly will not want every day to be like Yom Kippur.  Let Purim be uniquely Purim and let Yom Kippur be incomparably Yom Kippur!

The Rambam declares (Hilkhot De’ot 2:2) that a person who recognise in him/herself an extreme character-trait should first move to the other extreme before reverting to the derekh ha-emtsai’t, the (golden) middle-path “which he should walk for the rest of his life”

Maybe we ought to be charitable and hypothesise that society is attempting to follow the Rambam’s advice! . In 2019 we seem in many ways at the opposite pole to where we were in 1959.   All I can say is, much as I love Purim for one day a year (and, for that matter, Yom Kippurim for a similar duration) I long to inhabit a sane, balanced derekh-emtsait  (middle-path) world and hope it won’t be too long in coming!

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