Purim, coming up on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Adar II, or March 16th. It’s a holiday like no other. The Zohar states the even the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, is a small affair when compared with the holiness of the day of Purim. But what is so special about this day?

 What does this day, celebrated with intense joy and celebration, have that supersedes the prayers and fasting of the Day of Atonement?

  Let us first preface the story of Purim. It was in the 4th century BCE. The Jewish people were in the throes of a bitter exile, having within living memory been expelled from the Land of Israel by the mighty army of Babylonia and its tyrannical ruler, Nebuchadnezzar. With the overthrow of the Babylonians by the Persians shortly thereafter, the Jews were at the mercy of the mighty rulers of Susa (capital of the Persian royalty at the time).

  Enter king Ahasuerus (Achashverosh in Hebrew). A boorish man with no royal blood, he married the daughter of the former Babylonian king Belshatzar, Queen Vashti, to assert his right to the throne. To make a long story short, after murdering his wife Vashti and making a Jewish woman, Esther, his queen, the king submitted to the anti-Semitic diatribes of his Viceroy, Haman, and issued a decree to destroy the entire Jewish population in his kingdom (he ruled the entire civilized world at the time). Yet though the decree was only against Jewish people - one could have easily renounced his or her Jewish faith and have been spared - the Jews held fast. Not one chose to give up their faith to save themselves.

  Risking her life at the behest of her uncle Mordechai who was the leader of the Jews, Esther enters the King’s chamber unannounced, a crime punishable by death, to plead with him to save her people. No lover of the Jews himself, the King is turned against the evil Haman when Esther reveals that she herself is a Jew and would be put to death by Haman’s decree. He rewards the righteous Mordechai after recalling a long forgotten incident when Mordechai saved the king from near assassination by ill wishing servants, and has Haman hanged on the very gallows he personally had prepared for his enemy Mordechai.

  The story was recorded by Esther in the Book of Esther and canonized in the Jewish Bible by the Supreme Court of Israel a short time thereafter. Esther is remembered as one of the great Jewish heroines of all time.

  As Jackie Mason put it, ‘They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat’. And here we are 2500 years later, celebrating this event with food and drink, reading the Book of Esther, and giving special gifts to the poor as Esther requested the Jewish people do every year on Purim ad infinitum. And of course we dress up in the most creative costumes to commemorate the rapid turn of events from peril to salvation, so too do we ‘turn ourselves over’ from our normal vestments to atypical masquerades.

  Well, what do you think? Fun? Sure. Enjoyable? You got it. But holy, and holier than Yom Kippur no less? Well, that seems a little out of place. Perhaps just a good excuse to have a good time. Or is it?

  The Talmud says that the Jewish people only really accepted the Torah from G‑d not at Mt. Sinai, but a millennium later at Purim. How strange. At Mt. Sinai the Jews were at the pinnacle of holiness. They didn’t work, G‑d provided Manna from heaven for them to eat. He protected them from wild beasts and the elements with the miraculous clouds of glory. Every one of the some 3 million Jews spent most of his or her time trying to become closer to G‑d, prepare to receive his precious Torah, and spiritually refine themselves without or worry or a care. Now that’s what I call holy, spiritual, inspiring!

  So what is so unique about Purim? To sum it up in one word, Human. Purim was human. How do I mean?

  At Mt. Sinai the Jews were at a superhuman status. They saw G‑dliness every day, everywhere. They had just escaped from the Egyptian slavery where they, and the entire world for that matter, witnessed open miracles. One had to be a fool not to believe in G‑d at the time. G‑d split the Red Sea for them to cross and drowned the Egytian military superpower pursuing them like straw. G‑d then spoke to them openly at Mt. Sinai, giving them the 10 commandments and the entire Torah (with its 613 commandments) as well. All they saw was G‑d. All they wanted was G‑d. Wonderful. Blissful. Spiritual. Yet that wasn’t enough.

  The Midrash states that G‑d created this world for us to transform it into a dwelling place for Him. To bring the beauty and seemingly exclusively spiritual Torah and Mitzvos into this mundane world. Take a crass piece of metal, melt it, mint it, and give it to a poor man to buy lunch. Voila. You’ve turned that coin into a G‑dly existence. It’s not about withdrawing, removing oneself as much as possible from the outside world in order to attain holiness. G‑d has angels for that. That’s what they do, they’re angelic, perfect.

  It’s about transformation, challenge and bringing G‑d into this world until there’s no place or concept on earth that doesn’t scream ‘G‑d is One!’

  That’s Purim. At that time there was no open G‑dly revelation. The Jews lived in Persia, in Susa, in Scarsdale… It was hard to keep Jewish tradition in such an environment. The societal norm at the time was to be successful, be modern, aristocratic, Persian.Yet they held fast. In their regular, normal lives they realized that without their religion, their tradition, their faith they couldn’t exist. No one pressured them to keep their Judaism. Quite on the contrary, it was quite difficult to stick to their guns. Yet they did, and here we are.

  That is what was so impressive about Purim, so much so that it surpasses Mt. Sinai and Yom Kippur. Purim was about regular people living regular lives who realized that life was about something greater.

  So next time you’re on the street and a homeless man asks you for a dollar, or you have a chance to don Tefilin, study an extra bit of Torah or light the Shabbat candles Friday afternoon stop and remember Purim. Remember that it’s the small, ‘regular’ good deeds that count. Not necessarily the Mt. Sinais or the big awe inspiring good deeds that only count.

  Purim is coming. Live it.

Rabbi Avrohom