Purim and the Art of Listening
On Purim, lacking visible clarity in the form of open miracles, the Jewish people trained themselves to listen.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
The Megilla tells us “Consequently, these days are recalled and observed in every generation… And these days of Purim shall never cease among the Jews, and the memory of them shall never perish among their descendants.”
This verse prompted the Rabbis to make a somewhat strange statement: Most Jewish holidays will no longer be observed in the Messianic era, however, Purim will always be remembered and observed.
What does this mean? Why is Purim so significant, to be singled out among other, Torah-based holidays? Is it somehow more important than Passover or Yom Kippur?
Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner brings an analogy to explain.
Two men are charged with the task of getting to know a stranger in the dark of night. The first man lights a candle, and in its glow learns to recognize the stranger before him. The second man does not have a candle at his disposal. Lacking the ability to see, he uses his sense of hearing to guide him, until he can recognize the stranger simply by listening to his voice.
The first man has a clear advantage over the second. Sight is our most accurate of senses, and with a candle he can clearly come to identify his partner, so that when morning comes and darkness lifts, he will be able to recognize him.
On the other hand, the second man has learned the subtle skill of identifying his friend through sound; he has learned to listen. When the clarity of morning arrives, both men will be able to clearly see their partner. The first man will no longer need his candle, but the second man will have gained a skill which he retains with him.
Our world, explains Rabbi Hutner, is a world of darkness. We cannot clearly see G-d; goodness and truth are hidden.
At rare moments in history, we were given a candle. At these points of open miracles, we could see G-d face to face. At Pesach, when we witnessed G-d’s nature-defiant miracles and the splitting of the sea, we were given a candle. At Shavuot, when we received the Torah directly from G-d at Sinai – another candle. Sukkot, when G-d’s miraculous protection of us in the desert included an envelope of wonders and spirituality – a further candle.
However, on Purim we did not receive a candle. G-d’s name is not mentioned in the Megillah; He seems to be missing from the storyline. The events of the Megillah could be interpreted as a convenient series of coincidences, all naturally occurring – that is, if you are not such a good listener.
On Purim, lacking visible clarity in the form of open miracles, the Jewish people trained themselves to listen. To find G-d even when we couldn’t see Him outright, to search for G-d’s fingerprints in the mundane, to discover G-d “hiding” behind the mask of nature. For the Jew who has trained himself to listen, G-d’s name is written all over the Megillah.
The Rabbis teach that in the future, even if all the holidays will be forgotten or annulled, Purim will remain. In the time-to-come, the days of Mashiach, the world will be completely filled with the knowledge of G-d; He will no longer hide from us. The veil of darkness will lift, and the morning sun will rise.
In the morning sun, the candle isn’t so necessary. One of the main purposes of the Jewish holidays – to help us recognize G-d – will no longer be relevant.
But the skill of listening – that’s a skill that will stay with us even when the candle is no longer needed. Through listening, we can come to a much deeper knowledge and understanding of the other. That is something that will never fade.
This Purim, may we learn to listen.
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