Finding Joy in the Incomplete: Purim

By Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner
Chaplain, Wilf Campus for Jewish Life

Purim celebrates surviving a decree of genocide unleashed by the evil Haman against the Jews of Persia.  Part of the celebration is the reading of Megillat Esther (the scroll of Esther), which describes the story of the events in Shushan 2500 years ago.  In reviewing the story this year, I noticed something fundamental about the joy of the Purim story.  While on the one hand, we celebrate survival, there is a sense upon completing the story that something is missing.  Some commentators see the missing piece as the Jews remaining under Persian rule instead of returning to Israel and rebuilding the Second Temple.  Others will note how the story ends with the anti-climatic moment of the King, Ahasuerus placing a tax upon all who live in his land, showing how surviving a genocidal decree doesn’t mean being free from other forms of oppression.  How can we celebrate while also sitting with this sense of incompleteness?

In the moment of triumph, there is a tremendous burden lifted off one’s shoulders, leading to a sense of exhilaration or a sense of relief.  For the Jews of Shushan, surviving Haman’s decree provided this sense of relief.  As such, they celebrated their newly found “new lease on life.” Their celebration was one of communal care and support, guaranteeing all could celebrate through the giving of Mishloah Manot (gifts to friends) and Matanot L’Evyonim (gifts to the poor).  Subsequently, this celebration was established as a yearly practice, as being able to celebrate Purim was proof of continued survival.  At the same time, hindsight forces us to speculate on the long term gains of this survival.  They continued to be under foreign rule.  Eventually, the lightness, the relief goes away, and the reality of life returns, with all its trials and tribulations.  Yet, by establishing Purim, we are responsible to celebrate the good while also recognizing that it is right to celebrate momentary victories even when they remain incomplete.

Purim Sameach, A Freilichen Purim.