The Context of Purim

Purim and the month of Adar.

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Name of the Month

The name Adar is 205, the numerical value of the words b’hesed m’chusa, 'with hidden kindness.' The kindness of Hashem is hidden within the Purim story. At the time, things seemed very uncertain and difficult. Only in retrospect could the kindness be perceived.

Adar means strong, that which is solid and firm, the idea of certainty. And yet the letters of the name Adar are an acronym for Reisha D’lo Ityada, 'the Unknowable Head' or 'the head that does not know.' This refers to a level of reality within the sefirah of Keser of Atzilut ('Crown of Nearness'). This level is so deep and so hidden, it cannot be known by any being, even itself, so-to-speak. It is as if the Everpresence is hiding from Itself. This is the paradox of paradoxes.

Because Keser is beyond all forms and definitions, it can contain impossibilities and paradoxes, without needing to resolve them. In Keser, everything is possible. Haman wanted to uproot us by tapping into the power of Keser. This is why he used a lottery (pur), a tool of randomness, to determine when to establish his decree against us. When the lottery fell on Adar, Haman was glad because he knew that Adar was the month when Moses died. He assumed that we would be uncertain and spiritually weakened. What he didn’t know was that Moses was also born in Adar. In other words, while Haman had access to Keser, he didn’t realize we were already rooted there. Because our not-knowing is rooted in Hashem’s not-knowing, we are spiritually strengthened rather than weakened.

Haman was a descendent of Amalek. The name Amalek has the same numeric value as the word safek, 'doubt.' Therefore, Haman symbolizes destructive 'not-knowing.' When this force attacks us, it attempts to create fear and destabilize our sense of certainty. However, in our essence, our certainty transcends the normal categories of certainty and uncertainty. From this place we can harness the force of doubt to open our minds to radical new possibilities. On Purim we reach an essence-consciousness called lo yada, a holy ‘not-knowing’, where we can reveal our point of indestructible faith. This is our victory over Haman.

Our Journey through Adar

Not only is Adar the matrix that gives rise to Purim, but every day of Adar sparkles with the light of Purim. The Talmud Yerushalmi suggests that under certain circumstances the unique mitzvah of Purim--chanting the Megillah--can be fulfilled anytime during Adar, not only on the day of Purim. All throughout the month of Adar, therefore, we can convert nervous laughter into holy laughter, and anxious doubt into holy doubt. The four weeks of Adar can be seen to correspond with the four letters of this month’s letter-combination. This correspondence, in turn, suggests a map of sefirot, spiritual worlds, and finally four stages of spiritual practice and experience:

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Rabbi DovBer Pinson

Rabbi DovBer Pinson is the Rosh Yeshiva of the IYYUN Yeshiva, a Yeshiva for adults. He is also the founder of the IYYUN Center, a center for Jewish enrichment in Brooklyn, New York, and and is the author of more than ten books on Kabbalah and spirituality.