Every Purim afternoon, my family finds itself driving around dressed in costume, plugging in addresses and delivering bags of mishloach manot to surprise and delight our friends. I can distinctly recall the joy and excitement we have felt – and have helped others feel -over the years.
The sense of joy we feel is not just connected to this ritual but to many more as we welcome Purim and its colorful festivities. We dress up in fun costumes, read the megillah – a story of redemption from a dangerous predicament for the Jewish people, feel the glow of supporting those in need of our care, and join together with others for a festive meal. The abundance of these rituals and activities literally brings us into community and relationship with the memory of our people, which reminds us that there is reason to rejoice not only because of the circumstances of our current lives but because of an emotional relationship with the historical memory of our forebears.
There is a cyclical relationship between performing these mitzvot (the commandments of Purim described above) and the joy we feel. The mitzvot bring us to a place of joy and feeling joyous during the holiday provides the impetus to express generosity to our community and read the stories of our ancestors’ gratitude. As we learn from Reb Nachman of Breslov, “mitzvah gedolah lihyot b’simchah tamid,” that “It is a great mitzvah to be joyous always!” I learned from colleagues who attended yeshiva during Purim that they would sometimes reverse this teaching and also sing, “simhah gedolah lihyot b’mitzvah tamid.” “It is a great joy to be doing a mitzvah, always!”
Joy is not always accessible, and we can each recall moments when experiencing joy was just not an option given the life situation we found ourselves in. However, sometimes joy can be cultivated through action. The Jewish calendar does not recommend that we celebrate based on our life experience. We do not, for example, celebrate Rosh Hashanah when we feel a need for repentance and a chance for new beginnings. Nor do we rejoice in booths outdoors by celebrating Sukkot when we feel a sense of gratitude for the bounty of our lives or a need for a dose of humility and a reminder of our fragility.
Each of these holidays arrives based on the phases of the moon, not the phases of our mood. Living Jewishly with an ear to the calendar of holidays means floating in a sea of time, moved by the waves of the holidays. Each holiday has its own effect. Some remind us to find balance in our lives and some are a wakeup call to change ourselves or our surroundings. To feel the impact of these holidays all we need to do is show up in community and allow ourselves to be moved by the wisdom of our ancestors. To do so gives us a sense of rootedness in history and a feeling of connectedness that can shape not just our mood but our character.
May we experience the joy of Purim and the freedom of Passover!
B’rachot shel simcha, Blessings of joy,