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The Illogical Holiday

The Illogical Holiday


It was the worst of times. The best of times were but a distant memory. The elders of the generation would sit with their grandchildren and tell tales of a land flowing with milk and honey, a land filled with prophets galore, where the supernatural was commonplace. They would describe how thrice yearly the roads of Israel would be flooded with pilgrims, all of them headed in one direction - the Holy Temple, where all present could plainly see the ten miracles which were on permanent display (see Ethics 5:5). "Those were the golden times. G‑d was our G‑d, we were His chosen people, and everyone knew it..." is how they'd inevitably conclude their stories.

But things couldn't be more different now. Because of their numerous sins the Jews were expelled from their land. Nebuchadnezzar was given free reign to destroy the Holy Temple — the symbol of G‑d's relationship with the Jews — and massacre, exile and sell into slavery millions of the "chosen" Nation. Had G‑d perhaps become disgusted with their penchant for idolatry, and finally decided that this whole business of choosing a nation in perpetuity was a foolhardy endeavor?

The relationship between the Creator and His beloved nation was never predicated on logicOne hope, however, kept the Jews going: Jeremiah's prophecy which promised the rebuilding of the Holy Temple after 70 years of Babylonian exile. And then that one hope went up in smoke too. Seventy years passed, and the fulfillment of the prophecy was not realized.1 Then came another "subtle" clue which would have made it clear, even to one not endowed with an Einstein-like brain, that the Jews were clearly not in G‑d's graces any more: the king issued a decree which sanctioned the extermination of every Jewish man, woman and child.

Logically this decree should have been the final straw which should have resulted in mass conversions, an en masse abandonment of Judaism and Torah. But that was not the case. Instead, the Jews remained strong. Not one Jew even considered such an option. No, this made no sense, but the connection between the Jew and his Creator never was predicated on logic. The connection is part of his very essence.

Haman was far from foolish. His vast wealth and his ability to secure the position of vizier in Ahasuerus' administration are a testament to his cunningness and shrewd mind. He was also a student of history, and he couldn't help but notice the ignominious fates which befell all those individuals who designed to harm the Jewish nation in the past. This made perfect sense to Haman. After all, even considering all their faults and peccadilloes, the Jews were still not deserving of mass extermination. There was no logical reason for G‑d to agree to their annihilation — especially when comparing them to their contemporary societies and cultures.

Understanding this, Haman resorted to the supra-logical. Since G‑d transcends logic, he surmised that his nefarious plan could succeed if only there would be a way to tap in to G‑d's transcendent and logic-defying core. After much contemplation, he found the means to implement his plan: a lottery; a totally random medium whose illogical nature was intended to draw transcendent energies which would facilitate the illogical extermination of the Jews.

Had G‑d finally decided that this whole business of choosing a nation was a foolhardy endeavor?Haman's plan should have succeeded. But that was not the case. Instead the transcendent and essential Divine powers which Haman unleashed had the opposite effect; they brought about the tremendous Purim miracle. Why? Because the relationship between the Creator and His beloved nation was never predicated on logic — and thus circumventing logic doesn't circumvent the relationship. The connection is part of His very essence.

On Purim we will sit down to enjoy a festive meal. During this meal, it is a mitzvah to imbibe some alcoholic drink to the point of "great happiness." In fact, to quote the Talmud, one is supposed to drink wine "until he knows not the difference between 'blessed is Mordechai' and 'cursed is Haman'"!

Mordechai represents holiness, Torah, mitzvot, and our undying connection to G‑d. Haman represents all the forces in the world that wish to disturb this connection. If after listening to the Megillah and drinking a l'chaim or two you only "know" that Haman is cursed and Mordechai is blessed, then the Purim message hasn't penetrated. Go listen to the story again. Listen closely to its hidden message. Then say another l'chaim. Because the message of Purim is: Mordechai is blessed and Haman is cursed — not because we "know" it and it is logical, but because this is part of the fabric of our being.


The 70 years had not really elapsed. It was a simple miscalculation. Their calculation was based on an erroneous start date.

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
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Anonymous Oregon September 28, 2015

I understand. My daughter volunteered in a pet shelter a few year ago. There was a litter of pups who had made a mess in the cage and were covered in mess from head to toe. My daughter picked two up and hugged them. I saw in her eyes pure love. She didn't care about the mess, the pups had done nothing to earn her love. There was no logic in picking up smelly pups and hugging them. Logic would be disgust, washing them, drying them then hugging them. If they would have bitten her nose and she said stop and they kept doing it over and over she probably would have put them away from her. She wouldn't have lost love for them but waited until they had better behavior and she could draw them close again. Reply

Anonymous October 27, 2011

great article very nicely written though at places a bit difficult to understand [maybe because of my own incapability. :) Reply