Purim is a day of extreme joy, easily one of the most joyous days in the Jewish calendar. But it’s not just the joy that is extreme; everything on Purim seems to take on an exaggerated form.

The four major observances of Purim are: reading the Megillah (Scroll of Esther), giving gifts to the poor, sending edible treats to our friends, and feasting. In essence, these are things we do on every Jewish holiday—we read the portions of scripture that deal with that holiday, we give charity before the holiday to help the poor with their holiday expenses, and we eat festive meals. What is unique on Purim is the way we amplify and dramatize these mitzvahs.

What is it about Purim that makes everything so dramatic?

On any other yom tov, we read the Torah once during the day. On Purim we read the Megillah twice: once at night and once again during the day.

Before a regular yom tov we give charity to the poor, but on Purim we give gifts to everyone. The Mishloach Manot is sent to friends and family whether rich or poor. Even the charity to the poor is more intense on Purim. The Code of Jewish Law states: “[On Purim] whoever extends his hand, give him.” Purim is a day when we give charity in abundance and unconditionally, far beyond our usual comfort level.

On all other holidays we celebrate and sanctify the day with wine in moderate amounts. On Purim, however, we actually have an obligation to drink more than our normal intake.

What is it about Purim that makes everything so dramatic? Why do we seem to “go crazy” with the mitzvahs of Purim? Can we make some sense of this madness?

The Talmud (Shabbat 88a) relates the following:

[Scripture states regarding the revelation at Sinai] “...and they stood in the bottom of the mountain.”

Rav Avidmi said: This teaches us that the Holy One, Blessed is He, covered them with the mountain as though it were an [upturned] vat, and He said to them: “If you accept the Torah, fine; if not, your burial will be there.”

Rav Acha bar Yakov said: “From here [stem strong grounds for] a claim of coercion [regarding the acceptance] of the Torah.”

Rava said: “Nevertheless, they accepted the Torah again in the days of Achashverosh, as it is written: “The Jews established and accepted.” [Meaning] they established [in the days of Achashverosh] that which they had already accepted [in the days of Moses].”

This small passage sheds an entirely new light on what Purim is all about. It was the time when the Jews finally accepted the Torah willingly and wholeheartedly, thereby radically changing and upgrading the dynamic of our relationship with G‑d.

In essence, Purim is another Shavuot, but there’s more to it than that. The Jews in the time of Achashverosh did not experience an open revelation. Nevertheless, they recognized G‑d’s hand behind the events of the Purim story, and they rededicated themselves to Torah of their own free will.

Shavuot is the festival of the giving of the Torah – zeman matan torateinu—whereas Purim is the festival of the receiving of the Torah.

On Shavuot the focus is on G‑d as the Giver. In His infinite kindness He gave (and gives anew each year) His priceless and precious gift, without regard to how we feel about it. We are overwhelmed by the divine revelation, symbolized by the mountain looming over our heads.

On Purim however, we celebrate the receiving the Torah. The focus is on us and our acceptance; we strive to accept it lovingly, to absorb its teachings and really connect with it in a deep and meaningful way.

We have an entirely different attitude towards something that is foisted upon us than towards something we believe in and really want. When something is forced on us we do only the very minimum. We do that which we are required to and nothing more. But when we choose to do something because we believe in it, want it, and love it, there is no limit to how far we’ll go.

On Purim we accept the Torah as our own

If we feel coerced to fulfill the mitzvot, we will only do that which is required of us. But when we see the mitzvot as our G‑dly mission in this world, when we embrace G‑d’s will as our own, we will go way beyond the call of duty.

This is what Purim is all about.

On Purim we accept the Torah as our own. We buy into it, and it becomes our life and true love. It’s no wonder, then, that we “go crazy” over it. We fall so in love with the Torah and its mitzvot that we become irrational. We don’t just want to read the Megillah once; we want to do it twice. We don’t just want to give charity to the poor; we want to give unconditionally and in abundance to all who stretch out their hands. We don’t just want to eat and drink; we want to feast to the point of oblivion.

This is the message of Purim. It is the day when we fall madly in love with G‑d and Torah and are willing to go the very extreme for His sake. It is the time to make the Torah our own.