Thursday, January 8, 2009

Kavanot for Purim, Doing Purim Right


The mask of Purim should be worn with a sense of wonder and awe. This is no mere costume party. Megilat Ester opens with the story of Queen Vashti who refused to uncover herself before the company of her king. A surface reading of the text encourages the praise of Vashti as a heroin of modesty, however, a deeper consideration for the words of our megilah expose an underlying contrast between the queen and her successor.

While Vashti’s refusal to uncover herself at the request of the king leads to her downfall, Ester saves her nation through her willingness to expose her identity even at the risk of death. The hidden message here speaks to the veiled nature of salvation. Both Moshe Rabeinu and Yosef HaTzadik brought salvation when they emerged from deep within the Egyptian royal house. Wearing the mask of Purim should fill our hearts with an awareness of the mystery and brilliance of our ultimate salvation. While Mashiach remains hidden, we look forward to a day when Yeshua will rise up from the nations to reveal his true face. Like Ester our redeemer He will turn the world around and transform the outcome of history.


The Jewish appreciation for comedy is deeper than it might seem. This is true in general and truer still at Purim. Even from mishnaic times it has been a custom to tell Jokes. The Talmud relates that a good Rabbi should tell a joke before learning Torah with his students in order to expand their consciousness. As an extension of this, Chasidus finds great spirituality in humor.

There is an idea in our tradition that humor before Torah learning can actually protect us from our negative inclination. It is as if Satan enters the house of study to disrupt the holy activity usually found in such a place. When the enemy of our souls finds only jokesters involved in what would appear to be simple jesting and frivolity he leaves with a sense that his work has already been accomplished. The men or women inside appear to be distracted from Torah and he finds no need to waste his time.

A joke in itself is about a twist, a punch line at the end of a story that flips the expected outcome on its head. The pattern of humor before Torah speaks to the ultimate twist, holiness from what would appear unholy and redemption from the most unlikely source. From laughter itself we learn this lesson. It can be compared to a man who finds his friend doubled over on the ground unable to speak with tears in his eyes laughing uncontrollably. Until close investigation it may be difficult for the man to discern whether his friend is laughing or in pain. During Purim our humor reflects the ultimate twist, the punch line of history. When it seems that all hope is lost Mashiach will be revealed. He will turn our mourning into dancing and our tears into rejoicing.


It is a mitzvah to become intoxicated on Purim. Like all other aspects of this holiday the custom seems irreverent from the surface but nevertheless ultimately proves itself profound. Mashiach said, “I came eating and drinking and you call me a glutton and a drunk.” Our tradition attributes great meaning to the proper use of alcohol. On Purim the proper intention is to remove the mask and expose our true nature. Conducted correctly with the separation of men and women alcohol should be consumed on Purim with the holy intention of weakening our body’s resistance to the rejoicing of our souls. Personally I drink very little during the year and reserve occasions like Purim for the practice. With each shout of “L’Chayim” I imagine a veil being removed. On Purim we drink to make a tikkun in the world and uncover the reality of salvation.

This year lets masquerade, laugh, and drink with the kind of kavanah that can bring our redemption!


Pastor Steven said...

This is the first year I have read anything about Purim. I can understand why this would be such a big celebrate for those of Jewish descent, after reading the book of Esther. I really liked the movie "One Night With the King." Esther was a true Jewish heroine. I also liked the analogy of Joseph wearing the mask of Egypt. This week in our mid-week Bible study we studied chapter 45 were Joseph reviled himself to his brothers. I think that we will continue to study the Torah when we are done with Genesis.

To some Evangelical Christians the custom of drinking might seem excessive. Even though I think that we need to re-think our stance on drinking and the whole prohibition thing. Thanks to protestants like Mr. Welch a Methodist, we can not even use wine in communion :( Sorry I'm rambling.

I know a fellowship near where we live that keeps most all the Jewish Holy Days, but will not celebrate Hanukkah or Purim because they are not commanded by God to be kept in the Torah. Have you heard of any other groups like this?



Tim Layne said...

Is your group intentionally learning the the Torah in conjunction with the Jewish reading cycle? Yes I have heard of groups that observe only those holidays which are prescribed in Leviticus. Most of these people come from christian backgrounds and have a genuine fear of things Jewish. Its a strange thing as far as I can see given that Paul makes endless references to the book of Maccabees and the Messiah likewise quotes the text. Its also fascinating given that the observance of Purim is instructed in the book of Ester. Some how they don't believe this book has the authority of the Torah. After saying all of this I would mention that for people who are well removed from the Torah even a little bit of observance is a great thing if they are willing to learn. Many of these groups take hard positions against this or that and only create a box they will one day wish they could escape from.

Pastor Steven said...


No we have just been studying through the book of Genesis and I thought we would continue with Exodus. We just happened to be in Genesis chapter 45 this week. Even though I would like to learn more about the Jewish reading cycle.



Tim Layne said...

Pastor Steven: You just "happen" to be right in line with the Jewish reading cycle. The new Parshah (portion) for the week of January 11-17 is "Parshah Shemot" which is Exodus 1:1-6:1. If you're interested I would encourage you to continue your learning through this cycle. You will find a rhythm which is repeated in the gospels.

Rob P said...

I celebrated my first Purim last year and found the whole experience very spiritual, and that’s not the alcohol talking. :)

After reading and learning more about the book of Esther, the subject of being hidden can be found all through the scriptures.

The practice of dressing up in a costume is a way of hiding your true identity. The same can be said of Esther who hid her Jewish identity and of Joseph who wore Egyptian clothes.

Also the drinking is to help reveal your true self. Most people keep their true nature hidden and alcohol is one thing that will bring it out.

Esther kept her true identity hidden and only revealed it in the last possible moment before the destruction of her people.

Joseph kept his identity hidden by speaking another language and wearing Egyptian clothing. Joseph's brothers thought that it was the end for them and were going to be slaves for the rest of their lives. This is when Judah repents and Joseph then reveals himself and saves his people.

We can see this in the scriptures too. Only in the last possible moment when everything seems hopeless Yeshua will reveal himself and save the world.

So by celebrating Purim, I was able to take part in all aspects of past and future events.

Oh and even though I did drink on Purim and got intoxicated, it was a controlled setting. The women and men were separated and I can tell you that I had a much better time because of it. Being able to talk about Torah, sing and just enjoy each other's company was great. I have never experienced anything like that before and look forward to doing it again in a couple of months.

Tim Layne said...

Yasher Koach.

Pastor Steven said...

Tim: Where is a good place to find an on-line resource for the Jewish reading cycle? I found something at the UMJC web site, is this the same one your synagogue follows? I have also been looking for a copy of a liturgy or order of worship that a Messianic Jewish congregation might use.



Tim Layne said...

Pastor Steven: Yes the cycle you found on the UMJC website is accurate. This is the cycle used by Jews all over the world. Our synagogue uses an "orthodox" siddur. Because the messiah is a Jewish conception our traditional literary is wholly "messianic." To those unfamiliar with the text and tradition this might seem surprising at first. To give you an example of how this works I suggest that you read my instructions on "Havdalah How To" and then read "Havdalah in the light of Mashiach." From these you can see how a messianic observer might understand our liturgical tradition. If you are interested for learning purposes I would suggest a siddur published by ArtScroll. You can find it at