This year the Jewish holiday of Purim falls on Saturday night February 23rd and Sunday February 24th. It is filled with fun and frolic. On the surface it looks kind of like a combination of Halloween and Mardi Gras, but underneath is a theme important to us all.
It all started in Persia (Iran) about 2400 years ago when Israel had been conquered and exiled. There was a brief period in between the first and second temple period when all the Jews were under Persian rule. An evil man named Haman rose to power and had the emperor make a decree to wipe out all Israelites. “Coincidentally” a Jewish girl had been chosen as queen who convinced the emperor to annul the decree, kill Haman, and allow the Israelites to kill their enemies.
The holiday commemorates the ensuing celebration and the divine way the salvation took place. The hidden hand of God is seen throughout the story, despite the fact that the Book of Esther is the only book of the Holy Writings that does not include the name of God.
Wine features prominently in the story, and in the holiday. And herein lays a message for us all. There are two paths to holiness. One is a path of abstention. A person may see the ill effects alcohol or any character trait as well, can have on a person‘s life, and decide to be holy they will abstain completely from it. They will have no worldly possessions, or they will never drink alcohol, or they will never have an idle conversation, in order to refrain from and distance themselves from a transgression that may occur from these things. This can have a positive effect, elevate them, but it can also be an unpleasant way to live. Also, the Almighty created all these things for a reason and a purpose. If you never have children you’ll never yell at your children. But you’ll also miss out the opportunities parenting affords.
Another path is one where you channel your anger or your desire for physical pleasure, or your glass of wine, into a positive action. You do a mitzvah with it. This is the greater path of holiness. This is more challenging, and more difficult to accomplish properly.
But it is a greater act of holiness, and a hidden theme of Purim.