The mitzvah of drinking on Purim is fulfilled by reaching “עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי” a state of drunkenness where one no longer knows the difference between the cursed Haman and the blessed Mordechai. In general, it is vital that a person know how to differentiate between the evil and cursedness of Haman and the goodness of Mordechai. So why suddenly on Purim are we asked to rid ourselves of this basic ability to differentiate between good and evil?
The whole Purim operates with ונהפוך הוא, that everything became flipped and turned around as the darkness turned into light. Chazal say that Purim is a time of תשובה מאהבה, teshuva out of love, from which זדונות, intentional aveiros, are transformed and flipped into זכויות. We need to understand the root of this concept of ונהפוך הוא, and how it connects to the avodah of Purim.
On the first day of creation, the Torah says that “וירא אלקים את האור כי טוב,” Hashem saw the light, that it was good. Rashi tells us that before Hashem separated the light and the dark they were mixed together “בערבוביא”. What is the meaning of this mixture?
The Midrash says on the pasuk at the beginning of creation, ורוח אלקים מרחפת על פני המים, the spirit of Hashem was hovering over the water – that the רוח אלקים refers to teshuvah. Teshuvah exists at the beginning of the creation of the world when the light and the dark were mixed together and therefore teshuva must be related to this ערבוביא, this admixture of light and darkness. How?
Light in general corresponds to when a Jew keeps Torah and mitzvos, and darkness corresponds to when a Jew falls and descends into sin. However, בדיעבד if a Jew does in fact sin and falls into darkness, he is nonetheless able to tap into an even greater light. As the pasuk in Koheles says ויתרון האור מן החושך, that the light is greater when coming from darkness. This light that one can tap into once he does fall into sin, is the light that comes from teshuvah, transforming the darkness itself into light. This is the meaning of teshuvah corresponding to the light and darkness being mixed together. It is only when darkness and light are mixed that one can find through teshuva the light that exists within the darkness.
The greatest yeridah and darkness in history was the Chet Ha’Egel, the sin of the Golden Calf which forced Moshe Rabeinu to break the Luchos. As a result of this sin and the teshuvah following the sin, Moshe received the לוחות שניות. As Rav Tzaddok explains, the לוחות שניות correspond to the Torah Shebeal Peh, which is our most cherished chelek of Torah. Thus, we see that ironically, it was only through this darkness of the Golden Calf and the subsequent breaking the luchos, that Moshe was zoche to bring the לוחות שניות to Klal Yisroel which led to a greater light that Klal Yisroel would never have been zoche to otherwise.
The אבן השתיה is the foundation stone where all of creation spread forth. It was there that the קדש הקדשים of the Beis HaMikdash was built. This holy place was completely covered and hidden – a place of total darkness. Yet inside this place was the ארון, from the same root as אור, as Chazal explain that the Aron was the “אורן של ישראל”, the light of Klal Yisrael. The קדש הקדשים and the Aron represent the אור found within the חושך – exactly what occurred at the beginning of Maaseh Bereshis, where the light and darkness were mixed together. This is why the קדש הקדשים was built specifically on the אבן השתיה. The place where creation began and light and dark were mixed together, had the קודש הקדשים built on top of it, a place where that same mixture existed, where the light of ארון was shining specifically from a place of complete darkness.
In the ארון itself existed this same mixture. Both the שברי לוחות and the לוחות שניות laid inside the ארון. The broken Luchos represent the great darkness of the Chet HaEgel, whereas the Luchos Shniyos represent the greatest ohr – the ohr of Torah She’Baal Peh. As Chazal teach us in Gemora Sanhedrin (24) that “במחשכים הושבני – זו תלמודה של בבלי” “‘He has placed me to dwell in darkness,’” this is Talmud Bavli. The great light of Torah SheBeal Peh comes specifically from darkness of the golus and exile. Indeed, when Moshe Rabeinu was above the world receiving the Torah from Hashem, he knew it was earthly night when Hashem began to teach him Torah SheBaal Peh. This is because Torah SheBaal Peh is the ohr that is found within the night.
Since this all came as a result of the Chet HaEgel, it must be that this sin is connected to the primordial state at the beginning of creation, when the light and darkness were mixed together בערבוביא. This is alluded to by the very last words that Moshe Rabeinu wrote down at the end of the Torah, “לעיני כל ישראל – in front of the eyes of all of Yisrael.” Rashi explains that this pasuk is referring to Moshe Rabeinu’s breaking of the Luchos as a result of the Chet HaEiegel. All of the meforshim ask – why here at the very end of the Torah is it necessary to mention the Chet HaEgel and breaking the Luchos? The Sefer Yetzirah tells us that the end and the beginning are always bound together. Just as at the beginning of Creation, the light and dark coexisted together בערבוביא, so too at the end of the Torah, the light and darkness are mixed, and there is a necessity to mention the darkness and subsequent light that resulted from the Chet HaEigel.
As explained, the Kodesh HaKedashim, where the Luchos rested, was a place of light and darkness mixed together. This was illustrated by the avodah that took place there on Yom Kippur, the holiest avodah in the holiest place at the holiest time. Part of the avodah was that of bringing the two goats, the שעיר לה׳ and the שעיר לעזאזל. The שעיר לה׳ represents Yaakov, and the light, whereas the שעיר לעזאזל is Eisav and the darkness. The Mishnah in Yoma requires the goats to be of the same height, and to look identical. Light and Darkness were lined up together, mixed in בערבוביא – you couldn’t discern one from the other. The avodah was to separate the two and the blood of the שעיר לה׳ was sprinkled inside the קדש הקדשים. The קדש הקדשים is where this type of avodah, bringing forth the light from within the darkness, took place.
The avodah of Ketores on Yom Kippur is another example of this. Mixed within the spices was the חלבונה – the foul smelling ‘spice’ that represent the פושעי ישראל, the darkness of Klal Yisroel. The חלבונה was mixed in the other spices that represented tzaddikim and the light – “אור זרוע לצדיק” – light is planted for the tzaddik. The קדש הקדשיםwas the place where it was fitting to bring this אור וחושך בערבוביא.
Golus Mitzrayim was the biggest yeridah, a step down from Yisroel’s rightful place. The language of descent is always associated with entering Mitzrayim: Va’yered Avraham and Va’yered Yaakov – both Avraham and Yaakov Avinu were described as descending into Egypt. And before we went out of Mitzrayim the Egyptians were afflicted with Choshech – darkness. But within the dwelling of Bnei Yisrael there was light – אור במושבותם. This was the ohr that comes from the choshech. The Torah reveals to us that after the Jewish people were in the darkness for so long, finally they found the אור הגנוז, the hidden light, deep within the חשך.
The Arizal teaches that each one of the ten makkos correspond to the ten utterances of Creation, from the bottom up. Therefore, the final Makkah of מכת בכורות corresponds to בראשית, the first of the ten utterances where at that point light and darkness were בערבוביא. מכת בכורות reached back to the ראשית, the beginning of everything, going back to the time when choshech and ohr were mixed.
Dovid HaMelech describes that night of מכת בכורות and Yetzias Mitzrayim as “לילה כיום יאיר כחשיכה” the night that shined like day – darkness and choshech for the Mitzrim, but light for the Jewish people. This is to teach us that even if we fall to such low levels, בדיעבד, once we are there, we have an opportunity to find a beautiful light from the darkness. It is with this great light that one can come back in a greater way to Hashem. Therefore, the end of our stay in Mitzrayim revealed this wonderful concept that even in the lowest darkness, a blinding light can be found.
Rashi in Parshas Chukas quotes Rav Moshe HaDarshan who tells us that the Parah Aduma atoned for the Chet HaEgel – let the mother (the Parah) come and clean the mess of her child (the Calf). The Parah Aduma was also a mixture of light and dark, tahar and tomei. It’s מטהר את הטמאים ומטמא את הטהורים, makes the impure pure, and the pure impure. The Parah Aduma is where the light and darkness are mixed together בערבוביא. This Parah is the rectification of the Chet HaEgel – and its outcome, that you can find the great light in the darkness itself. From the darkness of the Chet HaEgel emerges the light of Torah SheBal Peh, and out of the black of the dark galus of Mitzrayim shines the brilliant ohr of the Geulah of יציאת מצרים.
Referring to the Parah Aduma the pasuk says “מי יתן טהור מטמא– Who will bring the tahor from the tamei?” “מי” is gematria 50, paralleling the נ׳ שערי בינה, the fifty gates of Binah. The שער נון, the fiftieth gate is where the ohr and choshech function together. It is only when reaching the שער נון, where the Parah Aduma brought purity can one find the great light hidden in the darkness itself.
When Moshe Rabeinu was born, the pasuk saysותרא אותו כי טוב הוא, she saw that he was good, and Rashi explains that the house was filled with light. This reveals that Moshe Rabbeinu only connected to the revealed ohr, which is the 49th level of bina. Chazal explain on the pasuk ותחסרהו מעט מאלקים, that Moshe could not reveal the 50th level, which is where darkness and light function together, where one can apprehend the light that lies in the darkness, because he was completely light and never had contact with darkness.
Rabbi Akiva, on the other hand, was able reveal more than Moshe Rabbeinu, namely the שער נ׳, which enables a one to see the light that emerges from within the darkness. That is because he lived the first forty years of his life in darkness, and from that darkness he was able to reach that great light. This is why all of תורה שבעל פה comes from Rabbi Akiva (as stated in the Gemara Megillah – רבי עקיבא סתימאה), because just as Torah Shebeal Peh is the light that shines from the darkness, he too was able to apprehend that light that comes out of the darkness – the light of the Shaar Nun.
With the above we can appreciate what the wickedness of Haman and Achashveirosh was, and what the real joy of Purim is all about. The pasuk says ויהי בימי אחשורוש הוא אחשורוש המלך מהודו ועד כוש – Achashveirush ruled from Hodu to Kush. There is an opinion that these two countries were close together. But the pasuk says “מהודו ועד כוש”. Doesn’t that imply that there was a great distance between them?
הודו represents אור coming from the root word הוד, splendor, and כוש means dark as it was a country of dark people, representing חושך. Achshveirosh’s evil plan was to make a separation between the light from the darkness. He didn’t want them to work together in בערבוביא. He wanted to prevent Klal Yisroel from being able to reveal light even out of the darkest places, so that when they would fall, they would despair. He invited them to participate in the feast, to pull them down into darkness, with no way to get back up.
Achashveirosh knew that the central place where light and dark could mix was in the קדש הקדשים, and so he took the vessels of the Beis HaMikdash, and wore the clothes of the כהן גדול, the only man who could enter into that holy place, to erase that power that existed in the Beis HaMikdash to find the light even deep within the darkness.
Haman, who came from the nation of Amalek, planned on hanging Mordechai on gallows that were fifty amos high, because fifty represents the fifty gates of Binah. Haman wanted to negate the שער הנ׳, that ability to shine forth the ohr from within the choshech. Haman tries to prevent a Jew from seeing the light within the darkness that he is in.
In order to destroy Amalek we have to reach the level of עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי, of this ערבוביא of light and darkness together. Haman represents the greatest choshech, whereas Mordechai is the greatest ohr, and by being in a state of “עד דלא ידע” not knowing the difference between the two, we return to a place where light and dark function together בערבוביא. In this place we can destroy Haman and Achashverosh’s plan to keep the two apartto prevent finding the ohr within the place of darkness that one has fallen into.
This is why the main avodah of Purim is ונהפך הוא, transformation. When a person finds the ohr that lies in choshech, then this transforms the choshech itself into ohr. This is exactly what happens when a person does תשובה מאהבה, teshuvah out of love. The light of the teshuva that was in the sin, which after the fact a person reveals, transforms the aveira itself into a mitzvah, transforming the darkness into light.
This explains the tremendous joy we experience on Purim. Sometimes a Jew has a tremendous yeridah and with this he falls into despair, the opposite of simcha. But although a Jew must feel a bitter regret for his aveiros, he should never fall into despair. He must realize that even though he must distance himself from any aveira as he would a blazing fire, still, if he does fall, he must search out the light that Hashem has hidden in that dark place. By doing teshuvah, he brings out the great light that stems from the aveirah itself. With that, he transforms his atzvus to simcha. This transformation brings forth the greatest joy, which is the incredible simcha of Purim.
This idea is incapsulated in the pasuk “ליהודים היתה אורה ושמחה” – the Jews had light and joy. The word for light here, orah, is written in the feminine, and Chazal say that signifies it is referring to Torah SheBaal Peh. Torah SheBaal Peh a chief example of how darkness can be transformed into light, as we know that Torah SheBaal Peh came about only because of the Chet HaEgel. This ohr is the ability to find the light within the darkness. Finding the light within the darkness and transforming it into light transforms the despair of chet into the simcha and light of renewed closeness to Hashem.
Through experiencing the real simcha and joy of Purim, teshuvah from love, and finding the light hidden within the darkness, may we merit to see the אור חדש על ציון תאיר, the new light which will shine on Tzion – the light of Mashiach and the final redemption, במהרה בימינו, Amen V’Amen!