Purim: A "Soul's-Eyes" View of Life

By Rabbi Pinchas Winston

There is a story of a small town that existed at the foot of a very tall and steep mountain. At the foot of the mountain was written an inscription,
"Whosoever climbs this mountain and reaches its peak shall discover the secret of true happiness."
As you can well imagine, many people tried. Who wouldn't be willing to climb a mountain for the secret of life and happiness? And each person who attempted the climb was sent off with fanfare and great celebration. But alas, all those who made their brave attempt either returned unsuccessful, or never returned at all. After time, it seemed as if the secret of true happiness would remain just that, a secret forever.

But there was a young boy who used to pass by the mountain everyday on his way to school. He said to himself, "When I am bigger, I will climb that mountain." The adults would pat him on the head, and lovingly assure him, "Sure you will." But they did not know how much it meant to the young lad, who day after day dreamed of scaling the mountain and bringing back the secret of life and happiness to all who yearned to be happy.

The years passed, and the boy grew into a young man. The day came for marriage, and a wife was chosen. The day was set for the wedding, but before the young man committed himself to his wife, he told her of his longing and dream. When his future bride encouraged him to seek out the secret of happiness, he realized he had found the wife meant for him.

A few more years passed, and with the arrival of children, the hero talked less and less of climbing the mountain. Daily responsibilities had consumed his thoughts, and had pushed his dream of revealing the secret of happiness to the back of his mind. It was not long before talk of climbing the mountain altogether disappeared from his life.

That is, until one day. It was a somewhat cold wintry day, and he had been on an errand for his employer, when he had decided to take a short-cut he had known about as a boy, one that took him right past the foot of the mountain.

As he traversed familiar territory, emotions began to well up inside of him, for reasons, at first, he did not understand, until he saw it. It was older, and more worn, but the inscription was still visible,

"Whosoever climbs this mountain and reaches its peak shall discover the secret of true happiness."
"What has happened to my dream?" he asked himself incredulously, as he sat down at the foot of the mountain. "How could I have forgotten about the mountain, and the secret?"

Well, that was all it took, for there is little else stronger than the connection of a boy to a dream. That moment he resolved that the time had come to save the world and bring back the secret of life!

The young man retired from his position, and informed his wife of his plans. Though she had previously supported the idea, now, as a wife and mother of four children, she found it more difficult to accept such a long separation from her husband.

"What ... what if you don't come back?" she pleaded, holding back her tears.

Sensitively, but with determination, her husband answered, "I will come back."

Word spread fast that a local boy had decided to once again risk the climb to bring back the secret to happiness. The mayor, and the rest of the town went to great trouble to arrange that the hero should leave with an appropriate send off, and amid great fanfare, the hero began his long ascent, after saying good-bye to all of his family. It was not long before the distance silence the music and well-wishing of the town below. The man was now on his own.

"Dear G-d," the man began, "if you make me successful, and allow me to discover the secret of life and happiness, and bring it back to those below, then I will forever be indebted to You." The man continued his long journey.

The days passed, and became weeks, which became months. Almost a year had passed, and every time the man looked up to see how far he had left to go, he could only see clouds; the peak was no where in sight. In the meantime, the town below stopped reporting about the brave man who had made the most recent attempt to bring lasting happiness to mankind, and hearing nothing, assumed that another traveler had fallen prey to the awesome mountain. Even his wife, who had heard her husband utter the words, "I will come back" with such certainty, began to have her own doubts, and prepared to live out the rest of her life as a widow.

In the meantime, the man had broken through the clouds after climbing for over a year. Some parts had been easy to climb, others had been so steep that he could barely climb a few feet in a hours time. But at last, the peak was in sight, and though greatly weakened, he discovered new found energy to complete his mission.

Foot by foot, yard by yard, the man made his way to the peak. What had seemed so close had not been so close after all. But perseverance and great determination drove the man until finally he collapsed on the ground. He had arrived. He was at the peak.

Too tired to celebrate, and overwhelmed with emotion, he began to look around. "What was the secret? Where is it to be found?" he asked himself. But all he could see was rock and some mountain brush; there was no sign of a secret to happiness.

And then, for the first time, it occurred to him.

Could it be a joke? Could it have been a cruel, cruel joke? Could someone have written that inscription at the bottom knowing that there is nothing up the mountain but mountain itself, and have duped so many people into pursuing a goose chase?!

All at once, his heart sank at the thought that he had come so far, had worked so hard-for nothing! Thoughts raced through his mind, and he found himself longing for his wife and children, and the simple life he had left behind.

"Why did I have to do it?" he cried out. "Why did I have to go and risk so much ... for what?" At that moment, the man burst out in tears. He cried for himself, he cried for his wife, and he cried for the disappointed people who would learn that there really is no secret to happiness at all, in the end. He cried out, "Dear G-d, how could you let this have happened to me." The man cried so much that he even contemplated taking his own life, but instead, fortunately, fell into a deep sleep right there at the top of mountain.

Hours later he woke up. Laying there for several minutes, he admitted the obvious, and realized that the time had come to make the long descent. He would not survive up there on top of the mountain for very long. He put his things together, and began walking in the direction from which he had come.

It was a sunny day, and sky was perfectly clear without a cloud in sight. The man, standing at the edge of the path, looked down, and to his surprise, he was able to see the town below. He could not see any people, he was too high for that. He couldn't see any wagons, or horses, for they were too small. All he could see was little colored boxes which he assumed were the roofs of the houses below. He smiled, and all of a sudden, a sense of serenity overcame him like never before. It implored him to sit down, and to stay a little while longer.

Sitting there, the man continued to gaze down at the town below, and at the towns he could also see in the distance. In fact, he had a wonderful view of the entire country side for miles in every direction, and he was amazed at just how vast it was. He saw beauty in the world all around, and began to feel very much at peace with himself, and closer to G-d than every before.

On one hand, a voice called from within, "Come, let us go. We must return back to our home, and to our wife and children." But, his newly felt profound sense of serenity begged him to stay a while longer, which he did.

And then it hit him like a bucket of cold water on a hot day. The secret to happiness! He had discovered the secret to happiness! "It is THIS," he mused to himself with excitement, "that the author of the below inscribed message referred!" And the thought that he had NOT failed, and traveled so long and so far for nothing, brought even more joy to his life than he had ever known.

"How can I bring this home with me?" he began to wonder. "I know that once I return to the village, and get involved in every day life once again, I will lose what I have discovered. I must bring the mountain peak down with me! I must find a way to share what I have discovered with all the people below, for this was one of the main reasons I embarked on this arduous journey in the first place! But how?" The man thought, and thought some more, until the idea occurred to him. He lit a fire, and then extinguished it shortly after the wood had become charcoal. Then he found some pieces of birch bark, and sewed them together with a thread he pulled out of his coat. Then he sat down, and with charcoal in hand, he began to sketch the entire view from the top of the mountain of the world below, to the best of his ability.

Several hours passed, and after taking in what he knew would be his last view from the mountain, he carefully rolled his precious drawing up, and place it gently in his pack. He offered a short prayer to G-d for his success and for the simple but profound message he had discovered at that time. He prayed that he have the merit of sharing with those below what he himself had enjoyed so much. And he vowed he would never forget what he had learned that day, or forget about how good G-d had always been to him.

And he never did, for the man had discovered the secret to happiness, and with his new perspective, he was never pulled down into the mundane and sad world of pettiness.

* * *

As the Torah says at the end of Parashas BeShallach, Amalek, the ancestor of Haman, the chief antagonist of the Purim story, is the antithesis of the purpose of creation. G-d Himself has declared war on Amalek, and there is a Torah mitzvah incumbent upon the Jewish nation to remember how evil he was to us on our way out of Egypt, and to obliterate every last vestige of his people.

Who is Amalek? What does he do that is so bad, that G-d Himself has to war with him?

There have been many anti-Semites throughout our own long and arduous journey through history, but none have endeavored to completely sever our relationship to G-d as much as Amalek has. As Hitler-his name and memory should be erased-himself said, "Where the Jews stand, I cannot stand, and where I stand, they cannot stand." Amalek, understanding that he is the antithesis of the Jewish people, is the only people so committed to wipe out every last man, woman, and child of the Jewish nation.

How? Through war? Through persecution? Through inhumane treatment?

Absolutely. However, such attacks represent Amalek's more overt forms of warfare, which, sometime, we can see coming in advance, and can ward off. However, Amalek is far more subtle than that. He knows that if you persecute the Jew in an obvious way, that can serve only to intensify his commitment to morality and G-d, which is precisely what he wars against. So, what then is his strategy?

The Torah, in Parashas Ki Savo (Devarim 28:47), after spelling out all the curses the Jewish people would have to face for disobedience, ends off with a peculiar statement: All this will happen to you because you didn't serve Me in joy.

Because we didn't serve G-d in joy? All of the curses, most of which we can see have come true, will have happened to us because we didn't smile while doing our mitzvos, because we didn't enjoy praying, because we didn't feel enthusiastic about learning Torah? Tell us that punishment comes as a result of laxity in mitzvos and for simple and straightforward disobedience, but don't tell us that our demeanor plays such a role in reward and punishment! How can that be?!

It can be because THAT is the true war against Amalek.

Amalek attacks simcha. Amalek's whole goal is to reduce our pleasure in life, the simple joy we have, or should have, from the simple and plentiful blessings in daily life. He creates doubt, and uncertainty, which drives us even harder to get bogged down in the petty details of daily life, until we lose the forest for the trees.

Why? Because Amalek knows that joy is the source of inspiration, and it takes a lot of inspiration to maintain a closeness with truth and G-d on a daily basis. Familiarity breeds contempt, "they" say, and it certainly makes it difficult to find the appropriate enthusiasm to properly fulfill mitzvos.

Amalek knows that. He also knows that without joy, and enthusiasm, the mitzvos go from being windows of fantastic opportunity, to heavy burdens. And how long can a person carry a burden for, before he has to sit down, and loosen his "load"-the real goal of Amalek, and of his descendants, such as Haman, and of those who may not have descended from Amalek, but whom bought his outlook and personified it, like Hitler and the like.

Perspective is the key weapon in the war against Amalek. Purim is a holiday of joy, not because it provides us with sources of joy we didn't previously have, but because it allows us to better see what sources of joy we already live with.

Depending upon the person, the "mountain" of perspective is tall and hard to climb. But to not climb it is to become subject to the will of Amalek, which, eventually, develops into a physical subjugation as well. Purim says, "Go ahead! Climb that mountain! Get that perspective, and you will become a loving and devoted servant of G-d, and in the process, eradicate Amalek and his memory from the world, forever!"

We should be merit to be the generation to witness the final and complete eradication of Amalek and all his descendants, in whatever form they take, and fulfill the prophetic words of King David who wrote:

"Then our mouths will be filled with joy..."
Tehillim 126:2
Rabbi Winston's email address is pinahav@netmedia.net.il

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