5756 - #12

From Purim to Pesach

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 429:1 states that thirty days before Pesach, we are to discuss the laws of the holiday.[1] The Mishneh Brura[2], commenting on this law, states that we are to begin this study specifically on Purim; we are, in effect, to begin our preparations for Pesach on Purim. While the de facto reality of Jewish life indeed marks Purim as the start of the pre-Pesach period,[3] this halacha would seem to indicate that this connection is not just a coincidence but has some intrinsic meaning.

A similar indication of connection between these two holidays, would also seem to be derived from the arba parshiot, the four special Torah readings of this time of year. On the surface, an attempt to philosophically bond these four Torah readings would seem to be only tenuous; the relationship does seem to be only of coincidence. Each of these parshiot is read because of its own, independent reason; they are not joined in a united theme. Yet, within the Torah literature, they are referred to as one unit, the arba parshiot. The very intertwining of these parshiot, as the variant themes of Adar and Nisan, Pesach and Purim, mix, simply, cannot be ignored. While an argument that there is some special link between these holidays is clearly not conclusive, and any perceived thought would have to be most subtle, it is difficult to reject a connection between the arba parshiot and some special tie between Pesach and Purim - but if there is one, what is it?

There is an interesting discussion among the commentators[4] about whether this law, that one should study the laws of Pesach thirty days before the holiday, applies to all the regalim, the Biblical holidays or only to Pesach. The argument for Pesach's special treatment is that its laws are extensive and much preparation before the holiday is necessary. Chinuch, mitzvah 16, in fact, discusses the need for the numerous precepts connected to this festival: the many mitzvot force us to focus on the important message of this holiday. It would seem that, with the significant preparation these laws demand, this focus is actually to begin before Pesach, in fact, on Purim.

What is the lesson of Pesach? On the surface, it is a celebration of beginning. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, Edoth 23:165 states that Pesach marks the physical beginning of am Yisrael, of Israel as a nation. Yet, the celebration is not simply of beginning, but of changing. As the Haggada indicates, we are to feel that yitziot Mizrayim, the Exodus from Egypt affected -- affects -- us personally. And the essence of this experience is the change from avdut, slavery, to cherut, freedom. We are, in celebrating the birth of our nation, to experience the essence of that birth - and that was in a change of being.[5]

The strange thing about beginnings is that they really are not the beginning. The birth of am Yisrael was preceded by the generations of the forefathers laying the foundation. In fact, beginnings usually demand the greatest preparations and, so, it is not surprising that the holiday that demands the greatest preparation is Pesach. We have to prepare for the birth of the nation because it is not simply the creation of something new, but a change, a transformation.

Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 1:1 informs us that there were three commands placed upon the Jewish nation when they entered the land of Israel: to appoint a king, to destroy Amalek and to build a Temple. In a subtle way, these threecommands parallel the first three readings of the arba parshiot. The duty of a king is to unite the nation and Shkalim, the giving of the half shekel, mirrors this concept of unity. Zachor, the command to remember Amalek, clearly corresponds to the duty to destroy this nation. Parah, the reading of the red heifer, is clearly in preparation of the Temple service. And these three readings lead to HaChodesh, the reading of introduction to Pesach, with its implicit recognition of newness.

Upon entering Israel, the nation had to unite, then destroy evil and only then could they build a permanent place to worship G-d and fulfil their destiny in establishing themselves as a holy nation. Growth always demands two focuses: one internal and the other external. The nation must internally unite before it can externally destroy the enemy without - but the defeat of the external enemy is only a call upon ourselves to continue the growth within. We grow within in preparation of our battle with the enemy without and we defeat the enemy without so we can grow within.

Purim is the celebration of the defeat of Haman, the victory of good over evil. Ultimate victory in this cause can only arise from the unity[6] and the strength of the good; thus Purim concludes, on a certain plane, the yearly cycle of holidays. We work within so we can defeat the enemy without.[7] Yet, the defeat of evil without, the destruction of Haman, must also lead us to change within, to the further development of the good, to the furtherance of the growth of the nation. Thus the holiday cycle initiated by Pesach must lead us to a Purim, but Purim, in turn, must lead us back to the continued change, transformation and growth within - to begin anew - on Pesach.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail


[1] The exact language of the Shulchan Aruch is most interesting as the verb sho'alin, ask, is used. See, further, Biur Halacha for a further discussion on the choice of this language and what it may convey about the nature of the law.

[2] note 2. Biur HaGra refers to Tosfot, Bechorot 57b and Rashi, Sanhedrin 7b, d.h. b'shabata as the source for this concept. It would seem that according to the way the Gaon understood Rashi, it was the fact that the study of the laws of Pesach began on a special day, i.e. Purim, that is being marked.

[3] This de facto mind set is evidenced, for example, by stores, literally the day after Purim, beginning to stock Passover food.

[4] See Mishneh Brura, note 1. As to the source of this discussion, see Tur, Orach Chaim, c. 429 specifically the commentaries of Beit Yosef, Bach, and Drisha.

[5] See, further, Abarbanel, Zevach Pesach on the Haggadah.

[6] Notice how so many of the laws of Purim relate to and further the unity of am Yisrael.

[7] It is of interest to note that the actual events of the Purim story took place on Pesach.

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