Purim – Arizal and Rav Nachman

From last Year – “Masekhet Purim”, a humorous parody of the Talmud, is believed to have first been written in the first half of the 14th century by Kalonymus ben Kalonymus. It later developed into several different versions. Here is the Kol Bo L’Purim with the Kiddish, hagadah, selichot, teshuvot, akdamot, and more. Download it- It is only 31 pages, bring it with you on Purim

This year VBM provided a translation of the R. Chaim Vital and Rav Nachman on why one must drink “until one does not know.” Here are the basic translations with some of the context.
Full 10 page version from VBM here.

Very short Cliff notes version
from Ozer Bergman.

Purim in Chassidic Thought: “Until He Doesn’t Know” By Rav Itamar Eldar

The gemara cites the following statement in the name of Rava:
A person is obligated to drink on Purim until he no longer knows the difference between “cursed Haman” and “blessed Mordekhai.” (Megilla 7b)

It seems to demand nullification of the intellect to the point of losing the capacity to clearly distinguish between Haman being evil and Mordekhai being blessed. Jewish thought, and Chassidic thought in particular, attempted to reach a deeper understanding of this law – drinking wine to the point of drunkenness – which has become one of the central features of Purim.

R. Chayyim Vital writes as follows in the name of his teacher, the Arizal:

That which our Rabbis, of blessed memory, have said, that a person is obligated to drink on Purim until he no longer knows the difference between “cursed Haman” and “blessed Mordekhai” – this means as follows: It is known that in every kelipa there is a spark of holiness that gives it life, and should it be removed, [the kelipa] will be left with no vitality and immediately it will totally disappear. Now on this great day, when there is this great illumination, we want the vitality of this illumination to reach this spark as well, but not that it should reach so far to illuminate the kelipa. For this reason a person must get drunk on this day, to the point that he does not know the difference between “cursed Haman” and “blessed Mordekhai.” For he may err and give a blessing to that spark in the kelipa, and it too will be blessed, but its blessing will not have perfect intention, for if it would have, it would receive a great deal and the kelipa would also be blessed. [Alternate reading: Therefore he must say “blessed Haman,” to draw light also to that spark, and therefore he must say it without intention, since he is drunk and has already lost his mind. For were it with intention, God forbid, it would also illuminate the kelipa.] (Peri Etz Chayyim, Sha’ar Rosh Chodesh, Chanuka U-Purim, ch. 6)

The key to these questions seems to lie in understanding the state of the kelipa and the Divine spark concealed within it. As R. Chayyim Vital puts it, “It is known that in every kelipa, there is a spark of holiness that gives it life.” The kelipa, which symbolizes the evil found in the world, exists by virtue of the Divine spark that is concealed within it and gives it life. Without that Divine spark hidden within it, it could not exist. The ramifications of this point are important. The kabbalistic reference to the “Divine spark giving life to the kelipa” asserts that the very fact of evil’s existence is its meaning, and that it is by the will and intention of God that it continues to exist.

Lack of knowledge, as it is expressed in the words of the Arizal, involves a restriction and limitation of light, and in this manner, a blessing may be given to evil. R. Natan adopts an entirely different approach in the name of his teacher, R. Nachman of Breslov:

This is the aspect of “A person is obligated to drink on Purim until he no longer knows the difference between ‘cursed Haman’ and ‘blessed Mordekhai” (Megilla 7b). For Purim is the primary [time] for subjugating the filth of the serpent, which is sadness, the aspect of “in sorrow shall you eat of it” (Bereishit 3:17), as stated above. At that time, we must raise the joy from the depths of the kelipot… until we merit by way of the joy to achieve the aspect of the nine palaces as stated above, through which we attain the infinite light … which is the aspect of the goal of knowledge that we are not to know, as stated above. Therefore, a person is obligated to drink, that is, to get drunk on Purim for the sake of the joy, as it is written: “Wine that gladdens the heart of man” (Tehilim 104:15). And he must increase the joy until he merits by way of the drunkenness and the joy of Purim to reach the aspect of the goal of knowledge that we are not to know, which is the aspect of “until he no longer knows, etc.” For the primary hold of good and evil, which is the aspect of “blessed Mordekhai” and “cursed Haman,” is from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the root of which stems from “nirgan mafrid aluf” (“a whisperer separates close friends;” Mishlei 16:18). That is, it separates the aspect of Keter, which is the aspect of alef, the aspect of wonder which orders and settles the minds, thereby preventing the minds from their pursuit. For the primary attainment of knowledge is precisely the aspect of the goal of knowing that we are not to know. For the aspect of not knowing is the primary goal of knowledge. For he who merits this, knowledge and lack of knowledge are contained together, they being the aspect of pursuit and hindrance, which are truly one at their root. Then evil is altogether nullified, for the primary hold of evil is the lack of knowledge and its concealment, which follows from the excessive light that causes the vessels to shatter. This is because they do not contain knowledge and lack of knowledge together (as will be further explained below with God’s help). Therefore, on Purim we must get drunk to the point that we reach such joy until we merit the aspect of the aforementioned goal of knowledge, where pursuit and hindrance are combined, they being knowledge and lack of knowledge. The two are combined together in the aspect of the goal of knowledge that we are not to know, where all evil is entirely nullified, as explained above. This is the aspect of “until he no longer knows the difference between ‘cursed Haman’ and ‘blessed Mordekhai.'” For there we cannot talk about good and evil, for there all is one, all is good, as mentioned above. (Likutei Halakhot, Hilkhot Nefilat Apayim 4:7)

R. Natan identifies the obligation to be unable to differentiate between “cursed Haman” and “blessed Mordekhai” with one of the fundamental principles in the thought of R. Nachman of Breslov, the paradoxical assertion that the goal of knowledge is that we are not to know.

Elsewhere, R. Natan writes as follows:

Therefore, one is obligated to drink on Purim until he no longer knows the difference between “cursed Haman” and “blessed Mordekhai.” For there he is above knowledge, and there it is inappropriate to say, “cursed Haman,” for there it is entirely good, above the middot, above days of good and days of evil, as stated above. This is the aspect of the secret of the red heifer, which is the aspect of statute (chuka), above knowledge: it defiles the ritually pure and purifies the ritually impure. This secret will remain incomprehensible until the future when the hidden Torah will be revealed, as stated above. (Likutei Halakhot, Hilkhot Purim 4:5)

Waiving knowledge is, indeed, a little scary, just as it is a little scary to put on a mask and lose our appearance.

At this frightening moment, a moment without knowledge, a moment of drunkenness, we can do nothing but look inwards, into ourselves, into our essence, into the center of knowledge – to the Ein within us, which is only revealed when we remove all the garments. At this moment, there is no cursed and no blessed, no profane and no holy, no impure and no pure – there is only blessed silence, that allows us for a moment to look at the Ein, at repentance which is above the Torah.

The foundation of repentance that disregards the world of phenomena and seeks the blessing of the essence reveals itself not only when we get drunk on Purim to the point that we no longer know the difference between cursed Haman and blessed Mordekhai,

3 responses to “Purim – Arizal and Rav Nachman

  1. Thanks for posting “Kol Bo L’Purim” !

  2. i have long thought that the statement “the goal of knowledge is to not know”
    to be central to rebbi nachman’s thought. My first hint of this was when i discovered that one of the chapters in the lekutai moharan that mention this was according to tradition originally part of the burnt book which is considered rebbi nachman’s hidden teachings as compared to the lekutai moharan itself.
    I think the lesson this comes from is LM volume II chapter 73

  3. I think it’s interesting that Rav Eldar didn’t cite Rav Chayyim Vittal’s other opinion in the Pri Etz Chayyim about how the side of evil is sustained on Purim.

    And I also found it interesting that he neglected to discuss the obvious parallel to the sa-ir l’azazel on Yom Kippur.

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