PURIM AND THE POSITIVE POWER OF CONCEALMENT
The shabbatot before Purim – compassion, and remembering It’s very lovely, and such a wonderful opportunity, to absorb the energy of Adar.
There’s a saying in the gemara, in the rabbinic teachings, that if you really want something to succeed, you should plant some Adar in it. Sometimes that’s understood as “you should do your planting in Adar,” – which conveniently comes at about the right time for people in a lot of places to do their planting; but it’s strange the way they say you should plant Adar in something.
So the energy of Adar – it’s really very special, and when you come to the month of Adar there are always extra special Torah readings, in keeping with the energy of the month. Before you get to Purim, you have two special readings each Shabbat before you come to Purim: you have Shabbat Shekalim, and then you have Shabbat Zachor: the Shabbat which is called “shekels,” and the Shabbat which is called “remember.”
So to get to Purim you have to get the energy of shekels, and the energy of remembering. Shekels, if you don’t know Hebrew, means money. You have to get the energy of money. In the old days, people paid a certain tax, in shekels: you had to pay your dues, basically. This inyan [matter] of money – this means, really, in Jewish language, tzedakah [charity]: when you give something to other people. In other words money, basically, means compassion.
So first of all you have to have a shabbat of compassion, of caring, of being willing to give to people who need, because that’s a very direct expression of sharing the quality of the tzaddik [the righteous person] – how we can make ourselves closer to the model that I believe the Creator has for us. What the divine hope for us is to be, I believe, all of us tzaddikim in this world. We have a verse which is proof for that – which says: “All of God’s people are tzaddikim” (Isaiah 60:21). So everyone who comes into the mould, the form, that God really wants for them, comes into some kind of tzaddik model. Each one different from the other, because there’s not just one mould – but everyone has their place to fill within the totality of being.
So before you can get to Purim, you have to have shekalim and you have to have zachor. You have to have compassion, to be a sharer, to be able to give something righteously, to share of what you have with others.
‘Amalek’ means that which attacks us at our weakest point
And then the shabbat that comes right before Purim is called Shabbat Zachor, the shabbat to remember. But what are we supposed to remember? We’re supposed to remember “zecher Amalek.” We’re supposed to remember Amalek, a people in the Biblical story who are infamous for attacking the Israelites when they were at the weakest point. They sneak up on the Israelites when they have been decimated by all kinds of problems of life, and they’re like a tail, they make a tail, and Amalek sneak up and take the weakest people who are straggling behind. They don’t attack Moshe and the leaders – they pick off all the weak people; that’s what Amalek does.
So we have to understand what this memory is, what we have to “zachor.” In the Torah it says, “Remember to blot out the memory of Amalek – don’t forget.” Don’t forget to remember. And that’s the end of the special reading that we have for this shabbat. Don’t forget to remember that we have to blot out every bit of Amalek. Amalek, the quality – the quality that sneaks up on us. The thing that gets us in our weakest place and brings us down where we’re most vulnerable. Where we could be captured, as it were, by a power that holds us back from reaching our potential, that holds us back from becoming tzaddikim, the people that entered the Holy Land.
So we have one parsha [portion of Torah], Shekalim, that deals with money, that deals with tzedakah, that deals with giving. This is the side of compassion, the side of the heart, the side of caring, the side of sharing – all of those attributes that we need to have in order to be prepared to reach the highest of the high.
Purim has eternal significance, and is as high as Yom Kippur
Because Purim, we should always remember – there’s a rabbinical joke that equates Purim with Yom Kippur, because Yom Kippur is literally Yom ki-Purim – a day which is like Purim. It’s a pun, you see; the word k’ in Hebrew means like, so Yom haKippurim is a day like Purim. Everybody already knows that Yom Kippur is the highest day of the year, but if Yom Kippur is like Purim, then Purim must also be as high as Yom Kippur. So Purim is very very special in its own way; it’s different from Yom Kippur, but it’s every bit as high, even though we often don’t think of it as one of the most holy of the holy days.
But in fact, it’s such a powerful time that when the sages were reflecting on what would be on the other side of the messianic age, what the world would look like, what Judaism would look like, one of the things they said is that we would still have Purim. The other holidays we maybe wouldn’t need, if it was on the other side of the messianic age, but Purim is eternal. Because the level, the lesson, the impact and the import of Purim has an eternal validity, an eternal significance. And that’s how high it is. It’s something that’s unconditional on whatever the specifics of things would be – what age we would be in, what historical circumstances, what condition: there would still be Purim.
So how do we get to the place where we could have our share of Purim in this particular year? We need to go through tzedakah, through compassion – through all the aspects which have the power to give us the means of opening our heart in this world, through caring and sharing; and we need to remember something – to remember to blot out Amalek, that power that sneaks up on us and overcomes us. That’s the side of wisdom. So we have a compassion side and we have a wisdom side.
So what do we need to know, that we can protect ourselves from our vulnerability? To put these two things together – this shabbat of money, of tzedakah, of paying our dues, of sharing what we have, and the shabbat of realizing, of absorbing what it is that we need to remember. If we could bring these two sides together, we could have what we need to prepare for Purim.
Haman and Amalek, and the power of Mordechai ha-Yehudi to counter-act this force
If we look at the question of Amalek: if we look at rabbinic literature, the rabbis basically equate Haman and Amalek. The enemy of the Book of Esther, Haman, is an example of Amalek, who displays this same problem that can overthrow us, that can come between us and bring us down, and maybe even have a possibility of destroying us, at least for a time.
So when you think about this story, Haman represents the arch-enemy of the Jews in the Book of Esther, and is an aspect or representation of this Amalek quality. And you have to think very carefully about what the antidote to Haman is, which is called Mordechai haYehudi, Mordechai the Jew. If you take the name Mordechai and you do the gematria – that is to say, you take each letter of the name, and you convert it into a numerical value, and you add them up; because very often, the secrets of the Torah are revealed in these associations, in the gematria, which give you a possibility of relating something to something else you can’t see. So at a certain level the name Mordechai is a garment; it’s holding something that we don’t see directly. We don’t exactly know what the power of the name Mordechai is.
So the name Mordechai is the garment that’s holding something inside it. So you could say that the name Mordechai is a kissui, which means a covering. Mordechai is the concealment of something that’s very precious. And of course it’s well known that when the rabbis talk about Adar, one of the main topics that comes up is that God’s character is basically absent in the Book of Esther – God doesn’t play a direct role. So they say this is really a teaching about concealment, and how within concealment – which we might think of as something which is not so positive – actually, if you look at it in a very deep way, assuming we know the great secret of life, we can begin to see concealment in a very positive way.
The positive power of concealment
Because within concealment is the possibility of everything that isn’t manifest yet. It’s precisely in concealment, where you can’t find something, that in fact you can find something. It’s only that what is there is not what you know. But you take for example the present moment, like this one, right now: even if we’re very present, this moment, there’s more concealed this moment than we know. Regardless of what we can see, how much more is concealed in this moment! This moment has the entire past and the entire future, because this moment could not be here unless every other moment preceded it. It doesn’t stand alone, it’s a link between the past and the future, and it comes partly because of everything that preceded it, it’s connected to everything that came before it – so everything that came before it is in fact concealed within this moment, however it looks.
We might think that however we’re experiencing it, however we’re perceiving it within the range of our understanding is all there is; but so much more is happening, so much more is happening. We can’t even begin to know everything that’s in this moment. And if that’s true of the past, all the more so it’s true of the future. We don’t know what the future holds; but its entirety, all of its possibilities are contained in this moment.
So this very moment is a teaching on concealment.
The dangers of the concealment of concealment, which is called ‘deep sleep’
But that concealment is not necessarily a bad thing. The only thing that makes it a bad thing – and here I’m quoting the Baal Shem Tov’s great teaching on concealment, that I like to remember at this time – concealment is not so bad; it’s concealment of concealment that’s the problem. If I know that there’s concealment, then that’s OK. Even if I don’t know exactly what’s concealed, at least I know that something is concealed: there’s much more there, there’s much more depth. It’s not really as limited as I think. And of course the real meaning of concealment, what it always comes down to in the deepest sense, is that God is within every concealment. Concealment makes it seem like God isn’t present, but as long as we know that it’s concealment – and the Baal Shem Tov said this over and over again – as long as we recognize that we’re dealing with concealment, we’re very close to gilui, we’re very close to revelation, we’re very close to finding something more.
The only problem is when we forget that there is concealment.
The concealment of concealment means I don’t even know there’s concealment; and if I don’t even know there’s concealment, that’s called deep sleep. Deep sleep or forgetfulness, shikcha. The deep quality of forgetting.
And that deep, deep, deep possibility that we might really fall asleep – and of course, we know that we’re falling asleep all the time, but that’s not really so bad as long as we can wake up. But it’s only really bad when we fall asleep so deeply that we can’t – God forbid – wake up again. Almost unwakeable. People can fall into a state where you can’t wake them up any more. That’s really the big risk: you don’t want to fall asleep without being aware that you’re falling asleep. Because that’s when you find that you can’t wake up.
Do you ever find in a dream, when you realize that you’re dreaming, very often you then wake up? When you see that you’re asleep, there’s already something awake there. But there can be a state where actually you can’t awaken yourself; it’s very different to awaken. And that’s the concealment of concealment. You get into a state where you can’t even recognise that something isn’t right because you’re not awake. You might feel that something’s a little off; and when something’s a little off, then you’re vulnerable. But when I fall into the concealment of concealment, I won’t even look for a way to wake up. I don’t even know that there is such a thing as waking up.
The power of the story to awaken us from deep sleep
Now Rebbe Nachman of Breslov addresses this problem in his book Likkutei Moharan. He has a special teaching about Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who is the main character of the Zohar. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai sort of epitomizes, as I like to call him, the Guru Rinpoche of the Jews. He’s the ultimate enlightened master, and he has all of these great powers. And in that lesson, where Rebbe Nachman teaches about Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, he suggests there’s only really one antidote to this problem of the concealment of concealment, and that is powerful stories.
These powerful stories come from a place of greatest potency. A place that’s represented by a personification of consciousness and divine energy that is called Atik Yomin, the Ancient of Days. Sometimes called the Holy Ancient One. It’s mentioned in the Book of Daniel, and in the Book of Daniel, this character the Holy Ancient One, or the Ancient of Days, is described as having the quality of hadrat panim – It has a very beautiful countenance. It is of such beauty that It can break through even deep sleep. It’s just so incredibly, overwhelmingly beautiful that It can break through everything.
So there is a power, according to Reb Nachman, there is a source, that one can draw from, that has the power to break through even the deepest sleep, even the sleep which is the concealment of concealment: the Ancient of Days. And that’s the power of Mordechai.
Mordechai the story-teller, and the power of rav chessed: utterly unconditional love
Mordechai haYehudi has precisely that power. Mordechai the Jew is a story-teller. Because if you read the Book of Esther you’ll see that there’s a verse in there that Mordechai “told this story” to Esther. Mordechai told Esther a story.
What story did Mordechai tell Esther?
He told her who she was. And there’s no more profound story than being able to tell someone who they are. That’s a real wake-up story. Now imagine if you could meet someone who could tell you the story of who you are: that would be a very fortunate thing. No matter if you were in the concealment of the concealment, such a story and such a story-teller could wake you up instantaneously. Mordechai tells this story to Esther.
We were talking about concealment, and the concealment of Esther. Esther has this concealment because what’s concealed from her is who she really is. She doesn’t know who she really is. Mordechai is also a concealment. What does Mordechai tell Esther? He tells her that she’s Esther. And Esther means hester, hester panim: it means the hiding of the faces, it means concealment.
Esther herself is a concealment. That’s what Mordechai reveals to her. She’s a concealment. She’s a concealment of Shechina.That’s what Mordechai reveals to her, that she herself is a concealment of the Shechina, of the Divine Presence Itself. Esther is the Shechina, and she’s called Esther because ester is the same root word as hester, which means concealment.
So we have hadrat panim, the revelation of the beauty of the divine countenance; and we have hester panim, we have the hiding of that beauty. Esther is the hiding of that beauty. Nevertheless she is that beauty, and that’s why once she knows who she is, she’s able to be very powerful. And Mordechai, who can tell the story that can transform Esther into who she really is, has the power of the hadrat panim, the beauty of the holy countenance, that can reveal the Holy Ancient One, the Atik Yomin.
And the secret of Mordechai, if you take each letter of the name of Mordechai and calculate the gematria, you will find, and you can check this yourself, you will come up with 274. And 274 is exactly the same gematria as rav-chessed. Rav-chessed means Great Love. Mordechai has the character of great chessed. He is the concealment of great chessed. What’s hidden in Mordechai is the quality of the Atik Yomin: the great power, the overwhelming power, of the highest of the high.
Chessed is the name for one of the sefirot. And it means, basically, unconditional love. That’s pretty great in itself. But ravchessed, even greater than that, is the power, the quality that comes from Atik, that comes from the Holy Ancient One. The Holy Ancient One means as far back as you can go. The ancient of ancients, the ancient of days, the beginning of everything.
What is it like there? What is the nature of the energy from which everything comes, the Atik Yomin? The secret is indicated in the name of Mordechai, and the secret is chessed. Rav chessed. The ultimate form of love. The ultimate form of love, which if it’s called anything in the kabbalistic tradition is usually called rachamim. Rachamim is translated sometimes as mercy; maybe compassion is a much better term. I don’t even know if we have an English word which is good enough to capture the meaning of rachamim, which is so far beyond even unconditional love, it’s so absolutely pure in its good intention and its good will. It’s so absolutely all-embracing. It’s before any distinction whatsoever. It’s not based on any distinctions whatsoever between any kind of thing and any other thing. It’s just completely beneficent energy and flow.
So that’s the quality of Mordechai haYehudi, Mordechai the Jew. And why is he called “the Jew”? The rabbis say that that’s because that’s what a Jew really should be. A Jew should be a channel of this “rav chessed,” should be a channel of rachamim.So this is incredibly important, I think – that the rabbis are saying that that’s what a Jew ought to be. A channel of rav chessed, a channel of pure rachamim.
So Mordechai who reveals the concealment of Esther is able to defeat Haman, who is Amalek, the one whom we’re told – on the Shabbat before Purim especially – we should remember to blot out the memory of.
So apparently we can learn from that, if we’re going to somehow be able to overcome the power of Amalek, which is the power that imposes the concealment of the concealment; the power that makes us so asleep that we forget that we could even wake up, that we could remember God, that we could have emunah, that we could have faith.
Even if you have concealment, concealment requires emunah, requires faith, because you just can’t really know what it is that is hidden; all you can know is that something is hidden. But what it is… you have to wait and see. You have to wait and see what is going to come.
Why Haman chose the month of Adar
This is a very deep teaching, because the rabbis pointed out that Haman planned to do everything that he could to undermine the Jews precisely in the month of Adar. Adar is the month of concealment. So Haman was looking for the precise moment when the concealment would be at its greatest. That’s what shows us that Haman is Amalek, because Amalek is sneaking up when the Israelites are trying to get out of Egypt and they have to go through all these obstacles and dangers trying to get to the land of Israel, trying to get the merit to enter into the holy land. And there is this force which is constantly looking precisely for the most vulnerable place in which to strike and knock them down.
So Haman chose the month of Adar. Why? The rabbis give two reasons, basically, that I can think of. There might be more, but two of the most relevant ones are as follows. First, there was a miscalculation, basically. He thought that Israel was more asleep than it really was. He thought that they had really reached the ultimate level of the concealment of concealment, but in fact they were not in so deep, they were only in concealment itself, albeit deeply asleep.
The second reason, which maybe is even more interesting, is that Moshe Rabbeinu died in the month of Adar. And so Haman knew that that was the month of the death of Moshe, and he figured, if there’s no Moshe – because that’s a principle, in the way the rabbis look at the meaning of the calendar: when something very significant in the sacred story, the story of the Israelites, happens at a certain point in the year, then the significance of that event always colors the energy of that time of the year. And so the month of Adar is the time of the year when Moshe Rabbeinu left the world. Nobody knows where he’s buried, where the grave of Moshe Rabbeinu is; Moshe Rabbeinu is in concealment. He’s in deep, deep, deep concealment.
And when the Moshe Rabbeinu energy is in such deep concealment, Haman thought that meant there was no channel for Torah to come into the world during the month of Adar, and he would be able to get the Jews into the concealment of concealment because the Moshe energy wasn’t there, and therefore the Torah can’t come down into the world. And the energy of Torah is precisely the channel that connects what is hidden to what is revealed. So the connection – what awakens, what can lead to the revelation of what’s concealed – is the Torah itself, when there’s a vessel that can bring it in.
So Haman thought that precisely in the month of Adar would be a good time to get the Jews because the power of Moshe isn’t there.
The ever-present power of rav chessed is even greater than the power of Torah
But Haman forgot something when he was calculating this, and that was: Mordechai haYehudi. There’s a higher power even than the channel of Torah, even though the channel of Torah can reveal the most concealed of all powers. And that power is always there. That power is rav chessed. That’s how powerful rav chessed is.
Concealment is necessary for the revelation of new Torah
And the power of rav chessed in concealment – really you could say the power of concealment itself – the power that Mordechai had, was that he could make a story eternal. He could make an awakening story eternal. Because it’s really the story of new Torah. The story of new Torah is that everything new comes from concealment, because what we know already get’s stale, even if it was good at the time. Whatever it was, it gets worn out. So if we didn’t have the concealment, we couldn’t bring anything new in.
So it’s precisely when something comes that covers us up that we have the most precious opportunity to discover more than has ever been revealed yet. And that’s why the mystery of faith is so deeply connected to concealment.
The power of dreaming to connect us to a deeper awakeness than waking life
You know what, this is so deep to me, I can hardly believe it, I can hardly believe it even, I can hardly appreciate it. You know, we have a verse that says: “When God brought back shivat Tzion – the captives of Zion – hainu k’cholmin” – we were like dreamers (Psalm 126). If we hadn’t have been dreamers, we wouldn’t have been able to be redeemed. For dreaming is sleeping; it’s the preciousness of sleeping, the preciousness of the concealment, of the places where we don’t know. It’s precisely in these places – the paradox is: there’s more God in the concealment than there is in what’s revealed. It’s crazy! It’s totally crazy!
If we have a moment that feels like revelation, we’re very happy – and we should be very happy. The energy when something is revealed – we can feel it, we feel that we’re waking up, that something is becoming clear. But where does it come from? If we hadn’t been asleep, that energy could not have come through.
And, furthermore, whatever it is that comes through, however great and wonderful it is – whatever it is it’s much less than whatever is in the concealment.
There is always more God in concealment than is revealed
It’s a crazy thing to say, but if we could add up amounts of God, the amount of God which is in concealment is infinite, and actually the amount of God which is revealed is finite. We’re really all messed up, myself included. We’re nuts, because when we have a revelation we think we’ve really got it, and we’re so sure we know what God is, whatever was revealed… We get pretty excited about that, and we want to hold onto it. And sometimes, God forbid, we get into arguments about that. You know, what was revealed to me, what was revealed to you. We love what was revealed to us. The energy of revelation is wonderful.
But watch out for Amalek, that can sneak up behind us, and give us a poke in the back, and get a hold of us. Because the amount of God that’s in the concealment is greater than the amount of God you could have in the revelation. That’s the crazy part of it.
And if we really got how crazy it is… There’s a verse that says: “You make darkness your hiding place.” God is hiding in the darkness. In the darkness is where God is to be found. At the places in which we find God, we’re necessarily getting a partial revelation. Any revelation is a partial revelation. It’s appropriate to the time and place where it comes through. We love the revelation! I’m not saying we don’t like it; I’m not saying it isn’t good. I’m just saying that as good as we think it is, there’s more God in the darkness than there is in the light. And that’s why there’s more and more revelation. That’s why there’s continuous Torah.
Probably all of us have gotten into Zen at one time or another, and when you heard about satori [experiencing a flash of enlightenment] for the first time, you probably thought, “Well, if only I could get my satori that would be it.” And then all of a sudden one day you meet some Roshi, and he tells you, “I’ve had satori already some 16 times – some big ones, some little ones.” Who knows how many times there’s going to be revelation, and what revelation you’re going to get, what enlightenment. And every time it breaks through, we think: “That’s it.” And it is. It is it. But at the same time, there’s more of it where we can’t see.
Because there’s always more God in the concealment. And Purim is the time where we most clearly see that. So may we be blessed this Purim to use the deep power of the story to wake up from the concealment of concealment, and realize the presence of God permeating the darkness, and blessing us with continual revelation, continual new Torah.