The Similarity Between Purim and Yom Kippur

The Similarity Between Purim and Yom Kippur Rabbi Zalman Cohen

In every festival mandated by the Torah we have to spend half the day learning Torah and the other half eating and drinking and enjoying ourselves. As the Gemara explains (Pesachim 68b): “One verse says ‘a solemn convocation for the Lord your God’, and another verse says 'a solemn convocation for you.’ Rabbi Eliezer was of the opinion that it is all for God or all for you. Rabbi Joshua was of the opinion that it should be divided half for God and half for you.” The law was decided like Rabbi Joshua as explained in the Shulchan Aruch (529:1): "The holiday commandments should be divided, half the time for studying in the study hall, and the other half for eating and drinking." Yom Kippur is not a day of sadness like the fast of Tisha B'Av, but a happy day in which the Jewish people's sins achieved atonement. As Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said, "The happiest days for the Jews were the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur" (Taanit 26b).

We wonder: where on Yom Kippur do we have the “half for you”? The Kuntres Be’er Eliyahu on the Book of Esther wrote in the name of the Vilna Gaon, that the “half for you” of Yom Kippur is the day of Purim, since the two holidays are equally great. This is because the same closeness to God that can be obtained on Yom Kippur by fasting and repentance, can be obtained on Purim by eating and drinking. This means that throughout the year a servant of God tends to focus on his shortcomings, blame himself for his failures, and painfully introspect how far he is from God. He may end up ignoring all his achievements and may not even be aware that he is inwardly eager and yearning for the Creator of the universe. But on Purim, the day the Jewish people re-accepted the Torah with love, the very day has a special propensity which is different from the rest of the year. The difference is that what one gains on Yom Kippur by working on one’s fear of God, one gains on Purim through the love of God. Both of them perfect a person. Yom Kippur is the “half for God” and Purim is the “half for you.” Together, they complete each other and are one.

The essence of Yom Kippur is God’s power and justice, while the essence of Purim is God’s grace and mercy. Together they comprise the perfect balance of the quality of Majesty (Tiferet). Even though these two great days are not near each other in the Jewish calendar, their essence is related and connected and derives from the same root. This idea is explained in Tikkunei Zohar (Tikkun 21, page 57b) "Purim is named after Yom Kippur, because in the future, the Jews will delight in [Yom Kippur] and it will change from [a day of] affliction [by fasting] to [a day of] pleasure." This means that in the future when the evil inclination will be nullified, there will be no more sins too fast for, and then Yom Kippur will become a day of joy, without the need for fasting and affliction. People will become elevated on this day through joy instead of through suffering. Purim is named after Yom Kippur already now, as the Tikkunei Ha-Zohar says, because already now it is similar to what will be in the future. Therefore, one can acquire the advantages of the future, perfect Yom Kippur already now, on Purim day! And although the meaning of Yom Kippur’s name shows that it is similar to Purim, the Tikkunei HaZohar should be understood that Yom Kippur was given its name now as a hint to the future. At that time, when Yom Kippur will have achieved its perfect state, it will be like Purim today. These matters are wonderful to reflect. This is why the divine service on Yom Kippur and Purim is identical. As opposed to the rest of the year, both of them focus on a Jew’s past spiritual work. Throughout the year, a person’s main toil should be directed to the future: What else can I achieve spiritually? I’ll learn Torah, I’ll strengthen my fear of God, I will keep commandments and pray, I’ll work on character improvement. But on Yom Kippur, a Jew focuses on sins he committed in the past, and on Purim — commandments that he fulfilled in the past. Yom Kippur is a day of remorse for the past, and Purim is a day of joy for the past. On Purim, our service is to reveal the inner true point where we are closer to God, and to enjoy whatever we achieved by the enabling that comes from above, in HaShem’s service! One who serves the King out of joy instead of out of coercion and misery, will be especially beloved to the King, and will receive from Him even beyond what he deserves by law. This is the deeper meaning of the Purim commandment that we give charity to everyone who stretches out his hand (Yerushalmi Megillah 1:4). This commandment which was given to us on earth below, reflects the conduct of the King of the universe above on this day.

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