A short history of Jewish meditation
Ki Tisa: Shabbat, the Golden Calf, and Rest

The Purim Without Purim

Img2B26Tonight at sundown we enter into Purim Katan, "Little Purim."

At the full moon of Adar, we celebrate Purim, our festival of masks and merriment. We read from the Megillah of Esther, we eat hamentaschen and give gift baskets to friends and to the needy, we dress in costumes and make noise to drown out the name of the bad guy who sought to annihilate the Jews of Persia.

Except during leap years. During a leap year, we have two months of Adar, Adar 1 and Adar 2. The "real" Purim comes at the full moon of Adar 2. When we reach the full moon of Adar 1, we get Purim Katan, Little Purim.

What do we do on Little Purim? Well, according to the Mishna, "There is no difference between the fourteenth of the first Adar and the fourteenth of the second Adar save in the matter of reading the Megillah and gifts to the poor." In other words -- it's just like Big Purim, except that we don't read the Megillah or give gift baskets to friends or the poor, which is to say, we don't do the activities which characterize Purim proper at all.  Or, as an amnesiac Kermit the Frog put it in an advertising slogan in The Muppets Take Manhattan, "It's just like taking an ocean cruise, only there's no boat and you don't actually go anywhere." I suppose we could still eat hamentaschen.

For those who pay attention to Purim Katan, the usual practice is to eschew fasting, to skip the daily tachanun prayers of repentance, and to avoid opportunities for grief. And some commentators argue that it's a special mitzvah to be joyful on Purim Katan, as a kind of fore-echo of the big Purim a month later.

For me the most interesting thing about Purim Katan is the idea that it's just like Purim Gadol except for all of the outward trimmings of Purim as we know it. That suggests to me that there's a kind of essential experience of Purim which exists somehow independent of the acts which we usually use to cultivate a Purim state of mind.

One of my favorite teachings about Purim holds that our task on this holiday is to ascend the ladder of mystical knowing until we reach God's own vantage point where our human notions of "good" and "evil" disappear. Where Mordechai (the hero) and Haman (the villain) aren't from opposing sides anymore, but are part of a greater whole.

What would it feel like to cultivate such a sense of joy on Purim Katan, such a sense of elevated spirit, that we could seek to ascend to that place even without the megillah and the storytelling, the costumes and the gragers, the cookies and the schnapps?