The Special Joy of Purim
The Gemara tells in Masechet Shabbat that at the time of the Purim miracle, the Jews reaffirmed their acceptance of the Torah. The first time our nation announced their acceptance of the Torah, of course, was at Mount Sinai, when the Torah was first given. The Gemara tells that at that time, the Jews accepted the Torah against their will, as G-d suspended the mountain over them and threatened to kill them if they did not accept it. At the time of the Purim miracle, they accepted it anew, only this time without any coercion.
How might we explain this reaffirmation of Kabbalat Ha’Torah? What is the significance of the Jews’ reacceptance of the Torah at time of the Purim story?
The Mishna famously teaches in Pirkeh Abot (4:2), “Misva Goreret Misva” – one Misva leads to another. If a person performs a Misva, he is naturally led to perform another. As the Mishna proceeds to teach, the reward for one Misva is another Misva.
The question arises as to how to reconcile the Mishna’s teaching with empirical evidence. Is it really true that one Misva leads to another? Don’t we all know, unfortunately, people who were very committed to Torah learning and Misva observance and have since become nonobservant? Haven’t we seen people try taking on Misvot but then give it up? And can we ourselves honestly say that every time we perform a Misva we are naturally drawn to performing another?
The Ba’al Shem Tob, among others, answered by explaining the Mishna as referring only to those Misvot which one performs with joy and enthusiasm. If a person feels excited over the privilege of serving our King, then this excitement will propel him to perform even more Misvot. If a famous and distinguished person asked us for even a small favor, such as bringing him a cup of coffee, we would assuredly rush with great excitement to fulfill his wish. This is the mindset with which we should be approaching all Misvot, even the seemingly “small” and “minor” obligations that we have to the Almighty. If the Creator of the universe is asking to do even a small “favor,” shouldn’t we feel excited? Indeed, this Mishna in Abot begins by exhorting us to show as much care and attention to “small” Misvot as we do to “larger” Misvot. And if we approach all Misvot with this kind of enthusiasm, then “Misva Goreret Misva” – each Misva we perform with joy and excitement will lead us to another Misva.
The reason why Misvot do not always inspire us to perform additional Misvot is because we too often perform them by rote, or even begrudgingly. We have a tendency to perform Misvot simply because we have to, or because this is what is expected, but without sincere feeling and joy. And thus they do not have the effect of “Misva Goreret Misva.”
It has been suggested that this is the Gemara’s intent in telling us about the Jews’ reaffirmation of their acceptance of the Torah at the time of the Purim story. The Gemara says, “Hadar Kibluha Bi’ymeh Ahashverosh,” which is commonly understood to mean, “They accepted it again during the time of Ahashverosh.” However, this phrase can also be interpreted to mean that the Jews accepted the Torah in a manner that had the effect of “Hadar” – repeating their Misva performance. At the time of the Purim miracle, they accepted the Torah out of joy and with enthusiasm, and this ensured that every Misva would lead to another. This is the significance of the Jews’ reacceptance of the Torah in the wake of this miracle.
The special joy of Purim is the joy of Misvot, the joy of recognizing that the Almighty wants us, and only us, to serve Him. The more we feel this sense of privilege, and the more excitement we experience when we observe the Misvot, the more we will experience the process of “Misva Goreret Misva,” the process of continued growth and ongoing, lifelong advancement in our service of Hashem.