Pirsumei Nisa as a State of Being

Pirsumei Nisa, the publicizing of the miracles God did for us, stands as the central value of Purim. Classically Keriat HaMegillah, the reading of the Megillah, is understood to be the prime instrument by which we broadcast God’s kindness that permeates the Purim story, albeit covertly. The Gemara invokes this notion to explain why reading the Megillah should take precedence over other mitzvot.1 While there are many other mitzvot hayom, the Megillah seems to take center stage, at least when it comes to ensuring our message reaches our audience. However, properly understood, this principle will be seen to manifest itself in a far more fundamental way.

In an enigmatic passage at the beginning of the fifth chapter of Berachot (31a), Rabbi Yochanan cites Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai as saying, “It is forbidden to fill one’s mouth with laughter in this world, as it says, ‘Then [i.e. then and not now] shall our mouths be filled with laughter and our tongues with joyous songs (Tehillim 126:2).’ When [will it be appropriate to laugh?] When ‘they will say among the nations, “God has done great with these (ibid).”’” Without entering into the technical legal discussion concerning the parameters of this statement, the sentiment expressed is that our current days inhibit proper expression of joy, while the Messianic age calls for it. Why? What does this indicate about the nature of happiness?

In the comments of Talmidei Rabbenu Yonah (Gerona, 13th century, Dapei HaIlfas 21b-22a), the following suggestion is proposed:

When will our mouths be filled with laughter and joy will be permitted? When [God] will perform miracles for us and save us. Then, at that time, we will rejoice to reveal his wonders and his mighty acts, and the nations will say “God has done great with these,” and they will see our joy and be shamed. And this joy, which is the joy of the Creator, is a great mitzvah because of pirsumei nisa. Similar to this is what was said in the Midrash (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1), “This is the day that God has made, let us rejoice and be happy bo, [lit. in it/him – leaving an ambiguity as to whether we are rejoicing on the day, or with our relationship with God, which the Midrash resolves], meaning to say “in God.” Meaning to say, even though this day is a holiday and miracles and wonders were done for us and we rejoice in them, still, the primary joy is not because of the holiday but because of God, to publicize all the great things and all the wonders that He does with us.

Rabbenu Yonah writes that our demeanor should be a reflection of our recognition of God’s presence in our lives. When God is hidden, then displaying joy should be minimized. When, however, God redeems us and his presence becomes apparent, we should rejoice to show our recognition and appreciation of all God has done. This joy expresses our inner selves, our relationship with God, and our joy itself proclaims God’s greatness to the world. In other words, we become walking expressions of pirsumei nisa.

From this interpretation, a different perspective on Purim emerges. The pesukim emphasize that the days of Purim were celebrated in Shushan (Ester 9:17-18), and continue to be commemorated as yimei mishteh vesimcha, days of feasting and happiness (Ester 9:22). The other mitzvot on the day engender joy in us, our friends, and those less fortunate, who we make a special effort to remember on Purim. We join with others in feasts, send mishloach manot to friends, and provide food for the destitute, matanot laevyonim. Rabbi Yehuda bar Kalonimus (Germany, 12th century, in Erkei Tanaaim, Section Rav Yehoshua Bereih deRav Idi, page 180,)2 asserts that the fact that the meal must take place during the day (Megillah 7b), and all the other mitzvot are done then too, indicates that they all express pirsumei nisa. Thus, they must be done when people are around to see them. He even claims that the meal is the primary recognition of the miracle, and provides technical reasons to explain why we say the beracha on the reading of the Megillah (Section Rav Yeyeba Saba, page 503).3 The Meiri (Provence, 13th century, in Pesachim 68b) even argues that while fasting for repentance or a bad dream is permitted on Shabbat, it is not on Purim because of Pirsumei Nisa, implying that the Pirsumei Nisa inherent in the meal on Purim is even more important than Oneg Shabbat! We rejoice so that our very beings tell the story of Purim, an incomparable sanctification of the name of God.

Our joy, our living lives of Kiddush Hashem does more to spread knowledge of God than any formal mitzvah ever could. This does not mitigate the importance of actually articulating the reason for our joy by telling the story through Keriat HaMegillah. The Megillah provides the context for the other mitzvot performed throughout the day. Furthermore, as the Gemara (Megillah 14a) states, the Megillah doubles as the Hallel of Purim. Even the ceremonial recitation of the Megillah directly expresses our deep gratitude for God and the elation that follows.

While Purim is the most poignant example of this kind of avodat Hashem, the model it establishes must guide us throughout the year. As the Chatam Sofer (Shut Chatam Sofer Yoreh Deah 233) notes, even if saying Hallel is only a rabbinic commandment, the principle that underlies the obligation, that we must thank God whenever He has helped us, derives from the Torah. For him, this is the basis of the holidays of Purim and Chanukah and the mitzvot that accompany them. While on a daily basis we don’t thank God for the overt miracles, we do thank him for the daily miracle that is life. As the Gemara says (Shabbat 118b), to say Hallel HaMitzri every day, to focus only on earthshattering miracles, implying that God only deserve recognition for the miracles the ilk of the splitting of the sea, is blasphemous. However, to say Ashrei every day assures us a place in the World to Come. Ashrei is the prayer that celebrates God’s sustaining of the world through the natural order. We aspire to be able to thank God and truly see God’s beneficence in the mundane.4 When we have internalized that gratitude and the lives we live proclaim to the world the beliefs and convictions that animate and energize us, are mefersem nissim, and sanctify the name of God.

1 The parameters of this principle are discussed in Megillah 3b.

2 Cited also in Torat Rishonim, Pesachim 68b.

3 Cited ibid.

4 This interpretation is supported by Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk in his comments in Meshech Chochmah to Vayikra 26:4 and Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg in Shut Tzitz Eliezer 10:12.-


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