Purim's Unique Mode of Rest
Translated by Kaeren Fish
Chazal make the following rather surprising statement regarding Purim:
"All the festivals are destined to be void (in the messianic age), but the days of Purim will never be voided, as it is written: 'And the days of Purim will not pass away from among the Jews.'" (Midrash Mishlei, parasha 9)(1)
The same idea, with a slightly different slant, is brought by the Rambam as well, at the end of Hilkhot Megilla:
"And even though all memory of our sorrows will be forgotten, as it is written, 'When the earlier troubles are forgotten and when they are hidden from my eyes...', the days of Purim will not be forgotten, as it is written..."
Here in the Rambam it is not the festivals which are going to disappear into oblivion, but rather the memory of our troubles. But that doesn't fit in with the literal, plain meaning of the Midrash, which explicitly mentions the festivals which are destined to be cancelled. (2) But it seems most surprising that Purim, which was instituted entirely by the Rabbis, should be more worthy of eternal commemoration than the festivals commanded by the Torah.
The idea of 'menucha' (rest) is mentioned in several places in the Megilla. Here are some examples:
"And on the fourteenth day (of the month of Adar) they rested and made it a day of feasting and joy." (9:17)
"And the Jews who were in Shushan... rested on the fifteenth day and made it..." (9:18)
"As the days upon which the Jews rested from their enemies..." (9:22)
What "rest" is being referred to here? Certainly, there is an aspect of relaxation and unwinding following the exertion of warfare. In all the provinces of Achashverosh's kingdom, the Jews gathered together and fought on the 13th of Adar and then rested on the 14th, while in Shushan, the capital, they continued fighting throughout the 14th and reached the state of "rest" only on the 15th.
But the Sages' exegesis on the subject of rest on Shabbat reveals a different understanding of the essence of rest. In Massekhet Megilla (9a) we learn that among the alterations which the Sages made in the Septuagint (their translation of Tanakh into Greek at the order of King Ptolemy) was a pasuk describing the first Shabbat, in Sefer Bereishit. They changed the pasuk to read, "And God completed on the sixth day... and He rested on the seventh." Rashi explains the reason why they decided against a literal translation of the Hebrew text ("and God completed on the seventh day...") as follows: "In order that the Greeks would not claim that God performed labor on the seventh day, for they would not accept the Sages' exegesis which teaches, 'What was the world lacking? Rest. When Shabbat came, rest came into the world, and creation was thereby completed.'"
In other words, 'menucha' is more than simply the opposite of exertion and work. It is a positive entity in its own right; it is the creation and entity which appeared in the world as Shabbat began.
In the same way that rest exists in time, there is also a menucha which exists in space: "This is My resting place (menuchati) for ever and ever, here I shall dwell, for I have desired it", says God concerning the site of the Beit HaMikdash (Tehillim 132). The Beit HaMikdash, standing in its place in Jerusalem, is the dwelling place of menucha, and therefore only a person who represented menucha - Shlomo HaMelekh - could build it.
The construction of this dwelling place certainly requires menucha also in the negative sense, i.e., a situation of rest from all enemies. For this reason Halakha teaches that the war of Amalek must precede the construction of the Beit HaMikdash (Rambam, Hilkhot Melakhim 1:2). This negative aspect of rest, however, is not sufficient. The construction of the Beit HaMikdash also requires a higher form of menucha; a positive menucha like the one associated with the sanctified time-frame of Shabbat. Therefore even David HaMelekh, who eventually achieved a state of rest from all his enemies, could not build it. The task was left to his son Shlomo, the epitome of menucha. (3)
The war against Amalek and their obliteration are meant to come about after achieving the "lower" form of menucha, the negative aspect, as it is written, "And it shall be when God gives you rest from all your enemies about... you shall obliterate the memory of Amalek..." (Devarim 25:19). The rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash, on the other hand, is to come about with the advent of the 'higher', positive aspect of menucha.
The events of the 13th of Adar of that year in the provinces of Achashverosh's kingdom represented a war against Amalek, and for that reason we read on Purim the Torah portion concerning the war against Amalek (at the end of Parashat Beshalach).
The menucha which is mentioned in the megilla may therefore be of the category which is meant to come about following the wiping out of Amalek - a higher menucha, which leads to the building of the Beit HaMikdash.
Even if we do not hold that this was the menucha of that year, their menucha certainly at least contained the relaxation following war, and the Purim celebrated for all generations takes on the aspect of the higher menucha which is not connected to war but rather an entity which stands alone.
Perhaps it is for this reason that Purim was not declared to be commemorated on the day upon which they fought against and obliterated the Amalekites of their generation. It was rather the following day which was set aside for this purpose - the day of 'menucha.'
From this perspective, Purim has something of a Shabbat quality about it; something of the independent and unconditional menucha. Not menucha from the toil of the week, but rather a creation called menucha which exists independently. And so it is a permanent and stable menucha, not dependent on anything and never to be cancelled. On the contrary - the whole essence of the messianic era is characterized by a spilling over of this aspect of menucha from Shabbat into the entire week, creating an eternal Shabbat.
(1) In the continuation of this Midrash, R. Elazar states that "Yom Kippur, too, will never be voided, as it is written, 'And this shall be for you a statute for all time, to atone for Bnei Yisrael for all their sins once a year.' This represents yet another connection between Yom Ha-Kippurim and Purim, a connection which the mystics later pointed out.
(2) This may conform with the opinion of Rav Yosef (Nidda 61b), who taught that that "[All] the mitzvot will be voided in the time to come." I make mention of the Rishonim and Acharonim who expound on this statement in my article, "Pedagogic Issues in Massekhet Nidda" which appeared in the Hebrew journal "Insights in Education," 15, p. 113ff.
(3) As explained in Divrei HaYamim I 22:9. If David had built the Beit HaMikdash, even if he did so only after God had given him rest from all his enemies (as he in fact requested - see Shmuel II, beginning of perek 7), this would be a state of rest which came about following many wars. The nature of this 'menucha' would be the negation of war. In order for the Beit HaMikdash to be built, Shlomo HaMelekh was required. His very essence was 'menucha', such that in his case menucha was a positive quality in its own right.