How is the holiday of Purim different than all other Jewish festivals?
Most of the Jewish holidays are related in some way or another. For example, Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot can be called “triplets” (fraternal) as on all three we celebrate the Exodus from Egypt. The prayers on these holidays are virtually the same, and although each has its own distinct mitzvah, the laws are the same for all three. Another example is Purim and Chanukah. I call them “cousins.”
Purim is a minor holiday day in which we celebrate our survival in the wake of Haman’s plot to exterminate the Jewish people. It’s cousin, Chanukah is a minor holiday of equal standing in which we celebrate the Maccabee’s victory over the Syrian-Greeks, and by extension, the celebration of religious freedom for the Jewish people who were being persecuted for their way of life.
Like the three Biblical “pilgrimage holidays” mentioned above, the general atmosphere of both Purim and Chanukah are the same. And there are no work restrictions on either Chanukah or Purim, as they are “minor holidays.” However, they each have their own distinct mitzvah. The central mitzvah of Purim is the reading of the Megilla, the story of Esther, and the central mitzvah of Chanukah is the lighting of the menorah, the candelabra.
However, Purim and Chanukah are celebrated in very different ways. The theme and way to celebrate Purim is essentially to “eat, drink, and be merry” while the central celebration of Chanukah is to “give thanks and praise to God.” There is no true requirement to have any elaborate meals on Chanukah.
Why the difference?
It is explained that on Purim (as with most Jewish holidays!) we thank God for saving our lives, saving our bodies. Haman wanted to kill every Jew. No exceptions. No different than Hitler. Because our “bodies” were saved, we celebrate with our bodies. There is a requirement to have an elaborate meal on Purim, to give gifts of food to others, and to increase our alcohol consumption. On Chanukah, however, God saved our “souls,” our religion. The Syrian Greeks really had no interest in exterminating the Jews. They just wanted everyone to ban Judaism and have everyone observe their religion and their way of life. As such, Chanukah is celebrated in a religious and spiritual manner.
But make no mistake. Purim is not just another “party,” rather, it is a spiritual celebration–with material props–for all the help and miracles that God does for us each and every day. So when you drink up on Purim, be sure to do so for the right reasons!
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel