CLERGY CORNER: Purim vs. Yom Kippur

Posted on 17 March 2016 by LeslieM

It would seem that one could hardly find two more dissimilar days in the Jewish calendar. Yom Kippur is the most solemn day of the year. It is a day of soul-searching and repentance; the day on which we connect with the inviolable core of purity within us — with the self that remains forever unsullied by our failings and transgressions — to draw from it atonement for the past and resolve for the future. So it is only natural that Yom Kippur should be a day of unfettered spirituality, a day on which we transcend our very physicality in order to commune with our spiritual essence.

The Torah commands us to “afflict ourselves” on Yom Kippur — to deprive the body of food and drink and all physical pleasures. Yom Kippur is the day on which terrestrial man most resembles the celestial angel.

Purim, on the other hand, is the most physical day of the year. It is a day of feasting and drinking — the Talmud goes so far as to state that “a person is obligated to drink on Purim until he does not know the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai.’”

As our sages explain, Purim celebrates the salvation of the Jewish body. There are festivals (such as Chanukah) that remember a time when the Jewish soul was threatened, when our enemies strove to uproot our faith and profane the sanctity of our lives; these are accordingly marked with “spiritual” observances (e.g. lighting the menorah, reciting the Hallel).

On Purim, however, it was the Jewish body that was saved. Haman did not plot to assimilate or paganize the Jews, but to physically destroy every Jewish man, woman and child on the face of the Earth. Purim is thus celebrated by reading the megillah, lavishing money on the poor, sending gifts of food to friends, eating a sumptuous meal and drinking oneself to “oblivion”.

On Yom Kippur, we fast and pray, on Purim we party. Yet the Zohar sees the two days as intrinsically similar, going so far as to interpret the name Yom haKippurim (as the Torah calls Yom Kippur) to mean that it is “a day like Purim” (yom k’purim)!

Yom Kippur is indeed “a day like Purim”: both are points in physical time that transcend the very laws of physical existence. Points at which we rise above the rational structure of reality and affirm our supra-rational bond with G-d — a bond not touched by the vicissitudes of mortal life, a bond as free of cause and motive as the free-falling lot.

But there is also a significant difference between these two days. On Yom Kippur, our transcendence is expressed by our disavowal of all trappings of physical life. But the very fact that these would “interfere” with the supra-existential nature of the day indicates that we are not utterly free of them. Thus, Yom Kippur is only “a day like Purim” (k’purim), for it achieves only a semblance of the essence of Purim.

The ultimate transcendence of materiality is achieved not by depriving the body and suppressing the physical self, but by transforming the physical into an instrument of the divine will.

So “Purim” is the day on which we are our most physical, and, at the same time, exhibit a self-abnegation to G-d that transcends all dictates and parameters of the physical-rational state — transcending even the axioms “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai.”

Yom Kippur is the day that empowers the Jew to rise above the constraints of physicality and rationality. Purim is the day that empowers the Jew to live a physical life that is the vehicle for a supra-physical, supra-rational commitment to G-d.

Rabbi Tzvi Dechter is the Director of Chabad of North Broward Beaches. New location soon! For all upcoming events, please visit

[Purim is coming up March 23-24!]

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