Our Sages teach us that Purim is an even holier day than Yom Kippur, but this feeling of holiness can be hard to access. Especially for women, who are often very busy with the physical preparations and demands of the day, Purim can be a challenging holiday to relate to on a spiritual level. For that reason, many women find themselves feeling disconnected from the lofty ideals of the day.
These ideals, and the mitzvos of the day, are universal, but the way in which we connect to them must be personalized in order for our Purim to be meaningful. To do this, we need to utilize our own unique personality and strengths when relating to and engaging in the avoda (spiritual work) of Purim. This self-awareness of who we are and what works to connect us to Purim will help us (and those around us!) have a better experience overall and reduce the feelings of stress and burnout that come from pushing ourselves too hard, particularly in areas that don’t come as naturally to our personalities.
In his sefer Michtav M’Eliyahu, Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler explains that every individual’s personality is rooted in one of three key traits and ways of interacting with the world: chesed (loving-kindness), gevura (courageous submission to Hashem’s authority), and emes (living a life guided by a worldview of truth).* This orientation is both what drives the person and what informs his or her perspective on life.
In addition to providing us with increased self-awareness in general, this framework can also be helpful when considering improved ways of connecting to the mitzvos and holiday of Purim that are in congruence with our personality type and strengths. Of course, as with any personality system, people may not fit exactly into one “box” and can – and should! – learn from and borrow from the positive aspects of the other traits as well. Nevertheless, in order to feel energized emotionally and spiritually, it is best to start with the personality trait that we most naturally relate to.
According to Rav Dessler, someone whose root character trait and outlook is chesed “mainly focuses on others and how they can improve things for them – or have an influence on their lives.”
For the chesed personality, Purim offers many opportunities for connection, as many of the mitzvos – such as mishloach manos (sending food packages), seuda (the festive meal), and matanos la’evyonim (gifts to the poor) – are of an interpersonal nature.
For example, the goal of giving mishloach manos, according to Rav Shlomo Alkabetz (in Sefer Manos Halevi), is to increase friendship. If we give mishloach manos in a way that connects us to the other person, we fulfill the purpose of the mitzva. Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well. When we are in a rush to exchange gifts, we may inadvertently overlook the person on the other side of the door.
This was Michal’s* experience. She shares that one year she spent a lot of time coming up with a meaningful poem and beautifully-themed mishloach manos, but only one person complimented her on her creative presentation. She felt that people were so rushed that they didn’t have time to really connect or even notice what she had given them.
According to Rabbi Menachem Goldberger, this is the exact opposite of what we are trying to achieve. “When you love someone, you give them gifts as an expression of that love,” he says. “Gifts help a person express the emotions that lie beneath the surface and build up his or her connection with the other person. That is exactly what mishloach manos are supposed to do – to join us together and increase our love for each other.”
The chesed personality can use her natural drive to connect to others in a way that accomplishes this goal of increasing friendship. Practically, it may mean cutting down your list so that you have more time to focus on the individuals you choose to give to.
The Rambam writes in Mishneh Torah, “There is no greater and more beautiful simcha (joy) than gladdening the hearts of the poor, orphans, widows, and strangers” and that this should be our focus when doing the mitzvos of the day. He goes so far to say that that is what the simcha of Purim comes from – helping others. He continues, “For one who gladdens the hearts of these unfortunate people is likened to the Shechina (Divine Presence)…” In the Rambam’s view, true simchas Purim only comes through ensuring that those who may feel the most alone and vulnerable are included in our celebrations.
Dina Hoffman,* a young mother of two, shares that by making simpler packages that did not require refrigeration and could be prepared in advance she was able to give to many people that she would not have otherwise – particularly elderly neighbors and nonobservant friends.
Someone with a chesed personality can seek out those who are more likely to feel disconnected from others and would appreciate being thought of. Abi Brandriss, who moved back to the U.S. from Germany, where she lived for two years with her family, shares: “I find the bein adam l’chaveiro (interpersonal) aspects of Purim to be uplifting. It’s gratifying to see, through mishloach manot, that we and our children have become part of the community, and to realize the full scope of the community, including its reliance on us, through matanot la’evyonim. Inviting someone to share the seuda with us similarly leads to a feeling of connection.”
According to Rabbi Goldberger, the more mishloach manos we can give, the better, as each one has the potential to increase friendship. (However, if it is a choice between distributing more mishloach manos and giving more to matanos la’evyonim, Rabbi Goldberger encourages doing the latter.) Nevertheless, as mentioned above, it’s not what – or how many – we give, but how we give them. It is important to know ourselves and how many mishloach manos we can give without feeling burnt out.
Because the actual mitzva only requires giving one person two different foods, some people find it helpful to distribute some of their mishloach manos on a different day. For example, children can bring their mishloach manos to school the day before Purim for their teachers and friends. This way, you can let them know that you appreciate or are thinking of them even if you can’t get to their house on Purim day. Tzedaka cards can serve a similar purpose and, if sent with a personalized message, can also be a way of connecting to others.
On Purim day itself, take a minute to focus on the connection being forged with the gift you are giving to the other person. Alternatively, if you’re the one receiving the gift, reflecting on the gift received and complimenting the giver can also help accomplish the goal of re’us, friendship.
Our seudos can also be a great way to develop connections with others. In addition to inviting families who will contribute Torah and camaraderie to your seuda, think about who you can reach out to who is new to the community or who may feel alone for some reason. In the words of the Rambam, “When one eats and drinks [on Yom Tov] he is obligated to feed also the convert, the orphan, and the widow, amongst other unfortunates. Someone who shuts his doors and eats and drinks with his wife and children and does not feed the poor or embittered people, this is not the simcha of a mitzva; rather, it is the simcha of his stomach.”
In addition, think about how you can make the seuda more meaningful for all participants, whether through preparing divrei Torah, having those who are musical bring an instrument, or coming up with games or activities for the children.
Another way the chesed personality can infuse their Purim with meaning is by setting aside some time to visit a nursing home or a hospital (it’s always good to check with the facility in advance). Men can read Megilla for the residents or patients, if they have the ability. In addition to transforming the patients’ Purim, you will elevate your own.
A few years ago, in an attempt to transform other people’s Purim, three women – Elaine Gerstenfeld, Adriana Steinberg, and Leslie Goldberg – organized a program called “Beyond the Mask.” Jews of all religious backgrounds met in a central location on Purim day to get to know each other and exchange mishloach manos.
While not everyone is able to execute such an event, we can learn from these women’s enthusiasm to reach out to others on Purim and find our own way of forging a connection with others.
According to Rav Dessler, someone with the trait of gevura is primarily inner-focused and thinks deeply about his actions and their effect.
Someone with gevura, or yiras Shamayim, is motivated to do the mitzvos “the right way.” One way a person with this orientation can connect to the holiday of Purim is by learning the halachos so that he or she can better understand how to fulfill all of the mitzvos of the day. In addition, someone with this personality finds it easier to look deeply at themselves and their behaviors as compared to someone who is more outward-focused, like the chesed personality. They can utilize this focus in improving their mitzva observance and avodas Hashem by doing a cheshbon hanefesh (contemplating where they are now and how they can move forward in their spiritual growth). The gevura person can use this approach to think about how she can improve in her fulfillment of the mitzvos of Purim and put a plan into place for doing so.
Gevura-oriented people are often more attuned to the power of tefila (prayer). Despite knowing that Purim is an auspicious time for tefila, many people do not have time to devote to davening because the other mitzvos of the day are so time consuming.
Dina Hoffman shares that in order to make her Purim more meaningful (and manageable!), she and her husband began attending a neitz (sunrise) minyan on Purim morning, while her mother babysits for their children. She finds that this way she has a chance to daven, hear Megilla without a lot of noise and interruptions, and connect to the power of tefila on Purim. In addition to starting her day earlier, she noticed a big difference in how she relates to Purim in general.
For people who are night owls, staying up Purim night to say tehilim is another great way to connect to the power of tefila. In the past, a number of Baltimore shuls have opened their doors for late night tehilim. So far this year, Ohr Hachaim will[CBL1] be open beginning at 4:30 a.m., and other shuls may do this as well.
Rav Shlomo Wolbe, in Alei Shur, describes the theme of Purim as being tznius, defined as the ability to look below the surface. The gevura personality can take this trait and use it to better connect to the themes of Purim. For example, reading the Megilla with a deeper focus on what was happening beyond the basic storyline to bring about the salvation can be transformational. The gevura personality can also use this focus in her own life as well by appreciating all of the things that had to happen in order to get her to where she is now or to bring about a particular yeshua (salvation). Doing this creates a more personal connection to the miracle of Purim.
The customs of dressing up and drinking also have to do with learning to look beyond the surface, as costumes show that things are not as they seem, and alcohol can serve to reveal internal, more hidden aspects of a person. Similarly, the gevura personality can use her natural way of relating to the world to look beneath the surface and deepen her connection to Purim.
According to Rav Dessler, someone whose root trait is emes is a truth-seeker who constantly strives to find the correct and ideal path in serving Hashem, without going toward either extreme. Emes is intimately connected to Torah, which outlines the ideal path for the Jewish people to follow in serving Hashem.
An emes personality looks to find the best way to grow by balancing aspects of both chesed and gevura. An emes personality can therefore use aspects of both traits, as discussed above, to connect to Purim. In addition, someone with an emes-oriented personality will find that setting aside time in the weeks leading up to Purim to learn something about the Yom Tov – either by learning with someone else, reading a book, or listening to an audio shiur – can greatly enhance how she relates to it.
Avital Schaffer learned The Queen You Thought You Knew: Unmasking Esther’s Hidden Story, by Rabbi David Fohrman, with a phone chavrusa during the month leading up to Purim. In addition to feeling more spiritually prepared for Purim, she felt like it completely changed the way she related to the Megilla.
For someone with an emes personality, it can be helpful to focus on one idea or theme of Purim that resonates and think about how it fits with other ideas she has learned and how she can connect to that concept when doing the mitzvos of Purim itself.
Of course, the greatest way to learn something is to teach it! An emes personality may enjoy preparing and giving a shiur or writing an article related to an aspect of the Purim avoda. This will help her relate to that concept on an even deeper level since it has become a more deeply established kinyan (spiritual acquisition).
Teaching Purim ideas to children – especially our own! – can be very meaningful as well. It also serves to reinforce those ideas in ourselves. Spending some time thinking about the main themes of Purim and how you can convey them in an exciting and meaningful way can greatly enhance Purim for both you and your children.
Rachel Sagal shares that listening to Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s “Bringing Torah to Life: Deepening Our Children’s Jewish Experience” shiur on Naaleh.com gave her ideas that helped both her and her children connect better to the themes of the day.
For someone who relates best to emes, hosting or attending a seuda that includes many divrei Torah can make a big difference.
Take your own personality and strengths into account when planning your Purim. Your day will be more enjoyable and meaningful if you are mindful about carving out some time to connect to Purim in your own way, either before Purim or on it, and you will feel more energized and excited to do the mitzvos of the day.
* The concept and translation of the three personality types are based on Mrs. Batya Gallant’s powerful work, Stages of Spiritual Growth: Resolving the Tension between Self-Expression and Submission to Divine Will.
* a pseudonym