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There are two major holidays that have similar names; Purim and Yom Hakipurim. The literal translation of Yom Hakipurim is: “A day that is similar to Purim.” A cursory glance at the two holidays seems to indicate the opposite. The two holidays have almost nothing in common. Yom Hakipurim is a day of fasting and prayer whereas Purim is day of lavish celebration. How then is Yom Hakipurim similar to Purim? Let us take a deeper look.
The highlight of Yom Kippur is the service of the kohen gadol. It was on this day that the kohen gadol entered the holy of holies four times and performed an elaborate and complex service. Much of the holiday focuses on his service. Let us highlight some of the major points of his service.
(1) The Mishna, Gemara and commentaries (Yoma) describe in detail how seven days before Yom Kippur the kohen gadol was sequestered and prepared for his Yom Kippur service.
(2) Early Yom Kippur morning after the offering of the tamid, ketores and the lighting of the menorah the kohen gadol would be presented with two identical he-goats. The Kohen gadol would then cast lots to determine which he-goat would have its blood sprinkled in the holy of holies and which one would go to Azazel. The one selected for Azazel would later be sent to its death by being thrown off a cliff.
(3) The kohen gadol enters the holy of holies for the first time and offers fragrant incense.
(4) The kohen gadol enters the holy of holies a second time and sprinkles the blood of his personal bull offering.
(5) The kohen gadol slaughters the he-goat that was selected by the lottery and enters the holy of holies a third time and sprinkles its blood.
(6) The kohen gadol confesses the sins of the Jewish people on the other he-goat that was chosen by lottery for Azazel and it is sent to its death by being thrown off a cliff.
(7) Later in the day, after the Kohen gadol finishes offering the musaffim he returns to the holy of holies for the fourth time and retrieves the spoon and shovel that were used to offer incense earlier that day.
(8) The following day the kohen gadol makes a great feast celebrating his survival and success in the performance of the service of Yom Kippur.Let us now list some of the major events of the Megilah.
(1) The Megilah begins with an elaborate and detailed discussion as to how Esther was crowned the new queen of Achashveirosh.
(2) Haman plans to annihilate the Jewish people. In preparation, he cast lots as to determine the exact day to carry out his plan.
(3) Esther discovers Haman’s plans and enters the inner chamber of the King for the first time. This was the first step of her plan to request the annulment of Haman’s evil decree. She asks the King to come to a party later that day.
(4) Esther meets with the King for the second time at the party and requests that he attend another party the following day together with Haman.
(5) On the following day at the party, Esther meets with the King for the third time. She reveals her Jewish lineage and informs the King of Haman’s evil plan.
(6) Haman is executed.
(7) Esther meets with the King for the fourth time and continues to plead that the evil decree be annulled.
(8) The following year the Jewish people celebrate the Purim miracle and declare it a permanent holiday for all time
When examining the sequence of events both in regard to the Yom Kippur service and the miracle of Purim we discover some similarities. If we contrast the two we may learn one from the other and gain deeper insight into both the service of Yom Kippur and the Purim miracle.
(1) Chazal teach us the Hashem creates the antidote before the sickness. Chazal specifically illustrate this concept with the Purim story. Before Haman cast lots to destroy the Jewish people, Hashem already put Queen Esther in place so that she would be instrumental in saving the Jewish people. Likewise seven days before the Day of Judgment the kohen gadol was sequestered and prepared to serve as the agent of the Jewish people on the Day of Judgment and save them from harm.
(2) After the kohen gadol is in position and the daily service is performed the lots are cast for the he-goats. The casting of the lots may be interpreted as a symbolic representation and recognition of the Attribute of Justice. When the attribute of Justice prevails it appears as if everything happens by chance. When Hashem chooses to hide His Divine Presence we witness the suffering of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked. It appears as if reward and punishment happen by chance. This is nothing other than the Attribute of Judgment. The kohen gadol is presented with two animals, one will be slaughtered for the holy service and the other at this point will remain alive. The selection seems to be pure chance. It seems not fair that the one selected for the holy service is slaughtered while the other one remains alive. Indeed, this concept of chance is the ideology of the wicked Haman. Haman did not believe in Divine Providence. In his opinion whatever happens in this world is a matter of pure chance. Haman used his power and relationship with the King to attempt to destroy the Jewish people. He felt that he was the lucky one. To express his beliefs he chose to carry out his plan by employing the use of a lottery, the tool of chance.
(3) After the kohen gadol has symbolically emphasized and recognized the attribute of justice through the lottery he begins the process of asking Hashem to forgive the Jewish people and replace the Attribute of Justice with the Attribute of Mercy. He enters the holy of holies, the place where the Divine Presence rests and offers fragrant incense. This is the kohen gadol’s first personal audience with Hashem, similar to Esther’s first audience with the King. When Esther entered the inner chamber of the King she chose not to make her request immediately but to gradually build up her relationship with the King. The kohen gadol acted in a similar manner. The kohen gadol enters and offers fragrant incense to find favor in the eyes of Hashem and leaves.
(4) The kohen gadol enters the holy of holies a second time with his personal bull offering. This corresponds to Esther’s second meeting with the King. Just as Esther further developed her relationship with the King by inviting him to her personal party, likewise the kohen gadol further develops his personal relationship with Hashem by offering Hashem his personal bull.
(5) The kohen gadol enters a third time with the blood of the he-goat. The he-goat was selected by the lottery. This symbolically represents the fate of the Jewish people who seemingly have been chosen by chance to be harmed. The kohen gadol sprinkles this blood as a symbolic prayer that Hashem through his Divine Providence not allow the Jewish people to be subjected to what appears the fate of the Divine Justice. This corresponds to the third time Esther met with the King. At this party Esther revealed her Jewish roots and pleaded that the Jewish people should not be victims of the fate of Haman’s lottery.
(6) The Kohen confesses all the sins of the Jewish people on the he-goat and it is taken out to be killed. This action is symbolic of our faith that Hashem has accepted the prayer of the kohen gadol that we not be abandoned to the fate of chance. The lottery has now turned in our favor. The other he-goat that was selected by the lottery will be destroyed along with all the sins of the Jewish people. This corresponds to Haman being taken to hid execution.
(7) Later in the day after the musaffim are offered the kohen gadol returns to the holy of holies for the fourth time to retrieve the spoon. This corresponds to fourth time Esther meets the King and pleads that the evil decree of Haman be annulled. It is noteworthy that Esther pleaded that the evil thoughts of Haman be “taken back.” Likewise the kohen gadol entered the holy of holies to “take back” the spoon. The spoon is in Hebrew is called a “kaf.” When the guardian of Esav fought with Yaakov he touched the “kaf” of Yaakov. Esav our enemy has his hand on the “kaf.” By removing the “kaf” we are symbolically asking Hashem that he “take back” the evil plans of our enemy.
(8) The following day the kohen gadol make a great feast to celebrate his survival. Chazal tell us that many times a kohen gadol did not survive the service of Yom Kippur. Many died in the holy of holies due to their not being spiritually fit to serve in such a capacity. This celebration corresponds to the year following the Purim miracle. At that point the Jewish people celebrated the miracle and declared it a holiday for all time.
The Gemara tells us that all the steps listed in connection with the service of Yom Kippur are written in chronological order with the exception of the removal of the kaf and shovel (7) (Yoma 71a). Although the Torah lists this immediately after the service of the bull and the he-goat, in truth it took place later in the day after the offering of the special Yom Kippur musaffim. The posuk does not list the service in chronological order. It first lists the removal of the kaf and shovel and then lists the musaffim and other things related to the Yom Kippur service.
Now that we have compared the events in the Megilah to the service of Yom Hakipurim we may suggest that the part of the Megilah (8:3-6) that corresponds to the removal of the spoon and shovel also did not take place at the time it was recorded but later. The Megilah could have omitted the additional request of Esther and we would have perhaps not even noticed. The Megilah has already recorded Esther’s plea for the Jewish people at the second party. Why was it necessary for her to continue and plead again? Furthermore, why in this plea does Esther refer to the decree as the “thought” of Haman?
We may suggest that this segment of the Megilah homiletically alludes to prayer Esther made after the conclusion of Purim miracle to the Kings of Kings. She prayed that Hashem should prevent any new plans of the enemy come to fruition for all future generations.
The service of Yom Kippur was performed by one individual in a private setting. On the other hand the Purim story was public and directly affected the life of every Jew. The actions of both Esther and the kohen gadol were similar. Chazal tell us that we should never underestimate the power and effect of a mitzvah. We may perform a mitzvah in private; however, our action may be turning over worlds. The relationship between Yom Kippur and Purim is one example of how one man’s symbolic actions parallel events throughout the world.
We may now understand the literal translation of Yom Hakipurim. It was a day that was like Purim.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5763/2003