There is a famous statement of the ARI’ZL which states that the hebrew words “Yom Kippurim” contain an allusion to Purim. If we break down the word Kippurim into a shorter word that is introduced by a prefix, i.e.-Ki-purim, we get the hebrew word Ki-Purim, meaning “like Purim”. The ARI’ZL explains that this allusion teaches us that Yom Kippur is only like the holiday of Purim but not as great. This statement of the ARI’ZL requires clarification. How can it be that Yom Kippur, the holiday when Jews from all walks of life come to shul and pray a whole day to Hashem while fasting the entire time, is on a lower level than the holiday of Purim? On Purim we spend most of our day eating, drinking, and making merry!
Perhaps the superiority of Purim over Yom Kippur can be understood by looking back in history at Hashem’s differing conduct on these two holidays.
The Ran, in his commentary on Maseches Rosh Ha’shana, asks why Hashem chose the tenth day of the month of Tishrei to be the Day of Atonement. The Ran answers that the tenth day of Tishrei was the day that Hashem forgave the Jews for the terrible sin of worshiping the golden calf. After 80 days of Moshe pleading and begging with Hashem, Hashem finally agreed -on the tenth day of Tishrei- to forgive the Jews. Since the sin of the golden calf was so severe (Hashem had wanted to wipe out the entire Jewish nation as a punishment for it), the fact that Hashem agreed to forgive the Jews was a tremendous manifestation of divine compassion. As a result, says the Ran, the tenth day of Tishrei became imbued with the power of forgiveness. Therefore Hashem chose this day to be the day of forgiveness and atonement, Yom Kippur, for all generations.
On the other hand, the holiday of Purim commemorates an even greater level of compassion on the part of Hashem. We can deduce this from an observation of the Peleh Yoetz. The Peleh Yoetz points out a phenomenal thing about how the story of Purim unfolded. He cites the gemarah in Maseches Megillah (12a) which says [according to Rashi’s interpretation] that as a punishment for partaking in the unkosher feast of Achashverash, the Jews were sentenced in heaven to extermination at the hands of Haman. Nevertheless, observes the Peleh Yoetz, at the very same time that the Jews were publicly sinning and arousing G-d’s anger, what was Hashem doing? As we all know, Hashem was setting in motion the process that eventually led to the Jew’s salvation! Hashem “arranged” for Achashverash to get drunk and make the ridiculous command that Queen Vashty his wife appear unclothed in front of his officers. This, in turn, led to Queen Vashty’s execution and set the stage for Esther to fill her place. The incredible thing about this was that Hashem was extending compassion at the very moment that the Jews were committing a sin of huge magnitude. Seemingly, this is a much greater display of mercy than what happened by the sin of the golden calf. The latter was a manifestation of mercy that came about after the sin was over, and after a long process of Moshe asking for forgiveness. By contrast, the mercy that Hashem showed on Purim was mercy during the time of the sin itself. This is a much higher level of divine mercy.
In light of this observation we can now appreciate the intent of the ARI’ZL’s statement that Purim is greater than Yom Kippur. The ARI’ZL meant that the amount of divine mercy extended during the events of Purim was greater than the amount of divine mercy shown on Yom Kippur after the sin of the golden calf. Consequently, the amount of mercy that we can ask from Hashem is greater on Purim than on Yom Kippur.
On this anniversary of Hashem’s supreme compassion for His people, let us pray to Him to help us all.
By Rabbi Baruch Sungolowsky