The Light of Purim and Shabbat
The other morning, this verse came to mind: “For the Jews there was light and joy, happiness and celebration.” This verse comes from the end of the Megillah, after the Jews had secured victory. It is also the line we say together during the Havdalah service. While it is clear that we say this verse in the Purim story in celebration after we have overcome the threat of annihilation, how is this verse connected to the end of Shabbat?
The line itself is interesting in that “light” and “joy” are linked together. Why do we say first light, and then joy? Is light a precursor to joy? We can look at light as representative of God or as symbolic of warmth, as the light of a fire would be. Or, more simply, light cheers us because it allows us to see clearly and not fear the darkness. After going through a dark time, the Jews received light. This light comes in the form of knowledge that God was with them and helped them triumph. This light is the hope that now they can live their lives safely and can follow their Judaism. In the Purim story, there is truly reason to celebrate.
In contrast, at the end of the Shabbat, it is dark and we are sad because Shabbat is over. We kindle the Havdalah candle and say this verse in hope. Right now it is dark and we have a full week until we get to have Shabbat again. We comfort ourselves by reciting the line from Purim to remind us that just as the Jews of Persia went through a terrible dark time and triumphed, so too can we get through the next week and once again kindle the Shabbat lights on Friday.
I think there is another way for us to view light. Not only can light represent God or an actual flame, it can represent each and every one of us. We all can be “lights” to each other. We can bring support, love, and warmth to each other. No matter what challenges we face, when we help family, friends, and our communities, we act as “lights” for them. For the Jewish people as a whole are charged with being a “light unto the nations.”
The commandments of Purim revolve around this theme. We read the Megillah to remember how light was returned to the Jews. We give money to the poor to add light to their lives. We send gifts to our friends to add joy to their experience. And we partake in a festive meal to share the light with our families.
This Purim, let us remember that even in dark times light can return at any moment and in any form. This Purim, let us take the opportunity to share our light with others. Chag Purim V’sameach!