Now that the holiday of Purim is safely behind us, many find themselves suffering from a state we call the hangover. There are those who are suffering from this hangover in a literal sense – too much drink, too much food…just too much. Well, a long nap and an analgesic to soothe the stomach and a cold compress for the headache will eventually provide relief for this type of post-Purim hangover. But I feel that there is a deeper, more persistent and much more painful discomfort that descends upon us after Purim.
And, that hangover is occasioned by the realization that though one Haman was vanquished many centuries ago, there was and are many others ready to take his place. The story of Purim is therefore not a one time event, an aberration of history, an accidental madman rising to power. It is rather the ultimate hangover that just refuses to go away.
If that be the case, then why all of the merriment and celebration on Purim? The triumph over Haman is only a temporary one, a short respite until the next onslaught against Jews, Judaism and the values that the Torah preaches and represents. And what a pounding hangover that realization can be!
Are there cures for this type of hangover? For many centuries, for most of Jewish history in fact, Jews were convinced that there really was no permanent cure for our hangover. Jewish survival and our eventual triumph over all of the various Hamans who constantly arose to persecute us lay in our strength of spirit, our tenacity of faith and tradition and in our attempts to outwit our enemies (for we certainly had no ability to outgun them.)
Jews suffered and died and Haman always appeared triumphant. But eventually Haman fell and the Jewish people, bloodied and battered, persisted and survived. Jews saw this pattern of persecution and survival as a given, a facet of our existence that was almost inexorable and unable to be prevented.
In a most ironic and paradoxical way, Purim represented not triumph or the elimination of Hamans from our world but rather the ability to survive and be productive and creative in spite of the fact that there would always be a Haman and that we would always have to struggle to survive his persecution.
Because of this view, Jews really did not suffer from a post-Purim hangover as they never had any illusions that Haman was really going to disappear on a permanent basis. Only when great expectations are fostered and permanent solutions promised, and in spite of all of our efforts, Haman still mocks us and continues to threaten our annihilation, does the sickening feeling of the post-Purim hangover take hold.
Purim warns us that the story is not complete and that we are, at best, only granted respite in the words of Achasveirosh to Esther of “up to half of a kingdom.” To expect the whole kingdom would certainly lead to disappointment and depressed spirits, not to mention a splitting headache.
Purim is connected with the commandment in the Torah regarding remembering Amalek. In that struggle against evil and murder, the Torah states explicitly that this a never-ending battle, a war of God and Godliness against Amalek from one generation until the next. From this it is easy to deduce that Amalek is not subject to a one-time knockout punch that will end the struggle once and for all.
It is rather a continuing struggle that every Jewish generation faces and must overcome, each generation in its own way and under its particular circumstance. The joy of Purim is always tempered by the fact that there are many more Purims that will be necessary to sustain us.
In the Haggadah of Pesach, which we will recite at the Seder table in a few short weeks, we are reminded that there is a continual line from Pharaoh to Haman, to Titus to Chmelienicki, to Hitler and to the current president of Iran. These people really meant to destroy us….and continue to do so. No words are minced and no threats are veiled. It would be foolhardy at the least to pretend that no real danger exists to our survival.
Yet, as all of our history tells us, we should not be overly pessimistic about our future. We should not fall prey to the post-Purim hangover syndrome. Rather, our reality should include the lessons of faith and tenacity that have stood us in such good stead over the ages. The tempered joy of our Purim will help usher us into the moment of redemption and renewal that Pesach signifies.