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Are Our Children Doomed to be Victims of Their Emotions? The Joy of Purim.

Updated: Mar 21

Hooray! One of the most joyous days of the Jewish calendar is almost here! This Sunday, we celebrate the holiday of Purim, rejoicing over the Jewish people’s miraculous salvation from a genocidal attempt almost twenty-four hundred years ago as recorded in Megilas Esther, (Book of Esther). Purim is on the fourteenth day of the Hebrew month Adar, but from the very first day of Adar our joy level palpably increases. As the Talmud says, (Tractate Taanis) “When the month of Adar begins, one increases rejoicing.”

Why is Purim inextricably linked with joy? There are other holidays that seem likelier candidates for the happiest day of the year including Pesach (Passover) when we were redeemed from two-hundred ten years of slavery and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) which is known as The Time of Our Joy. Ironically, for a day devoted to joy, Purim contains some subdued elements. It is the only holiday in the Jewish calendar commemorating an event that occurred in exile. (The Purim story took place in the fourth century BCE following the destruction of the first Temple, after the Jewish communities of Israel had been exiled to Babylonia, an area later conquered by Persia.) Although the Jewish nation was saved from annihilation, the story does not end with us returning to our Home Land and rebuilding the Temple, our ultimate desire. At the culmination of the Book of Esther, the Jewish nation was still in exile. Furthermore, the heroine of the Purim story, Queen Esther, did not live a life of unadulterated joy. Contrary to Disney fairytales, she did not desire to be queen of Persia. Esther was abducted from her home and forcibly brought to the king’s palace where she was crowned queen despite her personal wishes. She played a pivotal role in the Purim story, but in the process she sacrificed her dreams of building a Jewish home and raising Jewish children. There is much that is bittersweet in the Purim story, yet it is a day of intense happiness and rejoicing. Why is the happy day of Purim a holiday that contains sad components?

Jewish wisdom teaches us that joy is not a product of external factors. While a young child in the checkout aisle may believe that “If I only had that candy I would be perfectly happy”, adults are called upon to have greater maturity. In reality, people are empowered to choose whether they will be joyous or gloomy regardless of their circumstances. It’s easy to feel happy when everything works out exactly as we wish. The lesson of Purim is that even when situations don’t end up happily ever after, we can still choose joy.

Children often feel that their emotions define reality. If a child feels unfairly treated, the situation must be unfair. If a child feels overwhelmed, they determine they must be in an overwhelming situation. Children need parents to put their feelings into context. While feelings are important signals of what’s going on inside us, they aren’t necessarily the true reflection of a situation. We can acknowledge our children’s feelings while also putting them in perspective. A parent’s job is to acknowledge that the child in bed at night feels scared, but also show them that the towel on the door isn’t a monster, reassuring them that they are safe. A child may feel they can only be happy when they have everything they want, but a parent teaches them how to live a life of joy regardless of externalities.

There is a lot of pressure on parents today to validate all their children’s emotions. Unfortunately, in the process, many well-intentioned people teach their children that their feelings are of utmost importance and define their reality. The Torah teaches that our job is to teach our children that we have the power to influence our feelings. A person who feels lonely needn’t wallow in that emotion, but can choose to reach out and offer companionship to another, thereby changing his own feelings. A person struggling in a challenging situation, needn’t fixate on their sadness, but can choose to take actions that bring joy. Waiting for life to be perfect before we feel happy is a recipe for sadness. The month of Adar and the holiday of Purim is exactly the right time to increase our joy, because it requires us to take charge and actively bring more joy into our lives.

What is the Purim path to feeling joy? The day before Purim is the Fast of Esther, a time of intense prayer and spiritual connection. On Purim itself, we deliver gifts of food to our friends and neighbors and distribute charity to the poor. Spiritual and social connection brings joy. If we were to sit back and wait to feel happy on Purim, we could drown in our worries and sadness. Instead we take action to connect spiritually and socially, and choose to feel joy.

We don’t deny the sad aspects of Purim. We actually refrain from singing Hallel, a prayer of thanksgiving usually said on Jewish festivals, because the Purim miracle was an incomplete salvation. Yet we don’t allow the partial redemption to bring us down. On the contrary, we take the day of Purim as imperfect as it is and make it the happiest day of the year.

Allowing our children to believe that they are limited by their feelings dooms them to a life of sadness and anxiety. Empowering our children with the knowledge that human beings have the capacity to rise above external situations and influence their emotions, allows our children to move forward in life with confidence and joy.

Happy Purim!

This Purim article is dedicated to the memory of Sgt. Uri Locker, 19, who was killed battling Hamas terrorists on October 7. His parents, Orit and Eyal, and his brothers Elad and Tamir shared that Uri knew how to make people laugh and raise their spirits when they felt sad. May Hashem send comfort to his family and grant them joy amidst the pain.


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