A person is obligated to drink on Purim
until he does not know the difference between “cursed be Haman”
and “blessed be Mordechai.”
Talmud, Megillah 7b
“Everything that G-d made,” proclaims the Proverbist, “He
made for His sake, also the wicked for the day of evil.”
The “day of evil,” explains Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi,
is the transformation of the nocturnal darkness of evil into
the daylight of good. Also the negative elements of existence
were created by G-d “for His sake”: that darkness be transformed
into light and night into day.
It would therefore follow that “cursed be Haman” (the rejection
of evil) is indeed synonymous with “blessed be Mordechai”
(the cultivation of good): evil, in essence, is but the masked
potential for good, a potential all the greater for the surface
darkness one must penetrate to reveal it. As the commentaries
on the above-quoted talmudic passage note, the gematria
(numerical value) of the Hebrew letters that spell “cursed
be Haman” (arur Haman) is equivalent to that of the
letters that spell “blessed be Mordechai” (baruch Mordechai). For to curse Haman is to bless
Mordechai—to vanquish evil is to actualize another source
of good in G-d’s world.
And yet, the Talmud does not say that on Purim one should
attain the knowledge that there is no difference between “cursed
be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai”; it says that a person
should bring himself to the state where he does not know
the difference between them—implying that there is a difference,
only we desire not to know it. Why is such “ignorance” desirable?
And why is it attained specifically through drinking on Purim?
Sparks In Bondage
Our sages tell us that “in the place where baalei teshuvah
(penitents) stand, utter tzaddikim (perfectly righteous
individuals) cannot stand.”
The tzaddik is one who lives his entire life in full
conformity with G-d’s will, thereby realizing, to the utmost,
the potential for good inherent in himself and his environment.
But the baal teshuvah, who “transforms his willful
transgressions into merits,” achieves something far greater:
he generates good out of elements that have no such realizable
potential—at least not by the standards of Torah, G-d’s blueprint
The divine commandments (mitzvot) of the Torah categorize
the universe into two domains: the permissible and the forbidden.
Beef is permissible, pork is forbidden; it is permissible
to work on the first six days of the week, and forbidden to
do so on Shabbat; the trait of compassion should be cultivated,
and that of haughtiness eliminated. As chassidic teaching
explains, this is not only a list of do’s and don’ts; it is
also a catalog of realizable and unrealizable potentials.
Every created entity possesses a “spark of divinity” that
constitutes its essence and soul, a spark that embodies the
divine desire that it be, and its function within the divine
purpose for creation. When a person utilizes something—be
it a physical object or force, a trait or feeling, a cultural
a good and G-dly end, he brings to light the divine spark
at its core, manifesting and realizing the purpose for which
it was created. While no existence is devoid of such a spark—indeed,
nothing can exist without the pinpoint of divinity that imbues
it with being and purpose—not every spark can be developed
through man’s constructive use of the thing that houses it.
There are certain “impregnable” elements—elements that the
Torah has forbidden our involvement with, so that the sparks
they contain are inaccessible to us.
Thus, for example, one who eats a piece of kosher meat and
then uses the energy gained from it to perform a mitzvah (study
Torah, pray, do an act of charity), thereby “elevates” the
spark of divinity that is the essence of the meat, freeing
it of its mundane incarnation and raising it to a state of
fulfilled spirituality. However, if one would do the same
with a piece of non-kosher meat—meat that G-d has forbidden
us to consume —no such elevation would take place. Even if
he applied the energy to positive and G-dly ends, this would
not constitute a realization of the divine purpose in the
meat’s creation, since the consumption of the meat was an
express violation of the divine will.
This is the deeper significance of the Hebrew terms assur
and mutar employed by Torah law (halachah)
for the forbidden and the permissible. Assur, commonly
translated “forbidden,” literally means “bound”; thus it connotes
those elements that the Torah has forbidden, whose sparks
it has deemed bound and imprisoned in a shell of negativity
and proscription. Mutar (“permitted”), which literally
means “unbound,” is the halachic term for those sparks
which the Torah has empowered us to extricate from their mundane
embodiment and actively involve in our positive endeavors.
Obviously, the assur elements of creation also have
a role in the realization of the divine purpose outlined by
the Torah. But theirs is a “negative” role—they exist so that
man should achieve a conquest of self by resisting them. There
is no Torah-authorized way in which they can actively
be involved in man’s development of creation, no way in which
they may themselves become part of the “divine abode” that man is charged to make of
his world. It is of these elements that it is said, “Their
breaking is their rectification.” They exist to be rejected and defeated,
and it is in their defeat and exclusion from our lives that
their raison d’etre is realized.
The Man in the Desert
These are the rules that govern our existence—the rules that
the tzaddik lives by. The tzaddik devotes his
every thought and deed to the fulfillment of the divine will
communicated to us in the Torah, so that all the elements
that become part
of his life—the food he eats, the clothes he wears, the ideas
and experiences he garners from his surroundings —are elevated,
their “sparks” divested of their mundanity and raised to their
divine function. And he confines himself to the permissible
elements of creation, never digressing from the boundaries
that Torah sets for our involvement with and development of
The baal teshuvah, however, is one who has digressed.
One who has ventured beyond the realm of the permissible and
has absorbed the unredeemable elements of creation into his
life. His digression was a wholly negative thing,
but having occurred, holds a unique potential: the potential
for teshuvah, “return.”
Teshuvah is fed by the utter dejection experienced
by one who wakes to the realization that he has destroyed
all that is beautiful and sacred in his life; by the pain
of one who has cut himself off from his source of life and
well-being; by the alienation felt by one who finds himself
without cause or reason to live. Teshuvah is man’s
amazing ability to translate these feeling of worthlessness,
alienation and pain into the drive for rediscovery and renewal.
The baal teshuvah is a man languishing in a desert
whose thirst, amplified a thousand fold by the barrenness
and aridity of his surroundings, drives him to seek water
with an intensity that could never have been called forth
by the most proficient well digger—a man whose very abandonment
of his G-d drives him to seek Him with a passion the most
saintly tzaddik cannot know. A soul who, having stretched
the cord that binds it to its source to excruciating tautness,
rebounds with a force that far exceeds anything experienced
by those who never left the divine orbit.
Thus the baal teshuvah accomplishes what the most
perfect tzaddik cannot: he liberates those sparks of
divinity imprisoned in the realm of the forbidden. In his
soul, the very negativity of these elements, their very contrariness
to the divine will, becomes a positive force, an intensifier
of his bond with G-D and his drive to do good.
Will and Willer
Referring to the opening verses of Genesis, the Midrash states:
“At the onset of the world’s creation, G-d beheld the deeds
of the righteous and the deeds of the wicked ... ‘And the
world was chaos and void’
—these are the deeds of the wicked. ‘And G-d said: Let there
—these are the deeds of the righteous. But I still do not
know which of them He desires... Then, when it says, ‘And
G-d saw the light, that it is good,’
I know that He desires the deeds of the righteous, and does
not desire the deeds of the wicked.”
In other words, the only true definition of “good” or “evil”
is that “good” is what G-d desires and “evil” is what is contrary
to His will. The fact that we instinctively sense certain
deeds to be good and others to be evil—the fact that certain
deeds are good and certain deeds are evil–is
the result of G-d having chosen to desire certain deeds
from man and to not desire other deeds from man. We cannot,
however, speak of good and evil “before” G-d expressly chose
the “deeds of the righteous.” On this level, where there is
nothing to distinguish right from wrong, we cannot presume
to know what G-d will desire.
Therein lies the difference between the tzaddik and
the baal teshuvah. The tzaddik relates to G-d
through his fulfillment of the divine will expressed in the
Torah. Thus, his achievements are defined and regulated by
the divine will. When he does what G-d commanded to be done,
he elevates those elements of creation touched by his deeds.
But those elements with which the divine will forbids his
involvement, are utterly closed to him.
The baal teshuvah, however, relates to G-d Himself,
the formulator and professor of this will. Thus, he accesses
a divine potential that, by Torah’s standards, is inaccessible.
Because his relationship with G-d is on a level that precedes
and supersedes the divine will—a level on which one “still
does not know which of them He desires”–there is no “bondage,”
nothing to inhibit the actualization of the divine potential
in any of G-d’s creations. So when the baal teshuvah
sublimates his negative deeds and experiences to fuel his
yearning and passion for good, he brings to light the sparks
of G-Dliness they hold.
To Be and To Be Not
What enables the baal teshuvah to connect to G-d in
such a way? The tzaddik’s ability to relate to G-d
through the fulfillment of His will was granted to each and
every one of us when G-d gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai.
But what empowers the baal teshuvah to reach the “place
where utter tzaddikim cannot stand” and touch the “pre-will”
essence of G-d?
The thrust of the baal teshuvah’s life is the very
opposite of the tzaddik’s. The tzaddik is good,
and the gist of everything he does is to amplify that goodness.
The baal teshuvah had departed from the path of good,
and the gist of everything he does is to deconstruct and transform
what he was. In a word, the tzaddik is occupied with
the development of self, and the baal teshuvah, with
the negation of self.
Thus the tzaddik’s virtue is also what limits him.
True, his development of self is a wholly positive and G-dly
endeavor—he is developing the self that G-d wants him to develop,
and by developing this self he becomes one with the will of
G-d. But a sense of self is the greatest handicap to relating
to the essence of G-d, which tolerates no camouflaging or
equivocation of the truth that “there is none else beside
The baal teshuvah, on the other hand, is one whose
every thought and endeavor is driven by the recognition that
he must depart from what he is in order to come close to G-d.
This perpetual abnegation of self allows him to relate to
G-d as G-d is, on a level that transcends G-d’s specific projection
of Himself formulated in His Torah.
On Purim, a person is obligated to drink until he does not
know the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed
By the standards of Torah law, there is a difference
between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai.” Both
are willed by G-d, both contribute to the realization of the
divine plan. Both the development of good and the rejection
of evil fulfill the purpose of the “divine spark” within the
developed or rejected element. But with a significant difference.
A good deed elevates its object, divesting it of its mundanity
and reuniting its spark with its supernal source. The rejection
of evil, however, effects a “passive” actualization of a thing’s
divine potential, which remains “tied down” by its negative
Purim, however, is the festival of teshuvah, the festival
of transformation. On Purim we are empowered to transform the
most negative concealments into a force for good, to make
cursing Haman as positive and constructive an endeavor as
But the synonymity of “cursed be Haman” with “blessed be
Mordechai” is not something one can come to “know.” On the
contrary, it is attained solely through “not knowing,” through
the abnegation of the rational self. For it is only through
the utter nullification of self that one can relate to the
“possessor of the will,” to the divine essence before whom
“also darkness does not darken... and night shines like day.”
On Purim, a person is obligated to drink until he does not
know. Until the abnegation of his reasoning self raises him
to a state of utter non-differentiation between “cursed be
Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai.”
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Adar II 9, 5725
 Agudah (quoted by Rabbi Yoel Sirkish (the “Bach”) and R. Moshe
Isserles (the “Rama”) in their commentaries on the Tur,
Orach Chaim 695). When two things share the same gematria,
this implies that despite their surface differences (expressed
by their variant spellings) they are intrinsically analogous.
 lit. “returnees.” See Repentance, Prayer, and Charity: Three
Mistranslations, Week in Review, vol. IV no. 2.
 Talmud, Berachot 34b.
 See Midrash Tanchuma, Naso 16; Tanya, chapter 36.
 Paraphrase of Sifra, Shemini 7; see Sefer Hamaamarim 5654, p.
 Indeed, the Talmud (Yoma 85b) warns that one who says,
“I shall sin and then repent” is “not given the opportunity
 Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 2:7
 See Esther 9:1 and 22.
 Likkutei Sichot, vol. VII pp. 20-24.