Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Purim (Day of Lots) seem to be diametrically opposed. The first is about atonement through ascetic practices, the second is a day of sensual indulgences: a specific commandment orders one to eat and drink to the point of excess.
A passage in Tikkunei Zohar (the later parts of the great Kabbalist work from the 13th century) notes that Yom Kippur should be read as yom ke-purim, meaning “a day like Purim,” indicating that Yom Kippur, the holiest of holidays, is almost as significant as Purim…
Purim is carnavalesque by nature; it is about masking and merrymaking, and mainly about forgetting boundaries. The Talmud instructs that one must drink on Purim to the point of not recognizing the difference between the expressions “cursed is Haman” (the gentile villain of Purim) and “blessed is Mordechai” (the Jewish Purim hero). As the contemporary Kabbalist Itamar Shwartz notes, the two expressions are equal in numerical value (502). Because Purim is the culmination of a yearly ritual (which has begun in the Passover), it reaches the point beyond ritual and marks the union with “him, blessed be he.”
Effacing boundaries is the mark of the mystical union. It is a bold and provocative step that pertains to the overall nature of the Kabbalah. Although Kabbalah is the secret interpretation of the Torah, it is also a subversive tradition. Whether it is about magic and amulets, anthropomorphic images, or bold speculations, the Kabbalah responds to undercurrents of desire and fear of both the collective and the personal.
Yom Kippur is a fearful day as it forces us to prepare for death; we fast from drink, food, and sex. We beg for forgiveness as if it were our last day, and some even wear their burial cloths. Heaven is opened, and we stand in the presence of great mystery.
Last week I mentioned Yom Kippur as the union of divine mother and daughter. My friend Rachel Israel, a prominent psychoanalyst, reacted with enthusiasm. It turns out that, in psychoanalysis, the relation between mother and daughter is a stormy one, not to say violent, due mainly to the lack of difference, or opposition, between female and female. Seen in a positive light, the unification between mother and daughter in Yom Kippur is an ultimate union that transcends all oppositions. It leads back to the undifferentiated state prior to Creation, and emulates the union with Divine Origin.