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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  ( has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.

There’s a Jewish word that we are all familiar with and even appears in Webster’s Dictionary with no parallel word in the English language — “oy”. Oy, according to Webster’s, is the word we use when we want to express dismay or exasperation. It is a form of sighing. 

A few years ago published an article discussing the science of sighing. Sighing is the body’s way of resetting. When you sigh, you take a deep breath, allow your lungs to expand and your muscles to relax. The term “sigh of relief” has science to back it. However, not all sighing is good. Studies have shown that when people are asked to sigh artificially, it actually can be harmful. Furthermore, excessive sighing is associated with anxiety, panic disorder or PTSD.

The ninth chapter of the Megillah discusses the institution of Purim as a holiday. There is one word that appears multiple times throughout the chapter — נח, rest. The holiday of Purim was not instituted on the day that the Jews won the war, the 13th of Adar, but rather on the day that they rested, and the same applies to the Jews in Shushan:

…the Jews who were in the king's provinces assembled and protected themselves…. on the thirteenth of the month of Adar, and they rested on the fourteenth thereof, and made it a day of feasting and joy. And the Jews who were in Shushan assembled on the thirteenth thereof and on the fourteenth thereof, and rested on the fifteenth thereof, and made it a day of feasting and joy (Esther 9/16-18).

Why do we celebrate the day that they rested and not the day of the actual miracle of the war? 

R. Leib Mintzberg (1943-2018 Jerusalem), in his book Ben Melech on Purim explains the significance of celebrating on the day of rest and not the day of the war. Of the many times we celebrate miracles, sometimes we celebrate the actual date of the miracle and sometimes we celebrate the resulting situation. For example, on Pesach we celebrate both the miracles and the resulting freedom on the same day. On Purim however, the miracle(s) were all hidden. We only see them by reading between the lines of the Megillah. As such, we celebrate the day when it was crystal clear that there was no longer any threat, the day when the Jews recognized their change in status.

The Megillah describes it as a time of transition from yagon to simcha — from sighs of exasperation to sighs of relief. They didn’t stress over their precarious situation living in a foreign land or whether another Haman might rise to power. They recognized that sigh of relief as something significant, not artificially induced, but brought about by a clear change of situation. 

We all have moments when we are entitled, or even expected to say “oy”. We just have to be careful not to overdo it and also to recognize the moments when the sigh is one of relief and allow those moments to provide us with the necessary comfort and joy.