Eat, Drink and Be Merry….


alcohol2By Yochanan Gordon

With all of the wine stores and companies gearing up for their biggest business season of the year and their advertising campaigns in full swing, it’s pretty noticeable that the spirit of Purim is in the air. In fact, it’s not only a joyous time for the kosher wine retailers and importers because as I understand it St Patrick’s day falls out just about the same time as Purim this year.

There is a big difference however between Purim and St Patrick’s Day as well as hopefully a significant divide between those who observe these respective Holidays. A number of years ago I was at a friend of mine in Santa Monica, CA. There we were, strolling up and down the pier in the therapeutic California sun, at which point my friend decided to ask each passerby who St Patrick was and why they observe that day as a holiday. Needless to say not one person could tell us who St Patrick was. In fact, one guy, the last one we approached after being asked to explain who St Patrick was replied, “I am not from here.” The question then followed, “Where are you from?”

“Germany,” he answered.

On the spot my friend retorted, “Oh, I used to have family there.”

Many of the commentators explain along the same lines the evolution of modern day’s practice of idolatry in the world. There is no idolatry any more since its force was negated as the Gemara relates. However, even those who seem to go through idolatrous motions are just doing what their ancestors before them did without any rhyme, reason or profound meaning.

The difference between us and them is that most, if not all of us can give some insight behind the merriment of Purim. We are all aware that Haman wanted to annihilate all Jewish men, women and children in one day and after a string of miraculous, yet seemingly natural events, his demise came about on the same gallows with which he erected to hang Mordechai upon. In addition, we are aware of the self sacrifice of Esther to enter into the Chambers of Achashverosh unannounced and the three days of fasting despite it being Pesach – and so we drink. In fact, we are told to drink until the point of mindlessness, until we cannot distinguish between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai. And here is precisely where the controversy begins.

From an immature vantage point this seems to be the easiest mitzvah in the Torah to fulfill, especially if you have a susceptibility to alcohol misuse or addiction. But if we would just sober up for a moment and take a strong look in the mirror of reality it is obvious that Purim is not about getting drunk. In fact, perhaps for that very purpose the Gemara writes that the goal is to blur the lines between cursed be Haman and blessed be Mordechai and not to blur the lines between Purim and St Patrick’s day, which sadly many parties end up looking like.

As thrilling as it may sound to drink and feel a bit tipsy Jews do not hold a candle to the ability of an Irishman when it comes to drinking. There is a joke about a Jew, an American and an Irishman sitting together in a bar when a fly lands up in each of their drinks. The Jew is disgusted and disposes of the glass. The American sifts the fly out of the glass and drinks its contents. Finally, the Irishman picks the fly out of the glass, points a knife at it and screams, “spit it out!” The truth is that the continued trouble and discord that the Jews of the world find in the eyes of humanity has a lot to do with our trying to blend into their cultures. If we would practice being ourselves and perfect the image of the Jew we would be respected and given our space in the world to do what we were meant to be doing all along. History has proven time and again that the nations of this world are not interested in us becoming like them, rather, that we play our role as it was meant to be.

On that note, more than the importance of getting inebriated, Purim was meant as a holiday to recognize and respect the role of the Mordechai among us. Mordechai’s obstinacy in his day to bow down to Haman infuriated many of his own people, but little did they know at the time that it was his very stubbornness that got the ball running in the right direction. The Gemara tells us that Mordechai in his generation was like Moshe our Master in his generation. In fact seforim explain on the Pasuk, “Ashrei Ha’am shecacha lo”, the word shecacha has the same numerical value as the word Moshe. In other words, as the Zohar writes, “there is an element of Moshe in every single generation”. On one level, the purpose of Purim is for us to reaffirm our connection to the proclaimed leaders of our generation. And if our desire to eat drink and be merry runs contrary to our ability to nullify ourselves to the leaders of our generation then we know for sure that we are doing something wrong.

Last year, a call went forth from Reb Shmuel Kamenetzky that the intake of alcohol especially among children should be cut back to a revi’is at which point one could dose off in fulfillment of ad delo yoda as the Rema advises. I remember quite vividly that the comments to that particular were replete with angry calls of people accusing Reb Shmuel of being a joy kill. But what’s most ironic of all was when people felt it necessary to ask, “But the Gemara says, chayav inish livsumei b’purya ad delo yoda?” Do we think that for a second, in issuing this psak Reb Shmuel lost sight of the gemara in Megillah that every seeming drunkard is aware of? Obviously, he felt this is an instance of eis la’asos l’Hashem heifeiru Torasecha.” Just because you translate the word livsumei to mean inebriated does that make it the only translation.

In a Farbrengen held in honor of Shushan Purim Katan the late Lubavitcher Rebbe quoted a Torah that the Rebbe Maharash said over in the name of The Ba’al; HaTanya on the Piyut, “Merubim Tzarchei Amcha V’da’atam ketzarah”, to mean that as a result of kitzur hada’as their necessities for physical indulgences are many. People who are in pursuit of uncovering the Godly spark in everything we do not feel stifled or threatened by the call of Roshei Yeshiva, God fearing Jews regarding our intake of alcohol for the overall betterment of the young kids amongst us. The words of the Arizal of Yom Kippurim, that Yom Kippur is like Purim implying that Purim is essentially a higher level, is not just a cute play on words! Instead of squinting to see how much proof the bottle we are chugging down has, if we would squint to read many of the commentators of the Megillah and the Halachos of Purim as do our leaders we too would be fine with the call to put holds on the overall intake of alcohol, because essentially Purim is a serious day that requires discipline in order to properly fulfill its laws and create an overall Kiddush Hashem.

Since when has hedonism crept within our midst? Over intoxicating is seriously shunned the rest of the year and is perhaps even prohibited. How can it be that G-d created a day that seemingly defies the Torah? The answer is that he didn’t. Rather, it’s sadly a perverted translation to what the day essentially is all about. How sad is it then that the lives of children are put in harms way over complete immaturity behind the mask of religiosity.

This Purim lets banish the influences of Epicureanism from the holy nation of G-d and instead learn the true definition of Da’as at which point we could fulfill the law of ad d’lo yoda the way it was meant to be. A Freilichin Purim!

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  1. I think that Rav Shmuel holds that is the pesak halocho bichlal, along the lines of the pesak cited in the Rama mentioned, and is not just an exceptional, temporary case of ‘eis laasos’, due to current circumstances.