Insights into Intoxication

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03 Mar 2017

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of

Summary by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Most of us are familiar with the law that states, “A man should become intoxicated on Purim to the point of no longer being able to differentiate between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai.’ ” The question arises as to why Purim is the only holiday for which we are commanded to drink wine, other than for Kiddush. After all, getting drunk is not the Jewish way of celebrating. The simplest reason for drinking wine on Purim is that wine and parties in which wine was a major component played a significant role in the entire Purim narrative, from Ahashuerosh’s parties at the beginning of the Purim narrative that Hashem faulted the Jews for attending to Esther’s parties tat the end that brought Haman’s downfall and our salvation.

Rabbi Strickoff cites two additional reasons for drinking on Purim. From Abrudaham, Rabbi Strickoff indicates that while wine is often used inappropriately, when the Jews rested after fighting their enemies and celebrated their salvation by drinking wine to celebrate and glorify Hashem’s miracles, they used wine appropriately, Finally, from Manos Halevi, Rabbi Strickhoff notes that sharing wine and festive meals fosters camaraderie and unity between Jews. In a related idea, wine has the ability to mitigate Hashem’s judgment, and the time of the seudah itself, when one partakes joyfully with Hashem and often with family and friends, is an auspicious time to make your requests before the King.

We can raise an additional question. How is the inability to differentiate between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai” an appropriate yardstick for measuring the proper level of intoxication on Purim?

The goal of drinking on Purim is not just to loosen our inhibitions, but that by doing so we become more receptive to a connection with Hakodosh Boruch Hu, just as a prophet would lose his inhibitions and go into a state of ecstasy to receive the word of God, writes Rabbi Gamliel Rabinovitz in Tiv Hamoadim.

Drinking has its place, but only if done properly. The goal is to raise awareness so that our prayers and blessings become more meaningful and bring us closer to Hashem, not so that we can lose ourselves in licentious behavior. In fact, our drinking must be for Heaven’s sake, not for our own sake, and does not absolve us from our mitzvah performance, notes Mesillos Beohr Hachasidus of the Belzer Dynasty. Further, because alcohol tends to loosen one’s inhibitions, one must be extremely careful when drinking that one does not verbally hurt another with an all too loose tongue. The unity and love of Bnei Yisroel for each other must remain intact. That’s why the Gemarrah says, “To the point that you cannot differentiate…” but not beyond that point. That’s why, as Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz points out, the halacha states, “A man should become intoxicated…,” that a man must maintain his human dignity even when he’s drunk.

Rabbi Strickoff quoting the Rema suggests that one may fulfill the halacha by drinking just a bit extra on Purim rather and going to sleep. For sleep is the state of unconsciousness that one can’t differentiate between cursed be Haman and blessed be Mordechai.  Or another understanding, become intoxicated with the beauty of Purim and the wonder of Hashem’s miracles.

Perhaps one achieves the tipping point when one can no longer calculate accurately, when one cannot add the numerical values of the letters of Arur Haman and note that they equal 502, the same as the values of the letters in Baruch Mordechai. Along these lines but on a deeper level, Tiv Hamoadim notes that one should come to realize that both Arur Haman and Baruch Mordechai are equal and come from Hashem for our own good. Hashem has chosen Haman to be a challenge for us and Mordechai to be a blessing for us, but both are puppets and Hashem is pulling the strings, and both in the final analysis are tools for Hashem to show His love for us.

The joy of Purim, writes Rabbi Leff, is knowing without any doubt that Hashem is in charge and runs the world, even when we ourselves are so confused that we can’t tell the difference between the good and the bad. It is Amalek, the nation of Haman, that symbolizes this doubt, a doubt introduced to the world when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit and mixed up the knowledge of good and evil. As Rabbi Rothberg writes in Moda Labinah, according to one tradition, this forbidden fruit was grapes that Eve squeezed and made into wine before she gave it to Adam. That’s why he didn’t recognize it, and that’s how he could no longer recognize the difference between good and evil. By drinking wine on Purim, we hope to rectify the sin and reach the level of Adam and Eve before the sin, until, but not beyond, knowing the difference between good and evil, and recognizing that all is only good.

The mitzvoth of Purim help us resolve these doubts and help make us whole in all of our relationships, writes the Slonimer Rebbe in Nesivot Shalom. By reading the Megillah, we achieve wholeness with Hashem as we see His hand in all, whether we feel close to Him with Baruch Mordechai or distant from Him with Arur Haman. He always takes care of us, as we always remain His children. With the mitzvah of Mishloach Manot we create a sense of closeness with others and society at large,. When we send to our close friends, it is a sense of Baruch Mordechai, and when we include people with whom we do not necessarily have a close relationship, whom we may perceive as Arur Haman, we are blurring the difference between the two. Finally, when one elevates drinking wine  from a purely physical pursuit to a spiritual pursuit, one is creating an integrated whole within himself of his spiritual and physical natures.

The Torah reading on Purim exhorts Moshe to write of Hashem’s vow to eradicate the name of Amalek from under the heavens. But as part of this exhortation, Hashem commands Moshe to “put it into the ears of Yehoshua,” to whisper to Yehoshua to keep this promise alive. Rabbi Eisenberger in Mesillot Bilvavam uses these verses as a starting point for his discussion of how we express ourselves when we hear the name of God during the liturgy. While the name of God is written as four letters that incorporate the idea of His omnipresence in the past, present and future, it is actually read and pronounced as the word meaning Master. The congregational response is, “Blessed is He and blessed is His Name.” There is only one place in our regular liturgy that we respond to our own declaration of His Name with, “Blessed is the Name of His glorious Kingdom for all eternity.” We utter those words in a whispered response to the declaration of our belief that “…Hashem is our God, Hashem the One and Only.” Only on Yom Kippur do we declare aloud, “Blessed be the Name of His glorious Kingdom for all eternity.”

Rabbi Eisenberg explains that the angels respond to the name of Hashem with, “Blessed is the Name of His glorious Kingdom for all eternity,” for angels are purely spiritual beings. Humans, however, have a spiritual soul clothed in a corporeal body. This duality limits us from recognizing God’s manifestation forever. We see Hashem as Master, and have difficulty recognizing His omnipresence throughout eternity. Therefore we have the duality of the written Name versus the audible Name we read. As a result, we respond by blessing the Name we hear and the actual, written Name. But one day, our prophet tells us, Hashem will be One and His Name will be One and the same. At that time, the world will be similar to what it was when the Beit Hamikdosh existed and the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies and call out the ineffable Name, and Bnei Yisroel would prostrate themselves in this spiritual state and call out in full voice, as the angels themselves, “Blessed is the Name of His glorious Kingdom for all eternity.” Only when I have both in mind, God as the Eternal and God as the Master, without any doubt, can I scream out the Oneness of Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

Purim is about holiness and purity, writes the Mesilos Belvavam. The hidden neshama wants to scream out and bless the Name of His glorious Kingdom forever, but the physical body prevents this. By drinking a little too much, we hope to release these physical restraints and reveal our inner essence.  That’s why it is customary to eat foods that have “secret” fillings, whether it’s hamantashen, kreplach, or stuffed cabbage. And hamantashen are called the “ears of Haman” to remind us of the whispering into the ear of Yehoshua that Amalek is still here and we want to destroy him.

The goal of Purim is to reach the level before the sin, when we saw everything as good, when there was no doubt about it, when “Cursed is Haman” and “Blessed is Mordechai” were both good. Our mitzvah is to eradicate the Amalek, the doubt within ourselves. Purim is a time of perfection, a time to make everyone happy, to give to the poor and the orphan so that they too can be happy, to unify the world.

Rabbi Reiss points out that Haman is alluded to in Hashem’s question to Adam after the sin, “Hamin haetz…/Did you eat from the tree..?” The doubt that Amalek reinstilled in Bnei Yisroel after Sinai, and the doubt and fear that Haman instilled in Bnei Yisroel all stem from that same sin, and the basis of that sin lies is relying on human senses and human logic rather than on Hashem’s will to determine one’s actions. The repair is to again sublimate my will to His.

Rabbi Roth z”l in Sichot Eliyahu expands on this idea. It was human reasoning rather than the Torah that informed the decision of most of the Jews to bow down to Haman, for they reasoned that it was dangerous to defy the king’s command in public. However, when it comes to Jewish law, one must sublimate one’s personal reason to Hashem’s will and understand that Hashem knows best what is good. On every holiday we offer something to Hashem. On Sukkot we give up our houses, on Pesach we give up bread, and on Yom Kippur we give up physical comfort. On Purim, we give up to Him our personal understanding and reasoning.

Rav Pincus z”l notes that Hashem responds to our initiative. Hashem responded to our national circumcision and redeemed us from Egypt; He responded to our declaration of, “Naaseh venishma/we will do and we will hear,” with the gift of the Torah. But sometimes our initiative is not enough. Although Queen Esther and all of Bnei Yisroel fasted for three days, that was not enough to counter the decree against us, writes Rabbi Pincus z”l. Hashem then told us to move aside and let Him do what was necessary. He brought His compassion into play and saved us. Sometimes our knowledge gets in our own way. We think we’re in control. When we’re drunk, we have no control and we leave Hashem to do His work. Purim, when we give up our control, is an auspicious time to ask Hashem to grant us those things we feel we are incapable of achieving on our own. We are moving aside and giving control to Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

Interestingly, the plague of darkness in Egypt occurred on Purim, writes Rabbi Schorr in Halekach Vehalebuv. But for the Jews there was light in all their living spaces and wherever they went. With this light they were able to see all things hidden. This light comes down to us each Purim and allows us to see into the recesses of our souls. When we can use that light to give ourselves over to Hakodosh Boruch Hu, we can redeem ourselves from our constraints and experience the light and miracle of Purim throughout the year.

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