“Ad D’lo Yada” – “Until one Cannot Distinguish”

June 29, 2006

The Talmud makes the following unusual statement regarding the required festive meal of Purim: “A person must drink until he cannot tell the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai.’ ” This is usually understood to mean that a person should drink until he reaches a level of intoxication such that he can no longer distinguish between Haman, the arch-villain of the Purim events and Mordechai, one of the two heroes. This would be a radical departure from the normal Jewish practice of self-control and of maintaining the ability to make crucial distinctions, such as between good and evil.

Clearly, however, it is possible to interpret the quoted statement of the Talmud very differently. The requirement is not to drink to the point where one can no longer distinguish between Haman and Mordechai, between evil and good; rather, it is that one must drink until one cannot distinguish between “Cursed be Haman,” the destruction of evil, and “Blessed be Mordechai,” the reward of the righteous. Both the destruction of evil and the enhancement of the good shift the moral balance of the world towards the side of the good. Thus, it is not at all a trivial distinction that the Talmud is pointing to.

It means also to say that the Jew’s obligation on Purim is to use the spiritually elevating quality of wine to rise to a high level of trust in G-d. This level is such that it becomes possible to see in the various circumstances which together resulted in the downfall of Haman, and of other wicked oppressors in our past, the Hand of G-d acting from behind the scenes. And He does this, although His Name is not mentioned once in the Megillah, nor have we seen clear-cut interventions by G-d in human history for a long time, for the purpose of bringing about the salvation and survival of the Jewish People.