Adar is a time of simcha, of joy stemming from our connection with HaShem and with people. We should aspire to add more joy to our lives by deepening our connection with HaShem and with other people. We are doubly blessed this year with two Hebrew months of Adar.
This year has afforded me with additional time to prepare my crusade against teens and drinking. With Rosh Chodesh Adar II looming, I am giving it my best shot. It’s not a shot of booze. It’s a shot of reality and a sincere plea for reframing our attitude about drinking on Purim.
Judaism has a not uncomplicated relationship with alcohol. We Jews start drinking young, real young. There is the wine at the Bris when the baby is only eight days old. Then there is wine at the Pidyon HaBen. The two sips at the Chuppah. The focal point of our week is the Friday night Shabbos meal when typically Abba or another post-Bar Mitzvah male will sanctify the wine. Havdallah. Yom Tov Kiddush. The famous Four Cups at the Seder.
Is there a Jewish simcha that is without the raising a glass of schnapps and proclaiming, “L’Chaim”?
No shul or yeshiva would want its members or students to become alcoholics. But let’s be honest. Many shuls and others create a social life around alcohol and to be cool and in (are those words current?), you have to partake. Think Kiddush Club when men, typically at some point during the layning and definitely before the rabbi’s speech, exit the sanctuary and call to order their own private gathering of booze and food.
Our Torah is filled with references to wine so clearly wine is important and plays a major role in Judaism. Sefer Shoftim describes wine as “bringing joy to G-d and man.” Every sacrifice brought to the Mikdash was accompanied by a wine libation.
Likewise, there are times in our Torah when wine has been mishandled – actually, let’s call it accurately – abused. Our Torah does not sanitize those times and their consequences. Noach was disgraced by excessive wine consumption. Ahron’s sons’ faux pas stemmed in part from intoxication. And these are only two examples.
Then there’s Purim. This day suffers such a bad name because of the drinking. Let’s not forget Simchas Torah. A nurse on staff in an area emergency room once told me that she and her colleagues call it “The Other Jewish Halloween.”
So what are wine and alcohol – heroes or villains?
Like anything else in life, balance is a good thing. Alcohol, when imbibed appropriately, can enhance our Ruchniyus. By the same token, when treated inappropriately, it can make for a Chillul HaShem, G-d forbid.
Kohanim were not allowed to serve in the Beis HaMikdash while drunk. We are forbidden to daven while drunk. A kohen is not allowed to “duchen” after having even a single glass of wine.
The Tree of Knowledge in Gan Eden, according to one opinion, is both “good and bad.” When utilized properly, its potential for good is infinite. By the same token, if not used for good, the negative consequences are of equal proportion. It is up to each of us to choose how it should be used. Hopefully, we will choose to choose to make a Kiddush HaShem.
Part of our choosing to choose must include not allowing our teens even a drop of liquor. Teens and drinking should be one big NO. Period. Teens should never have a choice to drink. Drinking is dangerous. It kills. Teen drivers are 17 more times likely to die in a crash when they have a blood alcohol concentration of .08% (the legal limit) than when they have not been drinking. One shot of whiskey or one beer is enough to push up the alcohol level.
The percentage of teens in high school who drink and drive has thankfully decreased by more than half since 1991. But so much more needs to be done. In 2011, nearly one million teens drank alcohol and then drove. Drinking increases any person’s chances of being injured both inside and outside the home. According to one set of statistics, alcohol is a factor in 40% of highway crashes, suicides and fatal falls, in 60% of sexual assaults and trauma injuries, and in 60% of fatal fires, drownings and homicides.
Further, you have most likely read how drinking contributes to health issues including liver disease or cirrhosis of the liver, brain damage or dementia, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and cancer.
It is quite sad when teens know the names and values of the different single malt vs. blended vs. aged, and in what type of barrel the whiskey has been aged. It used to be common to bring a bottle of wine as a gift for a Shabbos meal. But now, a so-called “superior” whiskey is the quintessential “offering,” meaning a house gift. What happened to the homemade (drug-free) goodies people used to make?
We have a lot of information here. What are we supposed to do?
Parents must be involved in their children’s lives, must keep their new teen drivers safe. I urge parents to create and sign a parent-teen agreement with their teens that stipulates, among other things, no driving a vehicle with even a drop of alcohol in your body. Research studies have shown that when parents establish and enforce driving rules, new drivers report lower rates of risky driving, driving violations and crashes.
This means parents must be parents. Parents set rules. They are discussed with and explained to the children who, in turn, repeat the rules back to the parents. They are implemented and respected by all parties. Your child may not like the rules and that it is his prerogative. But his obligation is to follow the rules.
We have watched schools and shuls implement rules about drinking but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of change. Some rules are honored. Many are not, sad to say. Rebbes and Rabbis may drink in their homes which are deemed “private property.” There are balabatim who rent private rooms and invited guests and crashers and underage minors partake of the liquid festivities there. Unfortunately, we have zero control over this.
There needs to be a call to action and I believe that there is a demographic cohort among us who can effect change for the better.
Jewish mothers. Our wives, our mothers, our daughters, our sisters. The Jewish women in our lives. They have the power to bring the pendulum back to some point of balance.
In Sefer Shmuel, Eli HaKohen is sitting at the entrance to the Ohel Moed. Along comes the barren Chana, desperate for a child, who strides past the “gatekeeper” and commences pouring out her heart to HaShem. Chana, a layperson, got past the Chief Priest who mistakenly thinks she is drunk when, in reality, she flooded the gates of heaven with sincere prayer. She had a true compass when others were waffling or lacking.
Later on, she brings her son Shmuel to Eli because she had vowed that if blessed with a child, she would raise him to be an Eved HaShem. The Navi tells as that she brough Shmuel with a “cloak” or jacket. The next time this cloak or jacket is mentioned is when Shaul, in chapter 28, is seeking wisdom from HaShem in his battle against the Plishtim. He consults with the Witch of Endor who claims she can see the ghost of Shmuel rising from the dead. It is written that Shmuel is wearing the same cloak that his mother Chana had given him when she brought him to the Mishkan.
The late Rabbi Pelcovitz zt”l, whose first Yarzeit is this week, interpreted the cloak as the mother’s influence. Everything that Shmuel did and accomplish in his lifetime and beyond was because of the enduring influence of his mother.
Many Jewish mothers — and fathers — daven hard for their children. We want our children to be whole, functioning adults who contribute to society and perpetuate our Mesorah which includes being good husbands and fathers. We men can be doing loads to help, starting with our own behavior and actions and supporting our wives.
I urge Jewish mothers to action. Band together and petition your sons’ teachers and Roshei Yeshiva and others, including Shul rabbis, to lay off the booze. Once your husbands see you mean business, they will fall in line with you. And if they don’t, know you are doing the right thing for your son and all our sons and ultimately, all Klal Yisrael.
As always, daven.
Dr. Hylton I. Lightman is a senior statesman among pediatricians, an internationally-recognized authority and diagnostician, a public speaker, expert witness and go-to resource for health issues in the Orthodox Jewish community and beyond. Originally from South Africa, he started his current practice, Total Family Care of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway, PC in 1987. Dr. Lightman is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (FAAP). Dr. Lightman is a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine. In addition, he is actively involved in teaching pediatric and family nurse practitioners through Columbia University, Pace University, Lehmann College, and Molloy College, as well as mentoring physician assistants through Touro College. Read more here.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.