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Thought for the Day: The Obligation to Get Drunk on Purim

I have been told that it is not fun to argue with me.  First, I have lots of facts.  Second, when I don't have facts, I don't express and opinion.  The first kind of argument usually ends with someone saying, "oh".  The second usually ends with me saying, "I don't know"; though it may take several iterations of me repeating, "no; really...  I don't know".  I strive to become ever less fun as an argument player.

So now, speaking of getting drunk on Purim, you'll hear all sorts of "statements of fact".  "Getting drunk on Purim is a decree of our sages!  End of story."  "You only have to take a nap, you don't need to drink at all!"  "It can't be that Chazal actually obligated us to get drunk, when drunkenness is openly denigrated in the chumash and the prophets!"  The first is quoting the Shulchan Aruch.  The second is quoting the Rema.  The third is quoting the Bi'ur Halacha.  The statements are all taken out of context to the point that to call them merely a "distortion" of the original intent is naively generous.  If you think arguing is fun, then you are good to go; enjoy your day.  If you want to understand what our sages intended and what one's obligation vis a vis Purim and drinking really is, though, you'll want to dig deeper and see these statements in context and gather some facts.

The Shulchan Aruch (695:2) says: "A person is obligated to become intoxicated on Purim to the point that he cannot discern between cursed be Haman and blessed be Mordechai."  First rule: the Shulchan Aruch is a distillation of the Beis Yosef which is a distillation of the gemara as it related to halacha l'ma'aseh/rules that apply to every day life.  Moreover, he pretty much expects you to know that and interpret what is codified as Jewish Law in that context.  The reader is expected to know that words such as "obligated" and"forbidden" are always meant to be understood as "in the appropriate situation with the normal caveats".  In addition, the Shulchan Aruch didn't just say, "get drunk and that's that"; he gave a limit: until you can't discern...  What does that mean?  Hmm... you better know that before you start paskening how much you can/should drink.

The Rema says: "Some say (yeish omrim) that one doesn't have to get so drunk, just drink more than usual and sleep; since you are sleeping you won't be able to discern between cursed be Haman and blessed be Mordechai."  Sometimes when the Rema says "yeish omrim"/some say, he is contradicting the p'sak of the Shulchan Aruch, other times he is explaining it.  The Rema is clearly not contradicting the Shulchan Aruch, he is just giving one way to determine when one has had enough to drink to fulfill his obligation.  That is made even more clear in his next words: "whether you drink a lot or a little, [the only criteria is that] your intentions are l'sheim shamayim/with no ulterior motives/with intention for nothing but to fulfill Ratzon HaShem/the Will of G-d."  That means that drinking a little because you don't like the feeling of being drunk is just as bad as drinking too much because you are using this as an excuse to blow off some steam.

Finally, the Biur Halacha says: "And if you will ask me, how can Chazal have actually obligated us to get drunk, when drunkenness is openly denigrated in the chumash and the prophets?!"  The answer is, in short, if you look at the Purim story, you will see the most open Hashgacha Pratis/Divine Providence during the episodes of drinking too much wine.  You need to live that reality... the more you realize that you are not in control, the more you can Yad HaShem in everything.  Get drunk enough to realize that the blessed Mordechai did not save us and the cursed Haman did not threaten us -- it is always nothing but HaShem.

That realization -- the direct and constant influence that HaShem has on His world is the best preparation for Pesach; which may be why we start learning hilchos Pesach on Purim right after we have lived the reality of His control.


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