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Thought for the Day: Getting Drunk on Purim -- Why and How

My granddaughter wrote a very cute story this morning.  It began: "Log, log ago".  She was asking for me to help her and I almost blurted out that she meant "long"; but in a rare fit of common sense I held my tongue and read on.  ...the queen had "bin killed bye enamis."  ..."Prinsses Avigayil was so skarde she wasit so priti"  Then she got encouraged by "uncle יוסף" to go and help other people.  Very creative; and I told her so.  In fact, I told her so with some enthusiasm; 100% genuine!  She responded in kind.  Then I went to work and she left for school; both in great moods to start our days.

Chazal tell us, and it is so legislated in Shulchan Aruch, Aruch Chaim 695:2, חייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי/a person is obligated to get drunk on Purim until he doesn't know between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai.  (I know the translation is stilted; so is the Hebrew, that's  my point.)  The Rema amends to this that some say one should drink more than he usually does, then fall asleep -- so in his sleeping state he will have achieved the goal of not knowing.  Moreover, the Mishna Brura legislates that one should indeed conduction himself in that manner.

Are you fine with that?  I'm not.  If the goal is just not to know something and that is achieved by taking a nap... then just take a nap and be done with it.  Why am I still obligated to drink more than I usually do?  Oh, yeah, and while we're on the subject... what the heck does that question mean, anyway?!  Since I am supposed achieve that state of not knowing , shouldn't I know it now so I'll know when I've fulfilled my obligation?  There's a more basic question, though... how in the world is it possible that Chazal mandate that we should get drunk, when we have examples from all over the Bible -- starting with Noach and Lot -- that demonstrate just how bad drunkenness is!

Let's start with the intent and meaning of the goal: עד דלא ידע.  Chazal didn't say "till you can't walk a straight line" nor "until you can't do a complicated calculation".  The Mishna Brura opens everything by very clearly explaining the goal:  Both the downfall of evil and the elevation of good makes a kiddush HaShem.  The question, says the Mishna Brura is whether the downfall of Haman or the elevation of Mordechai was of greater benefit to the Jewish people and which made a bigger kiddush HaShem.  The truth is, that's an interesting question and I can really see it both ways.  Exactly, says the Mishna Brura, that question is suppose to frame the discussions at your Purim s'uda.

Let's go back to my granddaughter's story.  Bad spelling, almost non-existent punctuation.  I would never write anything like that.  I don't mean that bad grammar; I mean as clever as her little story.  I wouldn't be able to write it because I'd be so worried about the grammar and punctuation that I'd never get to the story.  When we drink, it lowers our inhibitions.  When we start talking about ארור המן לברוך מרדכי, it's all terribly intellectual, stilted, and could even get boring.  So we start drinking... and the normal shyness that prevents us from being creative drops away... and we start expressing lots more ideas about that topic.  Some good, some not so good; real Purim Torah.  Every new though, no matter how far fetched, has some kernel of truth and brings a new dimension of כבוד שמים/the Glory of Heaven.  Keep drinking and ideas keep flowing.  When the new ideas stop flowing, then you have fulfilled the intent of Chazal and you are permitted to stop drinking.  Nowadays we start to lose focus at some point, so the Mishna Brura says to conduct yourself as the Rema says; do the best you can, then take a short nap.  Even though we can't fulfill the full intent of Chazal, at least we can keep the letter of the law.

And how could Chazal have put us in this position?  See the Biur Halacha (dh עד דלא ידע) who asks precisely this question.  His answer... what can we do?  HaShem arranged that all of the miracle of Purim came about through drinking wine, so we have to remember those miracles experientially by also drinking wine.  We thereby make inspiration of seeing HaShem's Hand in every detail of our life an integral part of our being.

As long as you keep that the focus of your drinking and use the drinking to facilitate your innovative thoughts on the subject (not, chas v'shalom to use Purim as a means/excuse to facilitate your drinking), then whether a little or a lot, you will have fulfilled your obligation.  Then you are prepared to go out into the world in great moods; knowing your Creator is with you every step.

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