Drunk with Purim!

wineOne of the most puzzling and seemingly out of character demands imposed by our Rabbis is the one regarding drinking on Purim:

אמר רבא חייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי

Rava said: One is obligated to be drunk on Purim until he doesn’t know the difference between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai. (Megilla 7b)

Most often we find in the Torah, Prophets, Writings, Talmud, and later writings, that drunkenness is condemned, forbidden, and admonished against.  How could intoxication, which can lead to loss of self-control, alcohol addiction, transgression, weakened morality, and crime, be mandated by our sages?

The follow up story to this Talmudic statement, which some interpret less literally than others, leaves us further bewildered:

Rabbah and Rabbi Zeira made a Purim feast together. They drank, whereupon Rabbah arose and killed [lit. slaughtered] Rabbi Zeira. The next day, Rabbah pleaded for Divine mercy, and thereby brought Rabbi Zeira back to life. The next year, Rabbah said to Rabbi Zeira, “Come, let’s make a Purim feast together.” Rabbi Zeira said, “Miracles do not happen all the time.” (Megilla 7b)

What are we to make of drinking on Purim?  How drunk is drunk?  There are many approaches and many opinions.

Some rule that based on their understanding of the previous story and the possible consequences of inebriation that it is forbidden altogether to get drunk, including on Purim.  While others permit and obligate a person to get drunk to a degree.  The degree ranges from drinking the regular amount for a meal at which wine is served, to drinking to the point of intoxication, to the Rambam’s creative ruling that one drink until you sleep.

The final ruling as stated by the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema is the following (Orach Chaim 695):

Shulchan Aruch – A person is obligated to drink on Purim until he cannot distinguish between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai.’ Rema – There are those that say that one does not have to get drunk. Rather, he should drink more than usual (Kol Bo), and fall asleep. By sleeping he will not know the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai’ (Maharil). Both the one who [drinks] a lot and the one who [drinks] a little [is praiseworthy] as long as his intention is for the sake of Heaven.

Now let’s look at this a little more deeply.

Perhaps one is to take this command literally, but not in the obvious way.  Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky,zt”l, in his Netivot Shalom (Purim 57-58), says that a person is obligated be drunk not “be’yayin” (wine), rather “be’puriah” with (PURIM)!  Meaning, a person must be so drunk with the ideas of Purim that he comes to the realization that somehow there is no difference between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai.

Now, some people might need some help to get there, but one must never lose sight that the goal is not the wine.  Wine may be a tool, but it is certainly not the goal.

According to the Maharal of Prague, there are 3 relationships that a person must constantly work on to improve: 1. His relationship with God, 2. His relationship with his fellow man, and 3. His relationship with himself.  On Purim we are given the tools to work on these three areas in almost one fell swoop.

Sometimes a person feels a closer connection with God –the level of “blessed is Mordechai” – and sometimes a person feels more disconnected with God – the level of “cursed is Haman”.  Through the reading of the Megillah we are capable of reaching a level of ad de’lo yada that our connection with God, whether revealed or concealed, is ever-lasting and ever-present.  Whether in miraculous times or dark times, we are always connected with Hashem.  The Jewish people are constantly referred to as the children of God.  The son of the King remains so no matter how estranged he is from his father, so too the Jewish people, as difficult as life gets, are in constant connection with God.

We sometimes have friends who are on the level of “blessed is Mordechai”, and we, unfortunately, sometimes have friends who are on the level of “cursed is Haman”.  Through mishloah manot, we are able to rectify these different kinds of friends and bring the unity necessary of all Jews and humankind.  Under the most difficult of circumstances in the story of Purim, Esther commands Mordechai to go and gather ALL the Jewish people; “united we stand, divided we fall”.  Esther knew that the unity of the Jewish people was essential in order to prevail over Haman and his cohorts.  On Purim we can reach ad de’lo yada in this realm of life throughMishloach Manot.

Finally, Purim gives us the opportunity to work on our relationship with ourselves.  Purim is a time to focus on the “sur me’rah” (stay away from evil), through the mitzvah of erasing Amalek from our memories and from our midst and “aseh tov” (do good) through recommitting ourselves to Torah and service of God.  On Purim we can reach the level of ad de’lo yada where we can serve God while involved in purely spiritual matters and we can serve God while involved in the physical world.  There is no distinction.

On this Purim may we become, as Reb Shlomo Carlebach, zt”l, used to call, “Purim Jews”;  we reach the level of Ad de’lo yada, that we are so drunk with PURIM that we are at peace with ourselves, at peace with our friends and at peace with God.

L’chaim and Good Purim!

The Gift of One Year in Israel

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(First published on www.ha-mtl.org)

A primary role of the Jewish educator is to help his/her students to come home. Through engaging Jewish learning and meaningful Jewish experiences, students should be inspired to come home to who they are, connected to their past while looking forward to their future.  Each one discovering their uniqueness and how their will uniquely contribute to bettering this world.

One of the most fulfilling roles in my work as a Jewish educator is serving as the Israel Program Advisor at our school.  Part of my responsibilities is to open and guide the conversation with our seniors concerning spending their post-high school year studying in Israel. Together we discuss their hopes and their fears, their goals and their anxieties.  We discuss what a year in Israel could look like, what obstacles they would need to overcome, and what type of preparation they would need in order to succeed.

Their decision, made together with their family, is never an easy one. There are a number of important considerations including: academic, emotional, financial, cultural, and more.  For those who choose to go, their experience learning Torah in Eretz Yisrael, exploring the land, and interacting with its people proves to be a critical component to their day school education by solidifying, contexulalizing and completing it.

Every year I travel to visit with the students on their “turf” in their yeshiva, seminary or program.  There we discuss how they are doing, whether they were adequately prepared, whether they are overcoming their anticipated obstacles, and whether they are on route to achieving their goals.  We talk about their future plans and how they will reintegrate back in their home communities whether short term or long term.

I just came back from this year’s visit.  It was incredible to see the students flourishing each in their own way – learning, experiencing and bringing out the best in themselves.

In addition, it is no secret that this year’s security situation has brought a new dimension to their experience. I witnessed firsthand, an inspiring and professional group of program Rabbis, educators and staff.  Together with their students they have shown tremendous resilience and even more determination to make the most of their time in Israel, whether inside or outside the Beit Midrash.

I had the opportunity to visit Yeshivat Ashreinu, a wonderful and unique program, which sadly became more famous after the tragic murder of Ezra Schwartz, HY’D, earlier this year. The Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Gotch Yudin, is a model of principled leadership emanating from true Torah values. He has been guiding his students and staff valiantly through a most difficult of times.

Together with all the Montreal students, we went out to dinner for a mini reunion. There, in the heart of Israel, just outside Jerusalem’s Old City gates, we ate, schmoozed, laughed and reminisced. They were curious to know how the school was doing without them and how they can help with next year’s crop coming to Israel.  A few of the students shared meaningful divrei Torah and were all so grateful for this opportunity, for this gift.

Every year, my belief in the significance and importance of spending a year in Israel becomes strengthened, seeing our students at home with themselves in our nation’s home.