Purim will soon be upon us, beginning February 28th, when we will read from the Megilla. We will also read early Thursday morning, and all are invited on Thursday, following the service, to join Rabbi at Bagel Boss in enjoying a bagel breakfast.
Drinking on Purim: do so with caution and moderation
It is well known that there is a statement in the Talmud that encourages Jewish folks to celebrate Purim not only with festive meal, but also with drinking, even to the point of intoxication. The way the Talmud puts it, Chayav Adam levasame, “A person is obligated to become inebriated to the point of not knowing (adsheloyada) the difference between “Cursed it is Haman and blessed Mordecai.” Some in the sources and codes through the ages have taken this at face value.
However, a closer look at sources shows this to be foolhardy and dangerous behavior. One sees, in the Esther story of the Megillah, the dangers of drinking. It is because Ahashverush is a partier and a lush that he cedes actual governing control to others, which almost dooms an entire population.
The story that follows Rabba’s suggestion in the Talmud to “party hearty” is what is most telling. Rabbah travels to celebrate Purim with Rabbi Zeira. In an inebriated state he slaughters Rabbi Zeira, presumably mistaking him for a cow! In the morning, when he realizes what he had done, he prays for Zeira's resuscitation, which miraculously happens. The next year Rabbah invites Rabbi Zeira over again. Rabbi Zeira, however, declines, saying “miracles don’t always happen.” Maybe this means that Rabbah almost killed his guest with strong drink, or it means he actually attacked him in a drunken state. Either way, we learn that drinking may well get you to the point where Haman wanted you–dead. The meaning of this follow up story is to drink, not recklessly, but in moderation. Either one can die of binge drinking or end up killing somebody.
Many sages have, through the ages, condemned the idea of reckless drinking. Drinking goes against the tenet of guarding one’s health, shemirat nfesh vaguf. Needless to say, in the case of underage drinking, local laws are defied (which is a violation of Torah law), imperils our youth and community, and violates the fifth commandment to “honor your father and mother.” Purim should never override these important Mitzvoth.
Two centuries ago, an important sage, the Chatham Sofer, made the point that only a moderate amount should be imbibed–just enough to get a little drowsy. For In that moment of dozing you don’t know the difference between the curse of Haman and the blessing of Mordecai.
With this in mind,
May all of us have a joyous and most importantly safe Purim.