Purim: Drinking For Clarity

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 695:2) brings down as law the words of our sages’ in Megillah (7b): “A man is required to mellow himself (with wine) on Purim until he cannot tell the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai’.” Many fine Jews have pondered this somewhat bizarre utterance, and have given different explanations.

Is the phrase teaching us that we should get absolutely “plastered” on Purim, to the point where our minds cannot distinguish properly? It seems odd that the sages would encourage such a thing. After all, Purim, like any other holiday, is intended to convey to the Jew certain ideas. Since one of the central ideas of Purim is the struggle between good and evil; between Mordechai and Haman – why would the sages want to muddle and obscure these concepts? Furthermore, the expression, “to mellow oneself” does not connote that one should be “rip-roaring drunk”, and certainly it is not likely the sages would endorse such a state of mind.

Our teacher, Rabbi Kahane, HY”D, offers a powerful explanation to this question. The point is not that one should drink until he becomes confused and says, “Cursed be Mordechai”, G-d forbid. Rather, he should understand that there is no difference between blessing Mordechai and cursing Haman, between blessing the righteous man and cursing the evil one. Both are mitzvot. It is a mitzvah to fight and curse the evil-doer precisely the way it is a mitzvah to bless the righteous man. The two are equal, complementingone another.

Jewish Complex: The Mercy of Fools

Let us develop this idea. It would not be a shocking revelation if we saidthat Jews in our generation, as well as in past generations, have a serious problem with the concept of cursing and hating evil. Despite the fact that this subject is a central part of Judaism, permeating the Tanach, Mishnah, Talmud, and halacha, for all kinds of reasons it is difficult for Jews tointernalize the need for the burning out of evil, and the hating of theevil-doer. It is a hang-up we are familiar with from the days of King Saul(who in his misguided mercy spared Agag the Amalekite, which eventuallybrought upon us the episode of Haman!) – until this very day, where mercy onenemies and murderers has brought us to the brink of tragedy.

For the record, Queen Esther did not fail in this area. After the first day of Jewish vengeance against their enemies, Achashverosh asked her if she had another request. She answered: “If it please the king, let it be granted to the Jews who are in Shushan to do tomorrow also according to this day’s decrees, and let Haman’s ten sons be hanged upon the gallows”. In otherwords, Esther did not have the galut complex of taking pity on a fallen enemy, but rather requested that the Jew-haters be killed one more day.

Drinking Straightens our Thinking

When the sages tell us that we should not distinguish “between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai”, they are coming to tell us: You are required to mellow yourselves with wine, so that you will not hesitate to come to the full understanding that the concept of “Blessed is Mordechai” is equal to the concept, “Cursed is Haman”. That is, hatred of evil is no less important or fundamental than love of good, and there is no one without theother. Purim is the time to elevate ourselves in our thinking. Precisely by getting a little tipsy on wine, we can remove the usual inhibitions and hesitations, which commonly prevent us from cursing and hating evil!

The Rav has taught us something tremendous. Purim is not a holiday of drunken confusion and chaos, or for casting off our heavenly yoke. On the contrary. Purim is the day to cast off the hypocrisy of our everyday lives,and to sever ourselves from the phony self-righteousness which causes us tonot to want to condemn the wicked. Getting mellow or tipsy on wine straightens us out. If foreign, un-Jewish concepts permeate our thoughts all year round, on Purim we reveal our authentic, uninhibited selves. Without apologies, without “the mercy of fools” (as termed by the Ramban); without being “more righteous than our Creator” (as the midrash depicts Saul when herefuses to kill Agag).

In Conclusion, a Word About Dr. Goldstein

At this juncture, let us mention that this Purim is the fourth annual Yohrzeit for the holy Dr. Baruch Goldstein, HY”D. In all his deeds, we remember Dr. Goldstein as a man, who in his life and his death, was a symbol of “not knowing the difference between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai”. On one hand, he was the epitome of good. His dedication as a doctor to heal his patients was incredible. “Ahavat Yisrael” conquered his heart. From this aspect, he was “blessed is Mordechai”. On the other hand,this love was not “out of control”. He knew that just as it is an obligationto love the good, it is also a “mitzvah” to hate the wicked. This is the”cursed is Haman” aspect. May we merit to be whole in our attributes, and to internalize our understanding that the war against evil is part and parcelto the goal of bringing good to the world.

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