I’ll Drink to That!


Purim is a very interesting holiday.  It is one of a handful of holidays not in Torah; therefore, there are no commandments about observing the holiday.  Rather, there are traditions and rabbinic laws which are observed.

One of the more interesting traditions is that on Purim we are to drink until we no longer know the difference between right and wrong.[i]  I find this edict very interesting.  Purim is a celebration, so there is an expectation that people will party and drink.  The rabbis found it necessary to caution us about drinking to excess, but why such a specific point at which we are to stop drinking?  If the concern was over-drinking, why not simply invoke the Golden Mean?  More interesting is that the rabbis want us to drink during Purim.  They do not tell us that if we drink, stop when we can’t tell right from wrong.  They tell us to drink until we can’t tell right from wrong.  Why?  What is the purpose?

Are we supposed to be as drunk as Ahasuerus was when he ordered his wife to “entertain” his dinner guests?  Perhaps we are to be incapable of differing between right and wrong so we don’t notice that Mordechai pimps out his niece in order to gain an advantage over a political rival.  Maybe, the rabbinic dictate that we get drunk at Purim is just to build up our alcohol tolerance in order to drink four glasses of wine and still make it to the end of our Passover Seder.  Or maybe, just maybe, it has nothing to do with Purim or Passover but everything to do with Shavuot.

Shavuot (The Festival of Weeks), celebrated seven weeks after Passover, commemorates the Israelites receiving Torah at Mt. Sinai.  The two holidays (Passover and Shavuot) mark the two most important events in Jewish history: our deliverance from slavery in Egypt and receiving Torah.  The two are linked, and there is much debate over which is more important.  Had G-d not delivered us from slavery, receiving Torah would not have been possible; however, without Torah our redemption would be meaningless.

Is it possible that the rabbis took the opportunity of the raucous celebrations of Purim to prepare us for Shavuot?  Torah commands that every generation is to stand at Sinai and receive Torah for themselves.  Maybe, just maybe, the rabbis thought that prior to that we experience a world, even for a little while, without Torah, without ethics, without the ability of knowing the difference between right and wrong.

[i] The rabbis actually say to drink until we cannot tell Mordechai from Haman, but that is another story for another post.

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