This is the second in a series of 5 (actually 3) Divrei Torah I have given in the past for Parashat Tetzaveh AND/OR Shabbat Zachor. This particular Dvar Torah I was asked to write for the Spring Edition of the Kol Columbia (Hillel newsletter) Look at this side-to-side (open a new wind0w) with the edited edition to compare the changes they made to the crazy ravings I make.
L’chayim, It’s Purim!
A Dvar Torah by
Ah Purim, what an ideal holiday for a college student! Huzzah! You are expected to act like a fool, even to the point of misbehaving during religious services; get completely ferschnickered, even to the point of not being able to tell the difference between the arch-villain and the hero. In the past I have described this holiday as “Simchat Torah without the restrictions.” Travel doesn’t have to be by foot, spending money doesn’t have to be curtailed, and music doesn’t have to be a capella. Hooray!
What is Purim? To paraphrase Borat Sagdiyev, Haman wanted to “throw the Jew down the well so his country could be free” and yet we “grabbed the evil Persian vizier by his horns, then we have a big party”. Anyway… Adar is the one time of year where we are not only permitted, but are expected to make complete fools of ourselves. It says in Taanit 29a, “Mishenichnas Adar Marbin Besimcha”, whosoever welcomes the month of Adar increases in joy. There is a generally accepted relaxing or uprooting of certain Torahic negative mitzvot, such as those imposed on cross-dressing (Dvarim 22:5 as lifted by Joseph Caro (or as translated from Spanish, Expensive José) in the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 696.8). This is as radical as the lifting of the prohibition on gambling granted on Chanukah. Indeed, we are even obligated to get completely and utterly smashed on Purim.
I’m would never call Judaism a “dry” religion. That would be wholly untrue; we drink wine at for everything but a fast and usually follow it up with hard alcohol. However, we are always reminded to drink in moderation. In the Torah, wine is Noah’s downfall, and the Talmud is rife with warnings against drunkenness.
Purim is different. There is no formulaic Kiddush over wine mandated for the holiday, and yet we are commanded to drink, and drink a lot! Megilah 7b, in a sugya which I am sure many of you are at least semi-familiar with even if you have never studied Talmud, quotes Rava who says, “One is obligated to sweeten himself on Purim until he cannot differentiate between ‘Cursed is Haman’ and ‘Blessed is Mordechai’. Rashi confirms that “to sweeten oneself” means “to get shikkered with wine” and Rambam codifies this into law.
But the Talmud can’t let Rava’s statement go unchallenged. Leaving his position unchecked is, well, like leaving an alcoholic alone before an open bar. It follows up with one of the intriguing little legends of the Talmud. Rabbah invites Rabbi Zeira to a Purim Seudah, during which both get beyond drunk and Rabbah literally slaughters (the Aramaic used is shachtei, which is the same word used for ritual slaughter of cattle) his colleague. Rabbah feels bad and prays for God to bring him back to life. A miracle happens and Rabbi Zeira is resurrected. Rabbah invites Rabbi Zeira to his Purim Seudah again next year, and Rabbi Zeira is all like “ah hells no! A miracle might not happen again… beeyotch!”
But doesn’t this contradict that which was just stated? Well, it is not a contradiction because…
Anyway, have fun but use discretion, stay away from butcher knives and chainsaws, and have a designated underclassperson who is underage and therefore won’t drink to care for you in your excessive inebriation and to wake you up for the morning Megillah reading our at least for Kabbalat Shabbat. Enjoy the concerts, the Purim shpiels, and the Megillah readings. Boo Mordechai and Yay Haman… strike that, reverse it. Purim is indubitably a great minor festival, a spiritual victory over physical threat, where we let spirits (wine and the like) be victorious over our physical minds and bodies. I admit that was bad, but this is what you must come to expect from Purim jokes, I hope the rest are better.
In the Messianic Age, all of the Festivals, the High Holidays, and even Chanukah will revert to their Temple-centric celebrations, but Purim, the one holiday in which its body of text does not even contain the Name of God will still be celebrated with the same four mitzvot as it has since Mordechai and Esther wrote the scroll two and a half millennia ago: reading the Megillah, a feast, gifts for the poor, and sending baked goods to your friends. And of course, lots and lots of ever-flowing alcohol. To quote a great chacham and gadol of our generation, Rabbeinu Homer ben Avraham, the Springfielder Rav, who toasts, “to alcohol, the cause of—and solution to—all of life’s problems!” A Freylich Purim and Dodgers in ‘05! L’chayim!