Drinking On Purim

Bottle of Wine

We are thankful that our ancestors survived an attempt of genocide, allowing us to be here today as a nation. Jews now have the freedom to practice our religion the way that the Torah outlines. Many celebrate Purim by getting drunk. Is this really what our forefathers mandated?

The Gemara in Megilla 7b talks about drinking enough wine on Purim that one "cannot diferentiate between the blessed Mordechai and the cursed Haman". Most hold that this means that one should drink a little bit more than one usually does at a meal. Others say that one could get a little tipsy. Some take this statement to the extreme and say that one can get downright plastered!

The Gemara continues, relating a bizarre occurrence. One Purim, Rabbi Raba and his friend, Rabbi Zayra got inebriated. Raba arose and struck R' Zayra, inadvertently killing him. The next day Raba cried out and R' Zayra was resurrected from the dead! The next year Raba invited his old friend to come to his seudah [meal], and R' Zayra promptly turned him down, saying that "one should not rely on a miracle".

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z"l held that this story is not to be taken literally. There is a concept in Judaism that "to make someone's face red from embarrassment is comparable to murdering them". This, the Rav held, is what happened in the Gemara account. That is, Raba embarrassed R' Zayra publicly when he was under the influence of alcohol, and later rescinded his words to restore R' Zayra's reputation.

Whether one takes the story literally, or as an exaggeration to prove a point, the message is clear: Don't get so crocked that you do something you might regret. Some may not realize how important it is to set a good example to others. How does it look to see educated men behaving like a bunch of drunken bums? How pleasant is it to attend a party with a belligerent sot? We are held culpable for our behavior at all times. Consider these things before you get stewed.

Some can get so intoxicated that they don't pay attention to what they are saying. They can hurt other's feelings, slander people or share secrets that were entrusted only to them. Gossip, snide remarks and cussing are a common by-product of being schnockered. Many who get pickled are prone to levity, flirting and improper thoughts. Many inappropriate behaviors can be manifested by downing one too many.

A practical solution is to know how your own body tolerates alcoholic beverages, and your limit before it distorts your judgement. There are those who simply get sleepy or groggy when they get inebriated. Certainly there is nothing wrong with such imbibing (as long as they don't try to drive, operate dangerous euipment, etc.). Those who are conducive to any negative conduct, or any irresistible yetzer [urge] to "hit the bottle", should be very cautious when around such tempting circumstances.

Here is where our differences can be a benefit. Those who would act as a lush should find a "goody-two-shoes" to be a designated driver. Or perhaps those who get woozy from booze should seek-out one inclined to get "high as a kite" in order to keep them in line. With this type of attitude, we can all get along together, despite our diametrically opposed views.

The bottom line is this: Getting caught up in the excitement of the day is fine, but halachically [according to Jewish law] one cannot use the simcha [happiness] of the day as an excuse to misbehave or speak Loshon Harah [evil speech]. Drink responsibly, and have a safe and enjoyable holiday.

Purim Sameach [Happy Purim],
The Jewlight Staff.

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