Judaism: A Happy and Holy Purim
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper. His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
Day of Feasting and Joy
The mitzvah to be happy on Purim is greater than other holidays, for in regards to all the other holidays (Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot) it is written (Deuteronomy 16:14): "You shall rejoice on your festival", and seeing as most people enjoy drinking wine, there is a mitzvah to so. However, there is no mitzvah to drink a large amount of wine (Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 529:1-3). In regards to Purim, however, there is an explicit commandment to drink more than usual. Furthermore, this is the main purpose of the holiday of Purim – to be "days of feasting and joy" (Book of Esther 9:22). Therefore, the Sages said (Talmud Megillah 7b): "A man is obligated to intoxicate himself on Purim, till he cannot distinguish between "cursed be Haman" and "blessed be Mordechai."
The Purim Day Feast
Every person should have a festive meal including drinks on Purim, and while the entire night and day of the holiday is intended for joy, nevertheless, the pinnacle of enjoyment is the festive meal, since this is the way to express joy – with a large meal and drinks. Without food, drinking does not turn out well, and is not joyful. Therefore, one should arrange a special meal on Purim. The meal should be eaten in the afternoon. A person who eats the festive meal at night does not fulfill his obligation, because it is written: "days of feasting and joy" (Book of Esther 9:22; Talmud Megillah 7b).
Most people eat the meal in the afternoon, because in the morning they are busy hearing the 'megillah' reading, sending 'mishloach manot', and giving 'manot l'evyonim'. After all this is done, they can have an enjoyable meal. Even if the meal continues till nightfall, they must still say 'al ha'nissim' in the 'Birkat Ha'Mazone', for we go according to when the meal began.
Don't Worry, Be Happy!
Although the main part of the mitzvah occurs during the Purim festive meal, there is a mitzvah to be especially happy throughout all of Purim – both at night, and during the day. The happier one is, the more he glorifies the mitzvah. Thus, the Jewish people increase happiness throughout the entire holiday of Purim by means of singing and dancing, embracing friends, learning the joyful Torah, eating delicious foods and drinking tasty beverages. Every one should maximize his happiness according to his own personality.
What to Eat
In addition to wine and other drinks, one should prepare beef for the meal, seeing that most people enjoy eating meat. A person who finds it difficult to eat meat should make an effort to eat chicken, for it, too, is enjoyable. If one doesn't have chicken or doesn't like it, he should prepare other delicious dishes and rejoice in them together with wine.
The meal should be eaten with bread, because in the opinion of eminent 'poskim', a meal without bread is not considered important (Peninei Halacha Z'manim, 16:9 and 10).
How Much to Drink
The mitzvah is to turn Purim into "days of feasting and joy", and the Sages said (Talmud Megillah 7b): "A man is obligated to intoxicate himself on Purim, till he cannot distinguish between "cursed be Haman" and "blessed be Mordechai." Yet, many opinions were stated in defining the mitzvah of 'feasting'. In general, the various opinions can be ordered around two essential viewpoints.
Those Who Believe One Must Get Drunk
There are some authorities who say that the words of the Sages are meant to be taken literally, and that a person must get drunk until the point where he cannot distinguish between "cursed be Haman" and "blessed be Mordechai" (Rif, Rosh). That is to say, until he reaches a state of simple joy, free from his natural inhibitions; he laughs more, and he also cries more. True, he finds it difficult to walk straight, cannot remember all the details and various commitments he took upon himself, but his heart is good, and he loves his friends. In such a state, "cursed be Haman" is one and the same as "blessed be Mordechai". In other words, although he knows that Haman is a 'rasha' (evil) and Mordechai a 'tzaddik' (righteous), nevertheless, when mentioning the two together, his feelings for them are the same. All is good, and all is for the best – in the end, in fact, everything did work out. Therefore, the happiness is not affected whatsoever. This is the nature of drunks – they cannot go into details, and everything seems the same to them, without any distinctions. In such a drunken and happy state, a person behaves in a way which would normally be considered improper. This was the custom of many 'gedolei Yisrael' (eminent Torah scholars), who would drink large amounts of wine on Purim.
Those Who May Get Wild
However, someone who knows that if he gets drunk, he is liable to get wild, hit friends, do ugly things, and terribly humiliate himself – even according to this opinion, he should avoid getting drunk, and be content with drinking a small amount. Some authorities say that the advice for such a person is to fulfill the mitzvah according to the Rambam – namely, to drink until he becomes intoxicated, and immediately go to sleep. While asleep, he won't be able to distinguish between "cursed be Haman" and "blessed be Mordechai."
Intoxicated but Not Drunk
Some authorities believe that the mitzvah is to drink more than one is accustomed, to the point where he is intoxicated but not drunk. In other words, one feels slightly dizzy, is more relaxed and happy, but does not reach the level of drunkenness in which he is liable to behave indecently. The reason is that according to halacha, the opinion of Rebbe Ephraim which states that one must drink "ad d'lo yada" (till he cannot distinguish) is not accepted. Or possibly, the opinion that one must drink "ad d'lo yada" is accepted, however, it means until a person cannot speak properly, and when asked to repeat frequently "aror Haman, baruch Mordechai" (cursed be Haman, blessed be Mordechai), he will occasionally get confused (Tosephot and Ran).
The Root of the Disagreement on How to Drink
Apparently, in view of the fact that people react differently to drinking alcohol, there consequently are various opinions about how to fulfill the mitzvah of "feasting and joy" 'l'mehadrin' (strictly). For some people, large amounts of drinking cause them to get wild, while for others, it causes them to be calm and cheerful. Drinking a lot causes some people to throw-up, roll in their vomit, and humiliate themselves in front of all, while for others, drinking arouses them to reveal the best of themselves. Some people become tired, while others are stimulated. Therefore, each person should examine himself: is he a person who get's happier when drinking a lot or a little; or is he similar to those who, after drinking, must immediately go to sleep.
Good Advice for Purim Drinkers
Given that many of us are not in the habit of getting drunk, it is advisable to learn a little about how to drink, for if not, one is liable to arrive sober to the Purim meal, but wake-up the next day in his house without remembering how he got there.
In general, the influence of alcohol reaches its peak only twenty minutes after being consumed. Therefore, to test the impact the alcohol has, one should wait at least thirty minutes between each drink. It is also good to combine drinking with eating, for then the wine is absorbed properly. By doing so, one can embrace his friends, reveal the goodness of his heart, and take joy in the salvation of Hashem.
Women and Purim Drinking
Women who wish to are permitted to drink more than usual, but they must be careful not to get drunk, because getting drunk is a greater disgrace for women than for men, for it violates the laws of modesty in which women excel.
It can also be said that due to their natural modesty, by drinking a small amount of wine, women can attain all of the virtues that men achieve by drinking a lot.
The Positive Side of Drunkenness is Revealed on Purim
Although in general drunkenness is disgraceful, nevertheless, its' positive sides cannot be ignored. As a consequence of intoxication, basic happiness is revealed, expressing physical, unrestrained joy, filled with power and vitality. Normally, however, the lust and depravity of drunkenness obscures its positive side, and as a result, it causes wildness and numerous obstacles. But on Purim, when we drink and take joy in the salvation of Hashem, remembering the miracle that was done by means of the feast, the positive sides of drinking are revealed.
Revealing the Uniqueness of Israel
There is another profound meaning: On Purim, the eternal holiness of Israel is revealed, making clear that even what appears to be bad – is reversed for the good. The harsh decrees lead to repentance. By means of drinking wine for the sake of the mitzvah, the 'sod' (secret) is revealed, that even the material side of Israel – internally – is holy. And although the body and its physical sensations seem to interfere with serving Hashem, on the high level of Purim -- "nahafach hu" (on the contrary), they greatly assist serving Hashem, in joy and vitality.
Joy in the Revelation of Perfect Faith
More profoundly: In general, the Torah and intellect should guide one's life; when a person follows in this path he is happy, but his happiness is limited according to his knowledge. However, in the elevated level of faith, which we attain on Purim, we know that Hashem governs the world for the good, and although sometimes we do not understand His leadership, we discard our thoughts, and accept His leadership with joy. This is the level of "ad d'lo yada", devotion to a level that is above all human perception, connected entirely to 'emunah' (faith) and 'mesirut nefesh' (total devotion). And out of such supreme faith, which is the faith of Israel, we achieve boundless joy.