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
A Day of Feasting and Gladness
The mitzvah to drink and be happy on Purim is greater than on other chagim (festivals), for in regards to all the chagim (Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot) the Torah says: “You shall rejoice on your festival” (Deuteronomy 16:14), and seeing as most people take pleasure in drinking wine – it is a mitzvah to drink wine, but it is not a mitzvah to drink excessively (S.A., O.C. 529:1-3). As for Purim though, the mitzvah is to make it a day of feasting – in other words, the main point of the day is to drink and be happy, as it is written: “Days of feasting and joy” (Esther 9:22). Therefore, our Sages said: “A man is obligated to intoxicate himself on Purim, till he cannot distinguish between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai” (Megilah 7b).
The Mitzvah to Have a Festive Meal on Purim Day
Every individual should have a festive meal on Purim, seeing as this is the optimal way to drink joyfully – namely, in the course of a dignified meal together with a few alcoholic beverages. Without a meal, drinking is less joyful, and may also lead to negative side effects, such as headaches and hangovers. The meal should be held during the day; a person who ate a meal at night has not fulfilled his obligation, as it is written: “Days of feasting and joy” (Esther 9:22; Megilah 7b).
It is customary to have the meal in the afternoon, because in the morning, we are busy with the mitzvoth of reading the megilah, mishloach manot, and matanot l’evyonim. After that, an enjoyable meal can be held. And even if the meal continues beyond nightfall, it is still considered a mitzvah, and ‘Al ha’Nissim’, the special Purim addition, is recited in the Birkat ha’Mazon, Grace after Meals, for the beginning of the meal is the determining point.
Is it a Mitzvah to be Especially Happy All of Purim?
Although the main point of the mitzvah to be happy takes place during the meal, during the entire length of Purim – both night and day – it is a mitzvah to be especially happy. The happier one is, the more he glorifies the mitzvah. Thus, it is customary for Jews to be especially happy throughout all of Purim, participating in singing and dancing, embracing friends, learning the joyful Torah, tasting appetizing foods, and drinking a few alcoholic beverages.
What should be eaten at the Purim Festive Meal?
In addition to wine and other beverages, one should prepare a meat dish for the meal, seeing as most people take pleasure in eating meat. A person who finds eating meat difficult should make an effort to eat chicken, for chicken is also considered enjoyable. If one does not have chicken, or does not like eating it, he can eat other appetizing foods – enjoying them accompanied by drinking wine.
The seudah (festive meal) should be eaten with bread, since in the opinion of some eminent poskim (Jewish law arbiters), a seudah without bread is not considered an important meal (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 16:9, footnote 10).
How Much Must One Drink on Purim?
Our Sages said: “A man is obligated to intoxicate himself on Purim, till he cannot distinguish between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai” (Megilah 7b). However, several opinions were mentioned concerning the specifics of the mitzvah. In general, the various opinions regarding the mitzvah of drinking on Purim can be arranged into two main points of view.
Those Who Believe One Must Get Drunk
Some poskim take the words of our Sages literally – that a man must get drunk to the point where he cannot tell the difference between “cursed Haman” and “blessed Mordechai” (Rif, Rosh). In other words, one must reach a state of simple joy – released from one’s natural inhibitions; laughing more, and also crying more. True, such a person finds it difficult to walk straight, cannot remember all the details and various promises he made to himself, but nevertheless, he’s in a good mood and hugs his friends. In such a state, “cursed be Haman” is indistinguishable from “blessed be Mordechai” – namely, everything is good – or at least everything is for the good. When drunk, a person behaves differently, in a way that normally would be considered improper. Many of the ‘Gedolei Yisrael’ (eminent Torah scholars) were accustomed to drinking large amounts of wine on Purim.
Tipsy but Not Smashed
Some authorities believe that the mitzvah is to drink more than one usually drinks, to the point where he is tipsy 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 for this is that according to halakha, the opinion that holds one must drink “ad d’lo yada,” or, till he cannot distinguish (Rebbe Ephraim), is not accepted. Or possibly, the opinion that one must drink “ad d’lo yada” is accepted, however, the meaning is until a person cannot speak properly, and when asked to repeat frequently “aror Haman, baruch Mordechai” (cursed be Haman, blessed be Mordechai), he will sometimes get confused (Tosephot and Ran).
The Heart of the Dispute on How to Drink
It appears that the heart of the dispute stems from the different reactions people have when drinking wine. For some people, drinking large amounts of wine makes them happy, while others get depressed. For some, drinking is stimulating, while for others, it causes tiredness. Some people get wild after having a number of drinks, but for others, it causes them to be calm and cheerful. For some people, it causes them to throw-up, vomit, and humiliate themselves publicly, while for others, it arouses them to reveal their good-heartedness. And since the main point of the mitzvah is to drink and be happy, each person must examine himself: is he the type of person who is happier when drinking a lot, or a little; or perhaps he is the type of person who drinks, and then must go straight to bed.
Good Advice for Purim Drinkers
Fortunately, many of us are not in the habit of getting drunk, therefore it is advisable to acquaint ourselves a bit with the rules of drinking, for if not, one is liable to attend a neighbor’s Purim meal, but wake-up the next day in his own house without remembering how he got there. Later on, everyone will tell him how he danced on all four, threw-up, shouted, and then began asking for something unclear, and when no one answered his calls, he turned-over the table, and ten of his friends had to grab control of him, and drag him home.
In general, alcohol reaches its peak influence only about thirty minutes after consumption. However, someone who is unaware of this will drink a glass of wine or some other alcoholic beverage at the start of the meal, and after five minutes, seeing the drink had almost no effect whatsoever, thinks he must drink another glass in order to fulfill the mitzvah. And then, after another five minutes pass, still feeling just a little dizzy, but no more than that – thinks he has to drink another full glass. And then, after another ten minutes pass, now he begins to feel happy – finally, the wine is taking affect, and therefore, let’s up the happiness with another drink! Thus, within less than a half an hour, he has drunk four glasses, and all of a sudden – the alcohol goes to his head. He still makes an effort to control himself – to talk coherently, not to knock over things – but very quickly, falls dead drunk, and, as it says in the Megillah “there will be plenty of contempt and anger,” especially if he chucks up the contents of his stomach.
Therefore, one must know how to consume alcohol, and wait at least thirty minutes between each drink. It is also good to combine eating with drinking, and thus be able to continue being happy for many hours. In this way, the fine wine is absorbed properly; friends can embrace each other, reveal the goodness that lies in the depths of their hearts, and thank God for His great kindness and salvation.
Concerning Teenaged Revelers
Unfortunately, some teenagers are unruly and get drunk all year round; several claim they started behaving this way on Purim. In any event, in order to prevent such ugly phenomena, it is important to make sure that the youth are accompanied by their parents, or with rabbis and responsible counselors; without such supervision, they should not be given alcoholic beverages.
In any case, we must always remember that the main responsibility lies with the parents, who must supervise their adolescent children all year round, and also on Purim. And if their children are in yeshiva for Purim, they should talk to them beforehand about the proper way to have fun, and after Purim, ask them how it went, and draw conclusions.
The Taste of Drinking on Purim
Out of the sanctity of Purim, the holy spark that exists in simple and unrestricted happiness is revealed, and consequently, segulat Yisrael (the uniqueness of Israel) is revealed, a nation who is able to reveal kedusha (holiness) in physical joy, as well. “The Lord will rejoice with His works” (see, Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 16:12).
Women and the Mitzvah to Drink
Women are also obligated to fulfill all the mitzvoth of Purim. And although women are exempt from positive, time-bound mitzvoth, seeing as they also participated in the miracle, they too are obligated. This also includes the mitzvah for women to drink more wine than usual; however, they must be more careful not to get drunk and lose control, because drunkenness is a greater disgrace for women than for men, for it violates the laws of modesty in which women excel.
Modesty in Mishloach Manot
In view of tzniyut (modesty) it is important to make sure that, with regards to mishlochei manot, women send their gifts to other women, and men send their gifts to other men. However, regarding matanot l’evyonim, there is no need to be strict, because giving charity does not involve as much over-friendliness (Rema, 695:4).
A Married Couple
A married woman is obligated in the mitzvoth of Purim as an individual. Consequently, a married couple is obligated to send two mishlochei manot (gift portions of food) – one from the man, and one from the woman. And although concerning mishloach manot the main point is kiruv ha’da’at (friendship) between the sender and the recipient, it seems there is no need to explicitly tell the recipients that a specific gift is from the man, and the other from the woman; rather, the intention of the senders’ is sufficient.
And this does not affect the kiruv ha’da’at negatively, for seeing as they are a married couple, it is clear the gift comes from the two of them, and the kiruv ha’da’at is done by both.
Concerning matanot l’evyonim, gifts to the poor, a married couple must give the shiur of four matanot – two matanot from the man, and two from the woman. And there is no need for the woman to give the matanot herself; rather, her husband can give them for her.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.