Rabbi Kook on Purim: Accepting the Torah

Assimilation was not the answer.

Contact Editor
Rabbi Chanan Morrison,

Rabbi Chanan Morrison
Rabbi Chanan Morrison
INN
Why did the sages enjoin us to get drunk on Purim?

Assimilation in Ancient Persia
The Talmud, in Megillah 12a, states that the near destruction of the Jews in the time of Ahasuerus was a
Jews decided it would be prudent to adopt the customs of their idolatrous neighbors.
punishment for participating in the royal banquet and bowing down to the Persian idols. What led them to perform these disloyal acts?

The Jews of that era thought that the root cause of anti-Semitism was due to xenophobic hatred of their distinct culture and religion. As Haman explained his rationale for destroying them: "There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people; neither do they keep the king's laws." (Esther 3:8)

In order to overcome this hatred, the Jews decided it would be prudent to adopt the customs of their idolatrous neighbors. They demonstrated their allegiance as loyal Persian subjects by attending the royal banquet and bowing down to the Persian idols.

However, the Jews soon discovered that their efforts were futile. They were dismayed to learn of Haman's plot to annihilate them despite their best attempts at integrating into the local culture.

Accepting the Torah Again
With the realization that assimilation was not the answer, and that their only true protection from enemies is God's providence, the Jewish people reaffirmed their commitment to keep the Torah and its laws. "'They confirmed and took upon themselves' (Esther 9:27) - they confirmed what they had accepted long before." (Shabbat 88a)

The Talmud teaches that the renewed commitment to Torah at Shushan complemented and completed the original acceptance of Torah at Sinai. What was missing at Sinai? The dramatic revelation at Mount Sinai contained an element of coercion. Alone and helpless in the desert, the Jewish people could hardly refuse. The midrash portrays this limited free choice with the threat of burial beneath the mountain had they refused to accept the Torah. In the days of Ahasuerus, however, they voluntarily accepted the Torah, in a spirit of love and pure free will, thus completing the acceptance of Torah at Sinai.

We demonstrate on Purim that even when intoxicated, we do not stray from the path of Torah.

Effusion of Good Will
This appears to be the explanation for the unusual rabbinic requirement to become inebriated on Purim (Megillah 7b). It is ordinarily forbidden to become drunk, since without the intellect to guide us, our uncontrolled desires may turn to immoral and destructive acts. But on Purim, the entire Jewish people was blessed with an outburst of good will to accept the Torah. On this special day, every Jew who respects the Torah finds within himself a sincere yearning to embrace the Torah and its ways.

For this reason, we demonstrate on Purim that even when intoxicated, we do not stray from the path of Torah, since our inner desires are naturally predisposed to goodness and closeness to God. Even in a drunken state, we are confident that we will not be shamed or humiliated with the exposure of our innermost desires. As we say in the Shoshanat Ya'akov prayer on Purim, "To make known that all who place their hope in You will not be shamed; and all who take refuge in You will never be humiliated."

[Adapted from Olat Re'iyah vol. I, p. 441]