БIs it a mitzvah to get drunk on Purim? Б
For many, the upcoming holiday of has become a sort of Jewish. Countless Jews celebrate in costume by drinking copious amounts of alcohol and attending raucous bashes. Many are aware that these wild celebrations have their roots in the notion that it is a mitzvah (obligation) to get drunk on the holiday. But where does this conception come from? And what might be the idea behind religiously sanctioned drinking? In the Babylonian Talmud we find the following statement: Rava said, БOne is obligated to drink on Purim until one doesnБt know the difference between Бcursed be HamanБ and Бblessed be Mordechai. ББ (Haman is the villain in the Book of Esther who seeks to annihilate the Jews of Persia, and Mordechai is one of the Jewish heroes who prevents his peopleБs demise. ) This statement is rather strange. First, the measure of inebriation seems vague. Second, one would have to get pretty plastered to not know the difference between blessing Mordechai and cursing Haman. Is Rava really saying that we should drink to such a state of intoxication? б IsnБt that dangerous?
The ambiguity of this seeming commandment suggests that perhaps we shouldnБt take it literally and, in fact, the codes of Jewish law significantly blunt the force of RavaБs statement. For instance, Rabbi Mosher Isserles (16th century, Poland) writes that by simply falling asleep, one will be unable to tell the difference between Бcursed be HamanБ and Бblessed be MordechaiБ and thus fulfill RavaБs mandate. Beyond the technical question of how much alcohol one should consume lies what is perhaps a more important question: Why might inebriation be religiously mandated altogether? One idea comes from Mordechei Yosef Leiner, the 19th century Chassidic Rebbe of Izhbitz. Leiner writes that there are two types of knowledge; the first is when something is Бrecognizable to [the] eye,Б which is more superficial, and the second, deeper form of knowledge takes place in the heart. When Rava said we should drink enough so that we donБt know the difference between blessing Mordechai and cursing Haman, he was referring only to the first form of knowledgeБon a superficial level, one should reach a state where one doesnБt know this difference, but in the heart, one should continue to understand who is the villain and who the hero.
According to this interpretation, drinking alcohol might be a way for us to access our inner, deeper form of knowledge that is often occluded by our more superficial understanding of others and the world. This is a very different approach than viewing Purim as a form of kosher debauchery. Purim is not about overcoming inhibitions in order to feel unconstrained in pursuit of our desires. Rather, it is about seeing the world from a fresh angle and unlocking a deeper kind of knowledge. Thus the religious value in drinking on Purim is more a matter of intention than of degree of inebriation. As Rabbi Isserles continues in his code: БDrinking more or drinking less are equally good, provided one intends oneБs heart to heaven. Б Of course it should be noted that those who cannot or choose not to drink on Purim are under no obligation to do so, and we should all be mindful to create spaces where people feel invited to remain sober. is the Orthodox rabbi at, which serves both students and the broader community, and is a Harvard University chaplain.
HarvardБs pluralistic Hillel program offers a vast array of events and resources that engage students and community members together. Check out their full calendar. Although many sources prohibit intoxication (Ramban Comm. to Kedoshim, Rambam Hil. Deos, Meoros Megillah 7b, Kol Bo and Orchos Chaim cited by Darchei Moshe and Beis Yosef respectively in Orach Chaim 695) some sources write hat one may or should get drunk on purim: 1) There is an obligation to get drunk (Rif to Megillah 7b, Piskei Rid, Piskei Riaz, and Tur. ) Additionally Minhagim Tirna and Minhagim Kloizner write to get drunk without specifying if it is obligatory. 2) Drink until you cant compute the gimatriyos of baruch mordechai and arur haman (Aguda, R\’ Yerucham). 3) Drink only up to the point of ad dlo yada (it is ad vlo ad bichlaal): Meoros to Megillah 7b (in one tzad). 4) Drink until you sleep. (Rambam (Hil. Megillah 2:15) Maharam Mirotenburg (responsa). 5) Drink until you cant sing the baruch mordechai song (Tosafos according to Beis Yosef and many others). 7) M\’chir Yayin of Rama (commentary to 9:19).