Drinking and celebrating Purim




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Ad d'lo Yada

By Nachum Mohl

Purim as everyone knows is a very merry holiday. Although it is only one day in the year, the celebration can be very intense and jovial. In the synagogue the normal somberness dissipates and is replace by excitement and frivolity as those assembled come together and bring their good feelings of merriment when they come to fulfill the mitzva of hear the reading of the Megilla. They are prepared to stomp and shout to block out the name of Amelek which is read in the Megillah.

Also on the day of Purim itself, the same lively mood is generated as Jews all over begin sending and receiving their Shallach Monos as the Askenizic Jews, the Jews of European descendent call it, or Mishloah Manot as the S'fardic and Israelis call it. These are the small parcels of food that is one of the four mitzvot of this day which we send to friends and neighbors. And this merriment continues into the next mitzvah, that being the Purim seuda (the festive Purim meal). The table is set for a feast and alcoholic beverages are placed on table for all to enjoy together with the many treats and delicacies that have been send over from friends and neighbors who also fulfill the obligatory mitzvah of Shallach Monos.

Purim is a time of recalling the tale of Haman, Mordachai, Queen Esther and King Achasverous. As we sit to eat and drink, there is no limit to how much we drink as long as we do not misbehave (i.e. sin) for if we are drinking to fulfill the mitzvah, a mitzvah should not cause us to sin. There is no limit to how much we can sing, dance or relate insights into the strange but true tale that took place almost two thousand years ago.

Ad d'lo Yada means that we can drink until we no longer know the difference between blessed in Mordecai and cursed in Haman. Drinking to the point of being drunk is a point that Judaism is at odds with most other religions. In some other religions alcoholic beverages are strictly forbidden and in other religions being drunk is forbidden. Judaism however seems to make it a mitzvah (only on this one day) and indeed we must understand why!

The origin of Purim and the mitzvah of the festive seuda meal dates back to the majestic banquet that King Achasverous made in the capital city Shushan. Achasverous was the king of one hundred and twenty-seven countries. He ruled the world from India to Africa. This banquet lasted one hundred and eighty days (six months!) and was to celebrate King Achasverous's unification of his kingdom. Drinks were set out and all participants could enjoy as much as they desired; no one was forced to drink or to stop drinking.

The king drank so much that he became drunk and in his drunkenness boasted of the beauty of Queen Vashti. He ordered her brought to him and his ministers naked, that all should realize that indeed she is the most beautiful woman in the world. Vasti not being drunk of course refused. The king was incensed that she refused his (drunken) request and he ordered her to be executed.

After her execution came the selection of the king's new bride (and subsequent queen) which as you most likely know was Esther. Mordecai was Esther's uncle and can you believe it – after Esther was established as the queen he heard of a plot to kill the king. He reported it to Esther who reported it to the king who investigated and found it to be correct. The king had the would be assassins executed. But somehow he 'forgot' to give a reward to Mordachai.

In the meantime, the wicked Haman, the greatest anti-Semite in his generation, had become appointed Prime Minister of the greater Persian empire. He was a descendant of Amalek who had no love for the Jews having attacked them when they left Egypt.

Haman had a huge ego and he wanted all to bow down before him. Mordecai was the only one that refused which of course infuriated Haman. So Haman began a plot to exterminate not just Mordechai, but also his people too, the Jews – does this remind you of some one else like him who lived in Germany?

Mordecai told Esther that she should realize that the reason that she became queen was only in order to rescue her people and that it was up to her to do something. She knew that the king's weak spot was good brew and although they did not have Jack Daniels and Johnny Walker in those times, still they had good, old and strong wine. So she made a drinking party for Achasverous and Haman. Achasverous and Haman came; Achasverous wondered why she invited Haman and he noticed that Haman was feeling quite pleased with the high status accorded to him.

The king asked Esther the reason for the party and she declined to tell him only telling him that at another party she will reveal her purpose. In the meantime the king went back to his palace a bit suspicious and Haman to his house.

That night, the king could not sleep so he requested his scribe to read to him from the chronicles. When the reader mentioned Mordecai and how he saved the king's life he asked what reward had he been given. The reply was nothing. Ah ha, the king reasoned because he did not reward this man, no one has come forward to tell him what is going on between Esther and Haman – why was he invited to Esther's party!?

Yet Haman had other plans for Mordecai; he built a high gallows to hang him. Unfortunately for himself and fortunately for us, at the next drinking party that Esther arranged for Achasverous and Haman she revealed to the king that Haman planned to kill her. She being a Jew was under the wicked Haman's death decree to eradicate all Jews. The king became infuriated and a being bit tipsy ran out of the room to think; Haman realizing his personal jeopardy and difficult predicament fell to his knees in front of the queen to beg for mercy, but being also a bit tipsy fell onto Esther. That was just as Achasverous re-entered the room. Imagine the shock of Achasverous to see his top minister lying on top of the queen! He did not hesitate one moment but called for the guards to take Haman and execute him immediately.

Thus through drinking and drunkenness the Jews were saved from destruction. Therefore to commemorate the miracles that happened then, we too, imbibe more than our normal. Jews are generally not drinkers and therefore this is a difficult mitzvah to perform. But when one considers that G-d directs the entire universe even to the point when each leaf that falls off from a tree it is guided by G-d to where it will land, we must realize that G-d will protect us if when we drink we desire is to fulfill the mitzvah of Ad d'lo Yada.


from the March 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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