Simplicity is Wonderful but it’s for the Next World!

Purim is somehow connected to Yom Kippur – in the Torah it is called Yom Hakippurim and the play on words is not lost on the Rabbis. They say that in a sense, Yom Kipur is a yom k’Purim, meaning a day like Purim, so in some way Purim is seen as a paradigm of something that Yom Kipur emulates. What’s that all about? On the face of it, the two days couldn’t be more different. Purim is all body and Yom Kipur is all soul.

Purim is about revealing the hidden Hand Of God in events. God isn’t referred to by any name in the Megillah at all, and only through putting together all the events could his workings be seen. Through doing so, we see it as a battle of good against evil, where each receives his just deserts. We see how God engineered each individual event according to an intricate plot to upstage the evil.

How ironic is it then that the mitzvos of the day ask us to drop our sense of right and wrong and just open our hearts and minds to the goodness within everything and everyone. We give mishloach manos to help us come close to others, we give gifts to those who need without reserve and without enquiry as to their righteousness. We revel in physical pleasures of eating and drinking more than usual. We even drink purposely to blur the line between good and evil – until we cannot tell the difference between the blessedness of Mordechai and the cursedness of Haman.

Isn’t it odd that on a festival whose essence is about the victory of good over evil, that we do all we can to overlook the evil and bring ourselves to a state of happy acceptance of everything and everyone?

Let’s think about the drinking aspect (my favourite mitzvah) a little deeper. What is this business of making it hard to tell between Mordechai (the epitome of good) and the monstrous Haman? How can this be desirable at all?

In the classical mussar work, the Orchos Tzaddikim discusses the ills and the benefits of drinking alcohol. The main benefit as the author sees it is in helping a person through a distressing time to lift his spirits and get him back on track both physically and spiritually. It’s no coincidence that the section on drinking is placed in the middle of the book’s chapter on simchah and in fact is used to make the transition in the chapter between the negative type of simchah and the positive.

Immediately after the piece on alcohol, Orchos Tzaddikim goes on to explain how simchah is achieved ultimately by totally trusting in God that everything that ever happens is God’s doing and happens for a reason that you will one day (not likely in this world) understand and truly rejoice in.

It’s with this kind of superhuman faith that a person could truly recognise that Haman’s evil is as much a part of God’s work as Mordechai’s good. From the perspective that everything that happens in this world is by God’s design, you can truly accept that Haman is as necessary as Mordechai in bringing about the ultimate redemption.

But the Orchos Tzaddikim, in telling us that a little drunkenness is a great way to get over a rough patch (if done with responsible friends and not in excess), he’s teaching something very significant: You have to realise that this is an extremely high level of faith and you’re not expected to reach it without a lifetime of effort. A little drink really can make you feel that things aren’t as bad as you thought they were, and that really does allow you to view the world as if you really believe God is leading the way.

In short, drunkenness is a very good simulation of the way the world would appear from a high level of faith.

So a little more wine than usual on Purim can bring you to a fleeting experience of that kind of faith that God is the Creator of both Light and Darkness, the Doer of Good and Evil.

But that’s the vital word: FLEETING!

The world you see when you’re drunk, where everything is just great, is really not something you’re supposed to experience in this world. The idea that things that seem bad are really good for you is an other-worldly concept and you can’t live in this world with that idea at the front of your mind.

The very fact that the mitzvah of the day requires you to drink to reach that conclusion is a lesson that you shouldn’t miss. The point is that it’s neither desirable nor really possible to look at the world in those terms on a daily basis.

Living in this world requires you to be acutely aware of what’s going on within you and around you, and in particular to be on guard against doing wrong or even witnessing wrong without protest.

Purim, as I said, is about the victory of good over evil. On the other hand the very essence of the day’s activities take us to a plane of existence in which evil is revealed as nothing other than God’s tool.

It’s a day of irony. The idea is to get that fleeting glance of a perfect world but to do it in such a way that emphasises that it’s beyond our reach and supposed to stay that way.

In this sense, Yom Kipur is very similar indeed to Purim. Yom Kipur also takes us to a plane of existence on which we feel the nearness of God and our ability to reach Him, only this time it’s through a complete negation of our physical needs. It too is a day full of irony, but yet different from Purim. Here, we do not negate the essence of evil, in fact we focus on it sharply and objectify it in an effort to expel it from ourselves and draw close to God.

Here too, the lesson is that yes closeness to God and cleanness from sin is a wonderful thing, and we need that glance of spirituality. But here too, it’s a one-off event and you shouldn’t even think about living permanently in that way. The mitzvos of Yom Kipur of fasting and refraining from other physical pleasures are there to get us to reach that unattainable plane, while teaching that it’s essentially unattainable to normal people.

The mitzvah of drinking on Purim is there to get us to another unattainable place, while teaching that it’s essentially unattainable to normal people!

But Purim and Yom Kipur are also polar opposites. The level of Yom Kipur is one of complete Din – Justice, where evil is evil and must be eradicated in all shapes and forms. Purim is overwhelming Chesed which actually reveals all evil to be essentially good.

The lesson of these days is that neither of these poles are a desirable place to inhabit as a way of life.

In real life, it’s not possible to distill pure evil and objectify it and then throw it off the cliff in the way we do on Yom Kipur.

Equally, it’s not possible to accept evil in it’s many guises as simply being God’s will and leave it be.

Real life entails complexity. Our mission is to use the tools that we have to view the world from a perspective of faith, while protesting evil and ridding ourselves and our world from it.

Purim and Yom hakippurim open up a brief window onto a simpler, more perfect world, but they do so in a way that reminds you that the window has to close at the end of the day.

Simplicity is wonderful but it’s for the next world!

16 comments on “Simplicity is Wonderful but it’s for the Next World!

  1. Chana Leah, if you get headaches from wine, it could be due to the sulfites. My husband gets headaches from numerous triggers such as MSG, caffeine, aspartame, sulfites, etc. He has learned to avoid food products with those ingredients. It’s almost funny to see that the two of us require two bottles of soda: I drink the diet caffeinated cola and he drinks the non-diet caffeine-free.

    You might want to try drinking Kedem Organic Grape Juice, which has no added sulfites. My husband reluctantly stopped drinking regular grape juice and wine due to headaches, and now uses only the Kedem Organic Grape Juice for Shabbos and Yom Tov kiddush. If he goes to a shul kiddush he waits for someone else to make kiddush for him so that he won’t have to drink regular wine or grape juice.

    There are some brands of wine without added sulfites. I believe that the Eshkol wine has no sulfites. Almost all wines have added sulfites, unfortunately.

  2. I have given up wine due to headaches, but do miss trying some of the nice selections my husband brings to the Shabbos table sometimes! As for this post, I really appreciate reading this perspective–and understood the connection between the drunken state and acceptance without protest. How sweet to think of this in the context of being at peace with evil as just another expression of Hashem’s master plan unfolding properly. And so true, it can only be a short peek at the world to come, when we can look forward to truly understanding all events.

  3. I never drink, because I dislike alcohol. On Pesach I use for Arba Kosos a very low alcohol content wine (usually Kedem’s Matuk Rouge Soft) plus a small Kos (a five-ounce glass). For Purim I will probably have two ounces of wine with my Seudah (“more than usual,” my usual being zero).

    My husband and I do our Purim driving around in the morning, zipping around to deliver the Shalach Monos, and only in the late afternoon when driving is all finished we start the Seudah and the drinking. No driving afterward. There is usually a Maariv minyan right on the block, so my husband does not have to drive anywhere after the Seudah; he just walks half a short block to the minyan, comes home and goes to sleep.

    One year our eldest daughter invited us to come from Bayswater to Brooklyn for the Purim Seudah. I refused to let my husband drive home afterward; we stayed over until the next morning. Now my daughter also lives in Bayswater only a few blocks away. So we will this year walk over for the Purim Seudah and walk home afterward (no driving!) This way, if my husband wants to drink wine to celebrate it is not dangerous.

  4. I have heard it said that one should drink wine (NOT any other alcoholic beverage) until one is “ad lo yada,” but that includes falling asleep. (When asleep one is unable to tell the difference between “baruch Mordechai” and “arur Haman.” I have also heard it said that one should drink a little more than usual, so if one never drinks anything, even a few ounces of wine would qualify. That would include a low-alcohol wine and a small cup (similar to measuring the Arba Kosos on Pesach to their minimum size and minimum alcohol content for those who have difficulty drinking). Obviously a small amount of wine drunk at a large meal, after which one does not drive anywhere but simply goes to sleep, that is pretty safe for most people. It’s when people overindulge and overimbibe and drive drunk that it really goes beyond the halacha and into the category of dangerous and prohibited.

  5. Because of the drinking and the behavior that accompanies it, I have enjoyed very few Purim parties in the last 15 years. If we can dance with unabashed joy at a wedding where little or no alcohol is served, why can’t we do the same on Purim with no more than one “ceremonial drink” per person?

  6. I think Charlie’s comment captures the essence of this essay beautifully.

    On a simple level, this article should never have been published and we should consider putting in cherem anybody who gets drunk on Purim since we have problems with alcohol abuse in the community. And since we can’t really measure whether somebody is drunk or how drunk, we should consider banning drinking any alcoholic beverage altogether on Purim.

    On a more complex level, there are prominent Rishonim and Achronim who understand the Gemora as meaning that there is a mitzvah to get intoxicated including the Shulchan Aruch. However the Rama brings down an alternative way of fulfilling the mitzvah by drinking a little more and taking a nap and says that “whether one drinks more or whether one drinks less it is commendable, provided that his heart’s intention is the service of Heaven.” The Chofetz Chaim in the Mishnah Berurah says that if one does get intoxicated, he should be careful in fulfilling the mitzvos of washing, HaMotzi and benching although he says it is proper to follow the alternative way that the Rama brings down.

    So clearly one who says there is no halachic basis for getting intoxicated on Purim is distorting the halachah.

    Another complex issues is the definition of intoxicated as the halacha itself defines at least 2 levels. And there is the known fact that alcohol has a different effect on each individual.

    However, since there are problems with alcohol abuse in the community as Rabbi Twerski is so acutely aware, and many individuals do not drink responsibly on Purim, Rabbinic leaders in a community can certainly make it assur and one can fulfill the mitzvah with the alternative means of the Rama or go with the Rishonim who learn the Gemora that there is not mitzvah at all.

    Another complex issue is understanding the process of making any act assur for a particular community. It raises similar issues to the effectiveness and advisability of bans and has the added complexity of making a previously accepted mitzvah, assur to perform in a particular manner.

    Charlie, has your Rav said clearly from the podium that he is ruling that it is absolutely assur for anybody in the Shul to drink on Purim? Perhaps you can convince him that for your shul community, this is the proper response.

    I think Simon is right, “Simplicity is Wonderful, but it’s for the Next World” and his article makes many great points and I’m prepared to stand by the decision to publish it given our readership.

  7. This should never have been published. Our community leaders are trying to fight the plague of drunkenness on Purim, especially among young people. Here is one example:

    There are four mitzvot of Purim and getting drunk is not one of them. Abusing otherwise kosher food and beverages would cause one to fall under Ramban’s classification of a “naval b’reshut haTorah”. We are supposed to be held to a higher standard. (And alcoholics should NEVER drink, ever.)

  8. It seems to me that drinking alcohol on Purim has become too wild, we need less of it.

    Around 12 years ago in Brooklyn, on Purim, I saw a boy between the ages of 8 and 10 drinking alcohol directly from a full-sized bottle he had for himself.

    The mouth of the bottle was broken and had very sharp jagged edges of glass. I took it away from him and poured out the wine before he could get hurt. This happened on the lawn in front of his house, while his parents were inside partying, totally abandoning their duty to guard and supervise their child.

    Since nobody was watching that child, even from a distance, even part of the time, he could have done anything, and if he would have gotten seriously hurt, nobody would have known until and hour or two later.

  9. Let me add another thought. On Yom Kippur, we are like angels. It’s all about, and only about, the neshamah. The guf and its base animal needs, so to speak, get pushed to one side. Purim on the other hand seems to be all about the body, not the soul: celebrating and pampering the guf with good food and great wine. It’s not hard to find the holiness in a bunch of people standing in synagogue and praying all day. It’s far more difficult to find the kedushah in a bunch of people eating, drinking and singing. Yet on both days we have a special closeness to HKBH. It’s said that on Purim we can ask HKBH for our requests and they will (hopefully) be granted. Maybe it’s because on all the other days our guf and our neshamah are fighting too hard. On Yom Kippur the guf allows the neshamah to have a chance to speak up, and on Purim the neshamah returns the favor and allows the guf a chance to speak up.

  10. Great post.
    Especially, “Our mission is to use the tools that we have to view the world from a perspective of faith, while protesting evil and ridding ourselves and our world from it.”

    Many shuls over the past few years have banned any alcohol. Of course, this is a good reason not to have your seudah in a shul. lol

  11. I have a twenty-year-old son in Yeshiva. Naturally I am concerned about the use and abuse of alcohol on Purim. My son reassured me that he knows that the mitzvah of drinking more than usual on Purim is only with wine, not any other alcoholic beverage. He also understands that alcoholic beverages are not like soda and you can’t gulp down a whole glassful (leading chas v’sholom to alchohol poisoning).

  12. Don’t be so sure Mark but thank you ;)

    However, I will add that an excuse I don’t need, given the straightforward way to learn the gemara in question.

    Tradition has it that gedolim such as the Vilna Gaon and Rav Yisrael Salanter would drink till reaching “shichruso shel Lot” – the drunkenness of Lot…

    Whether the talmidim were overdoing it, it is clear that their rebbeim learned the gemara kip’shuto.

    Let me add lastly that I believe the philosophical point of the essay is worth dwelling upon and internalising regardless of whether you actually get drunk on Purim.

  13. In the comments to Rabbi Horowitz post on the subject:

    Rabbi Benzion Twerski, who was on the panel when Rabbi Kamentsky made his remarks, clarifies:

    “If anyone believes that Reb Shmuel shlit”a said anything about not drinking, then someone did not hear correctly. He addressed “drunk”, not “drink”. If someone handles their alcohol, there is no one to measure the amount. And the proper drinking can truly serve as a kiddush Hashem. The questions arise when we observe the types of intoxication that involve chilul Hashem, medical emergencies, etc. The Rosh Hayeshiva was clarifying that such scenarios are not fulfilling a mitzvah, but rather committing an aveiro. There is no obligation to get sick or put oneself or others in danger, and, as Reb Shmuel made clear, it is an aveiro to attribute the the Chazal such an “obligation”.

    When individuals lack the level of control is takes to stop imbibing at the proper time, then it is better to avoid aveiros and dangers. No one suggested modification of the statement by Chazal. ”

    I think we certainly should give Simon the benefit of the doubt and assume that his drinking is under control and his is not looking for an excuse to get sloshed.

  14. Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky said drinking on Purim is assur. I think you are just looking for a an excuse to get sloshed!

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