By Mark Mietkiewicz ~
A person is obligated to drink on Purim until one no longer knows the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai.”
-Talmud, Megillah 7b
“If all drinking does is make you sick or do stupid things, then it goes against everything that Purim is about.” -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman [http://bit.ly/jdrink11]
You’ve got to be pretty out of it to confuse your feelings about Haman and Mordechai! And that’s a recurring problem at Purim-time when otherwise moderate drinkers use the holiday to drink to excess, sometimes with horrific consequences. In recent years, rabbis, community leaders and other Jewish organizations have been spreading the word about what the mitzvah really means and how to observe it safely.
Alcohol is no stranger to Shabbat and all the Jewish festivals but what is its special connection to Purim? Rabbi Howard Jachter explains “that the miracle of Purim came about to a great extent due to parties where alcohol played a central role. Thus, we consume alcohol on Purim in order to remember the great miracle brought about by alcohol.” [http://bit.ly/jdrink23]
Purim on the Net continues to explain the link. “With alcohol in their system, drunken Purim partiers are paradoxically enabled to appreciate that only a higher power can truly discern between good and bad, between Mordechai and Haman. Or so goes the rationale.” And the site adds, “Of course, all that philosophic wrangling is lost or long since forgotten on most of the Purim drinking crowd.” [http://bit.ly/jdrink24]
So how do you reconcile the Talmud’s dictum about Haman and Mordechai? Many traditional and contemporary commentators suggest that you should drink (wine) until you become drowsy and are unable to distinguish between the Book of Esther’s villain and hero. [http://bit.ly/jdrink25]
Purim can also present particularly large challenges to certain people. For recovering alcoholics, this holiday can be offer unwanted temptations as Shmuly Rothman describes in My Non-Alcoholic Purim [http://bit.ly/jdrink21]
The Jewish Diabetes Association explains the risks of low blood sugar in Purim Drinking: Diabetes/Alcohol: A Dangerous Combination. According to the article certain diabetics should never drink. Others must take special precautions:
• Plan to have your drink with a meal or after eating a snack
• Check your blood sugar before you go to sleep, and eat a bedtime snack (solid protein and some carbohydrate) in the evening after drinking. Do this even if the bedtime blood sugar level is high, to avoid a low blood sugar while you sleep
• The next morning, get up at the usual time, test your blood sugar, take insulin, eat breakfast, and then go back to bed if you feel ill. “Sleeping-in” can result in a bad reaction [http://bit.ly/jdrink17] If you are diabetic, consult a physician before consuming alcohol.
Hatzolah, the voluntary emergency medical service organization, has published a Purim Safety page which focuses on both alcohol and other holiday safety reminders including the need to be careful as children may be darting from cars while helping to deliver mishloach manot. [http://bit.ly/jdrink18] They add, pointedly, “Don’t get carried away this Purim!” [http://bit.ly/jdrink19]
Some congregations have decided to downplay booze writes Sue Fishkoff. “I’ve always hated the drunken side of Purim,” said rabbinical student Ilan Glazer, spiritual leader of Conservative Temple Beth El of North Bergen, N.J., which held an alcohol-free Jewish comedy festival last year on Purim afternoon. “It seems counter to what we try to teach our children about the Jewish tradition.” Some communities celebrate by focusing on another Purim tradition: delivering food to the hungry. [http://bit.ly/jdrink20]
In order to put the holiday into perspective, I’ll return to Rabbi Freeman for the closing words. “Purim is not about drinking. Purim is about being drunk with sincere happiness.”
Have a joyous and safe Purim.
Mark Mietkiewicz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org