Tonight at sunset begins the Jewish festival of Purim. Let me open with a joke. Here’s an oldie but a goodie:
A devout Jew goes to his rabbi for advice. “Rabbi,” he says, “I’m having problems with my son. I brought him up in the Jewish faith, sent him to Hebrew school, threw him a big Bar Mitzvah party, and now he tells me he’s become a Christian!”
“It’s funny that you should come to me,” the rabbi answers. ” I also brought my son up in the Jewish faith. I sent him to Hebrew school, and I threw him a big Bar Mitvah party. He, too, became a Christian.”
The man is astonished. “What did you do?” he asks.
“Well,” says the rabbi, “I prayed to God.”
“And what did God say?”
“God said, ‘It’s funny that you should come to me. . .’”
Get it? Get it? Think about it.
To Drink or Not to Drink: That is the Question
Now on to more Purim-y matters. The Talmud (not the Bible) tells us to drink to excess on only one night of the year: Purim.
Meghilla 7b says, “A person is obligated to drink on Purim until he does not know the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai.’”
Maimonides wrote: “That one should …drink wine until he is drunk and falls asleep from drunkenness” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Megillah, 2:15).
At all other times, Judaism forbids drunkenness. Why the command for drunkenness on Purim? Because Purim is about revealing hidden things. Just as Esther’s true identity was hidden, and Haman’s true character was hidden, we hide our true intentions behind a mask of social refinement. Purim is the one day of the year to strip away all pretenses and reveal to ourselves who we really are beneath the self-control of rational thinking. Drinking doesn’t bring about a new personality. It only reveals what was there all along (This means you, Mel Gibson).
The point here is that drunkenness during Purim is a legitimate doctrine. It’s not just an excuse for bad behavior, as some people charge. And there is a vast difference between drunken misbehavior as a way of life, and one drunken evening for the purpose of growing closer to God.
Of course, many, many people, both Jews and Christians, celebrate Purim without getting drunk, and believe that drunkenness is wrong for any reason—even if it brings about unrestrained joy.
From a practical perspective, I can’t help but think that there is a fine line between getting drunk enough to “fall asleep from drunkenness” and getting drunk enough to die from alcohol intoxication or asphyxiation. That line can’t be figured accurately by one who is already impaired by alcohol, and who is not a regular drinker.
I believe that whether you drink much, drink little, or don’t drink at all, God sees your true self, and he weighs the motives of your heart. I personally choose not to get drunk for Purim. What about you? Do you celebrate Purim? Are you planning to get drunk tonight? How do you strip away pretenses and get real before God and others?