One of the central themes on this strange yet powerful day of Purim is the seeming strange mitzvah Derabanan of becoming intoxicated. To explain-away the mitzvah as an opportunity to ‘let loose’ for one day a year, seems to rob the day of its holiness and meaning – certainly something that Chazal did not intend! So what is actually meant by the famous statement: “Chayav Inish Libesumei…”? Are we seriously to be inebriated to the point that we cannot discern between Hero and Villain, Tzaddik and Rasha? This doesn’t sound like the Judaism that we know!
To further the intrigue, we find a seeming contradiction in the Halacha:
- The Shulchan Aruch – OC 695:2 – teaches the famous Halacha:
חייב אינש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי
A person is obligated to become ‘fragranced’ (“Libesumei”) to the point that he does not know the difference between Arur Haman and Baruch Mordechai.
- Shulchan Aruch – OC 690:16 – however also instructs:
צריך שיאמר: ארור המן, ברוך מרדכי, ארורה זרש, ברוכה אסתר
A person must say: Cursed is Haman, Blessed is Mordechai, Cursed is Zeresh, Blessed is Esther…
Now the obvious questions arising from all this is: How is it possible to fulfil both Halachot? How is it possible to be both drunk to the point of being incapable to discerning between Hero and Villain in the story, yet at the same time be able to recall and mention them as Tzaddik and Rasha.
The plot thickens, as we discover that (as the Vilna Gaon points out) the gematria (numerical value) of the two statements “Arur Haman” and “Baruch Mordechai” are identical. Both yield an exact result of 502!
All this points to there being a deeper and more satisfying approach to understanding ‘becoming fragranced’ to the point that we don’t know the difference between ‘Arur Haman’ and ‘Baruch Mordechai’.
The time-old question of injustice reappears in every generation. Moshe Rabbeinu, Yirmiyahu HaNavi, Iyov as well as the Gemara (Brachot 7b) all reiterate the problem of “Why do good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people?” (Our objective now is not to try to describe the numerous Jewish approaches to Theodicy.)
When good things happen to good people – we see or intuit the Hand of Hashem as a Divine Judge. Similarly, when bad things happen to bad people and Evil is destroyed.
In fact – THE VERY SAME Divine Involvement is seen by both – evil being destroyed, and goodness being rewarded.
Both Haman’s demise and Mordechai’s rise – both bringabout the same Kiddush Hashem – both have the same gematria.
What is meant by “A person must become ‘fragranced’ to the point that he doesn’t know the difference between Haman and Mordechai”, is that a person should see through the Purim events – that no matter what the individual does, at the end of the day – goodness will be rewarded and evil will be destroyed – Baruch Mordechai and Arur Haman.
In Chapter 4, the pivotal scene in Megillat Esther, we find Mordechai confronting Esther, trying to convince her to go to the king and beg him to spare the Jews. We would have expected the argument be something like “Esther, this is why you became queen; you HAVE to do your duty…” But we all know the famous, yet most unexpected line was “Don’t think you can escape the plight of the Jewish people in the king’s palace. If you are silent at this time, salvation will come to the Jewish people from a different place, just that you and your father’s house will be lost. Who knows, perhaps it was for this that you were ordained to become queen?” To paraphrase: “Esther, you can choose your role, but you cannot choose the outcome. If you choose to do the right thing, then good will happen to you, if you choose to do the wrong thing, then bad will happen to you – but Hashem’s Will, will prevail in the end. The Jewish people will never be destroyed”.
The message to us is clear. With or without drink, the message of Purim – both through the evil machinations of Haman and the heroic selflessness of Mordechai – teaches us that if we do Evil, it will rebound and destroy us, and if we make the right choices, goodness will prevail. We think that we drive our own destiny, but ultimately Hashem’s will prevail.
Sometimes we need to be drunk to absorb that message.