March 8, 2012 by pitputim
Rav Kook gave the following Dvar Torah in his Siddur, עולת ראי’’ה :
The Talmud in Megillah 12a states that the near destruction of the Jews in the time of Ahasuerus was a punishment for participating in the royal banquet and bowing down to the Persian idols. What led them to perform these disloyal acts?
The Jews of that era thought that the root cause of anti-Semitism was due to xenophobic hatred of their distinct culture and religion. As Haman explained his rationale for destroying them:
“There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people; neither do they keep the king’s laws.” (Esther 3:8)
In order to overcome this hatred, the Jews decided it would be prudent to adopt the customs of their idolatrous neighbors. They demonstrated their allegiance as loyal Persian subjects by attending the royal banquet and bowing down to the Persian idols.
However, the Jews soon discovered that their efforts were futile. They were dismayed to learn of Haman’s plot to annihilate them, despite their best attempts at integrating into the local culture.
Accepting the Torah Again
With the realization that assimilation was not the answer, and that their only true protection from enemies is God’s providence, the Jewish people reaffirmed their commitment to keep the Torah and its laws.
“‘They confirmed and took upon themselves’ (Esther 9:27) — they confirmed what they had accepted long before” (Shabbat 88a).
The Talmud teaches that the renewed commitment to Torah at Shushan complemented and completed the original acceptance of Torah at Sinai. What was missing at Sinai? The dramatic revelation at Mount Sinai contained an element of coercion. Alone and helpless in the desert, the Jewish people could hardly refuse. The Midrash portrays this limited free choice with the threat of burial beneath the mountain, had they refused to accept the Torah. In the days of Ahasuerus, however, they voluntarily accepted the Torah, in a spirit of love and pure free will, thus completing the acceptance of Torah at Sinai.
Effusion of Good Will
This appears to be the explanation for the unusual rabbinic requirement to become inebriated on Purim (Megilah 7b). It is ordinarily forbidden to become drunk, since without the intellect to guide us, our uncontrolled desires may turn to immoral and destructive acts.
But on Purim, the entire Jewish people was blessed with an outburst of good will to accept the Torah. On this special day, every Jew who respects the Torah finds within himself a sincere yearning to embrace the Torah and its ways. For this reason, we demonstrate on Purim that even when intoxicated, we do not stray from the path of Torah, since our inner desires are naturally predisposed to goodness and closeness to God. Even in a drunken state, we are confident that we will not be shamed or humiliated with the exposure of our innermost desires. As we say in the “Shoshanat Ya’akov” prayer on Purim,
“To make known: that all who place their hope in You will not be shamed; and all who take refuge in You will never be humiliated.”
We can ask a few questions here. It is understandable that drink and merriment caused the Jews of that time to try to become more like the Nochrim of that generation. We understand this. That attitude, or mistaken belief, was at the root cause of the enlightenment in Germany and elsewhere. Jews thought that they could behave like Nochrim in the street, and like Yidden at home. They falsely relived what the Jews of Persia already found out. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew. You cannot escape from that. Your pin tele Yid will shine somewhere, sometime. There will be a descendant of Amalek who will resent that countenance. That descendant will threaten your physical and/or spiritual existence.
What is the response? One response is that of extremes. Chassidim have decided that they will adopt measures which go beyond Halacha. Halacha does not mandate that Jews are forbidden to wear the same style clothes as non-Jews. A male Jew fulfils a positive command if he wears Tzitzis, and according to some Acharonim, fulfils a Rabbinic command if he wears a Yarmulke. Both males and females should guard the laws of Tzniyus in their attire (and demeanour). Some Chassidim, however, don’t consider this enough. They would like to look “like Jews” (as in a Uniform) in the street. This is an extreme reaction in the same vein as those who take the opposite extreme and dress to look specifically like Nochrim.
What does drinking achieve? Far be it from me to claim that I don’t know. Drinking is a poisoned chalice. It can be liberating, in that it removes inhibition. It can be liberating, in that it unburdens one’s stress and worries. It is an artificial time-bound expediency. How much does one drink? Unlike all other Mitzvos, we are specifically not given an amount. Why? Is it a Reviis, is it ten Reviis? It is neither. The amount one drinks is subjective. It is precisely the amount that leaves a person free to the extent that they are unstressed by the fact that they are not troubled by the concept of a blessed Haman. How can a person not be troubled by that? Surely, the thought of God looking favourably upon the Hamans of this world is distressing in the extreme?
That depends on where one’s feet are. If one is sober, one’s feet are planted in this Earth at this time, in the Golus leading to Geula state that we are in. Inebriated, one is able to rise above that sunken reality and levitate, albeit for only a short period, into a Utopian reality where וראו כל עמי הארץ כי שם השם נקרא עליך … that even the Nochrim will see that God’s name is inscribed on our foreheads.
How though do we understand the idea that we can confuse Mordechai as being cursed? My understanding of this is that it is only in our sober state that we mistakenly only see our perfection, only occasionally focussing on those cursed areas of our free will which cause us to stray off the Holy path. We know only too well, that once a person has their veneer lifted, when they have had a few shots, they often become very willing to introspect and describe their failings and indeed seek to consider them afresh.
I feel that this is a meaning of עד דלא ידע in the context. But, like everything in our world, שם שמברכים על הטוב, כך מברכים על הרע, in the same way that one can bless over good things, one blesses over bad things. Alcohol can also be abused. If a person is already in a state where they do not appreciate the difference between a blessed Mordechai and a cursed Mordechai, because they have diluted Mordechai, or they already don’t understand the difference between a cursed Haman or a blessed Haman, then that person will gain nothing by drinking the Alcohol except a headache and an unwanted expectoration. Alas, these types of people need to have a Purim party, but only when they understand the Purim in the party. If there is no Purim, it’s just another party; a Goyishe party. ודו’’ק