AIMeM would like to thank Shmuel Birnbaum for submitting this Dvar Torah.
With all the traditions that we have on Purim, the one that is most discussed nowadays is the halacha of, “חייב אינש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי” “A person is obligated to become intoxicated on Purim until he does not know the difference between ‘Blessed is Mordechai’ and “Cursed is Haman”. (Shulchan Aruch OC 695:2) This obligation seems very out of character for our upright, respectable Jewish religion. We are Jews, representatives of Hashem on this Earth, what explanation is there for requiring us to get drunk on Purim? Secondly, what is it about Purim that we are required to get drunk when no other holiday has this same obligation? Regardless of what your feelings may be about getting drunk, this obligation requires good discussion as it is the halacha.
Reb Yisrael Salanter explains that the miracle of Purim is different than the miracles of other holidays. Take Chanukah as an example, the decree on Chanukah was that Jews were not allowed to learn Torah and do mitzvos, but there was no decree to actually kill the Jews. So we see the decree was specifically against the spiritual side of the Jewish People. Therefore, on Chanukah, we celebrate the spiritual aspect of the Jewish People. On Purim, however, Haman did not care about the Jews learning Torah, he simply wanted to eradicate the Jewish Nation from the face of the Earth. So on Purim, the miracle was that the physical side of the Jewish People was saved. Therefore, we have a specific mitzvah to celebrate the physical aspects of our lives that we do not have on any other holiday.
As Jews, what is our purpose in this world? A simple answer to a very deep and complicated question is to increase spirituality in this world. We do this using both the physical and spiritual aspects of our existence. In the Purim story, the danger was only coming against the physical aspect of our existence, yet, Hashem saved us. We see from here that the physical body of a Jew by itself is enough to warrant salvation, even without any spiritual threat. When we say the physical aspect of our existence was in danger, we are separating our mental capacities from our physical bodies. Our mental capacities are what allow our spiritual side to take flight, so we cannot put them together with our physical capabilities. When we say the “physical aspect” of our existence, we mean the body by itself with nothing else, not even higher brain functions. Therefore, explains Reb Yisrael Salanter, we are obligated to get drunk on Purim and throw away our mental control of ourselves, to show how even just that side of us by itself is holy. We want to show Hashem how we recognize that all aspects of our existence are holy, even just this physical shell.
This license to drink does not allow us to act crazily and go completely out of control. On the contrary, those of us who have seen tzaddikim get drunk on Purim would even call it a privilege to have seen how they act while drunk! When a person drinks the right way, they do not become a mindless shell, but rather they are stripped down to their core which is them putting complete trusting Hashem and realizing how everything is in Hashem’s hands. Drinking takes away their normal human feelings of self-control and makes them wake up to this reality. Without this accomplishment, the purpose in being drunk is extremely weak.
There are many stories told how (for whatever reason,) the graves of great rabbis were opened many years after their deaths and their bodies were found to still be in good condition, not decomposed even after years in the grave. Based on what we have said, we can understand how this unnatural event can occur. Our spiritual self, our neshama, never decomposes. A spiritual “being” is everlasting. These great people worked on themselves until their physical bodies were spiritual as well, therefore, they did not decompose after many years. Spirituality does not rot! Even if we may not reach the level of these great people, it does give us the responsibility to realize that all parts of ourselves are holy and must be treated as such.
Let us take this lesson for Purim, understand that both our physical and spiritual sides need to be cultivated. While we might think that it is only our spiritual side that can benefit from recognizing Hashem, what happens when a holiday like Purim comes and Hashem cannot be recognized? His role in the Purim miracle is hidden and cannot be seen at all! So today and tomorrow (for those in Yerushalayim, Shushan, and Teveria), let us focus on using our physical side to recognize Hashem. Since both sides of us come from Him, there is no reason why they cannot both be used to get close to Him.
A Freilechen Purim!
Shmuel Birnbaum lived in Chicago, Il. till making Aliyah with his family over fifteen years ago. He currently studies in Mirrer Yeshiva in Yerushalayim where he lives with his family. He is a first-time contributor to AIMeM.
For any questions, comments, or to subscribe to our email list, please email us at AIMeMtorah@gmail.com.
Please check out our other AIMeMTorah project, Nation's Wisdom!