Monday, March 5, 2012

Chiddushei HaRim on Purim

This isn't quite a story, but a short mashal (parable) about Purim and drinking from the Chuddushei Harim, Reb Yitchak Meir Alter, first Gerrer Rebbe. Just as a matter of interest, the name Alter was not the original family name, but had been changed when Reb Yitchak was Rebbe. Reb Yitzchak, believe it or not, was a Polish national, and supported the Polish nationalist movement, as did a number of other chassidic Rebbes at the time. When the Russians came in Reb Yitzchak was afraid that he would be hounded, and therefore changed the name from Friedman to Alter.

But before we get to the mashal, just a few words about Purim. We know about the great power of Purim in ruchnius (spirituality), when we gain access to the upper spheres, more so than at other sacred times. As we say, Yom Kippurim is only "ke Purim (like Purim)." There is a certain access to shamayim (heaven), and if we daven (pray) with intensity of feeling and fervor on this day, our innermost supplications will be heeded and perhaps fulfilled from on high. The key is to remember that the story of Purim did not only take place many years ago, but that the power of Purim comes forth every year on the 14 of Adar, and at this time we must keep in mind to re-live the events. As they say, "hakoreh es haMegillah l'mafreia lo yatza." (if one reads the Megillah - Scroll of Esther -retroactively then he does not fulfill the mitzvah). We can interpret this in the following way: If one reads the Megillah "retroactively," meaning that the story and power of the day is only something that took place many years ago, then one has not fulfilled the mitzvah. We must keep in mind the efficacy of our prayers, because after all, Purim is when we accepted the Torah without a mountain over our heads (kimu v'kiblu). And the Gerrer Rebbe gives a mashal in this vein in connection with drinking on Purim:

There was once a commoner looking on as the king was riding by on his chariot. Thousand of people gathered for the event. This commoner saw a man with a gun pointing toward the carriage. He snuck up, and wrestled the sniper to the ground. Word got to the king that his life was saved, and after meeting the commoner, he told him that as a reward he could take anything he wanted from the palace.

A few days later, guards of the palace went running up to the king to alert him that a caravan was headed toward the palace. The king went to the window, and saw empty cart, after empty cart, after empty cart, blocks long. He realized exactly what was going on (the man was going to clean out the palace). So he told his ministers to get out the wine. He said, "we'll give him a few drinks, and then he won't know what to ask for."

And so it is with Purim, says the Rebbe. We drink to get confused so that we don't know what to ask for, because on Purim we just might get things before their time.

A number of leaders have come out very strongly this year against drinking on Purim, including Rav Shmuel Kamentzky and Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky, noted expert on addiction and dependency. The issue is how to interpret the famous words of the gemara (Megillah 7), "meechayev inish livsumeh b'Purya ad d'lo yada bein arur Haman uvein baruch Mordechai," usually translated as, "a person is required to become intoxicated on Purim until he can't distinguish between 'cursed is Haman', and 'blessed is Mordechai.'" The key word is "livsumeh." Rav Kamentzky said that this word means "whiff," and he explains that in relation to drinking, a whiff means a "sip." So much for getting intoxicated this Purim. Then again, how many will really heed his interpretation and advice. Others rule that one should drink a bit more than he would normally drink. Others, that one should drink until one gets tired, because while sleeping one won't know the difference between "arur Haman" and "baruch Mordechai." Some say that one should drink enough so that one can't compute the gematria (numerology) of the two (each one equals 502. No coincidence!) Others say that it's a matter of how joyous one becomes, and that the joy should be to the point that one doesn't know the difference between the two. There is a number of rulings.

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