Do I have to Get Drunk in Purim?

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לא ישתכר, שהשכרות איסור גמור ואין לך עבירה גדולה מזו, שהוא גורם לגילוי עריות ושפיכות דמים וכמה עבירות זולתן

An important Mitsva which we celebrate in Purim is the Mishte, also known as “Se’udat Purim”. During the day of Purim, this Sunday March 12, usually at mid-afternoon, we participate in a festive meal or Se’uda. At this banquet we sing songs,  rejoice and express our gratitude to Bore ‘Olam for having saved us from the decree of Haman.

It is customary to serve alcohol at this banquet (MT Megillah 2:15) “making a toast” for our salvation, but we must drink in moderation.

Thus writes the Rosh (1250-1320) in his book “Orhot Hayim”.

“[Although alcohol is served during the meal of Purim] we should not get drunk, because getting drunk is a serious prohibition, and actually there is no greater transgression, since drunkenness leads a person to act with promiscuity and could even cause one person to [involuntarily] kill another person (I am thinking of fatal car accidents that are sometimes a consequence of driving intoxicated Y.B.) or other [serious] similar transgressions. “

Maimonides (1135-1204) clarifies that the measure of alcohol consumption in Purim is וירדם בשכרות “until one is drowsy [because of the effects of alcohol]”. Alcohol in moderation makes a person feel drowsiness, because alcohol has sedative effects.

Maimonides clarifies that drinking too much alcohol as a way to encourage drunkenness is a clear misbehavior, and its effects can lead to the gravest sin in Judaism: “Hilul HaShem” (desecration of the name of God). In Mishne Toraa De’ot 5: 2 he writes: “kol hamishtaker … getting drunk is a sin; it is deplorable and it causes a person to lose his wisdom. And if [a Tora scholar] gets drunk in front of other people (‘am ha- arets) he has desecrated the name of God (חלל את השם)”

We, the Jewish people, should be the happiest people in the world for being chosen by HaShem, and for having the opportunity to be closer to Him, by studying His Torah and doing His will. In Purim we are also happy because HaShem, fulfilling once again His promise that He will never let the Jewish people disappear, saved us from a great danger. Our happiness should come from this awareness, not from alcohol.

But what if we are not yet on that spiritual or intellectual level, and do we need some external stimulation to be happier? What can we do to stimulate our joy in Purim?

Maimonides explains very clearly that our personal happiness increases when we “give” to others. When we share what we have with those who have less. In MT Megilla 2:17 he says: “There is no greater and more sincere [source of] happiness than when making the poor, the orphans, the widows and the strangers to be happy. A person that helps the poor people to feel happier is imitating the actions of HaShem [middame bashekhina] as it is written “for HaShem is Who revives the spirit of the poor and the heart of the oppressed” (Yesha’ayahu 57:15).

Purim should not be used as an excuse to drink in excess. “In these days” says Rabbi Weinreb, a leader of the orthodoxy in the United States “in which many of our young people are prone to experiment with intoxicating substances, we must warn against the dangers of alcohol abuse, especially in Purim … We are not commanded to get drunk and act foolish or lose control … rather we are called to be happy in a way that increases our gratitude and love for HaShem, in appreciation for the miracles He has done for all of us. “

May we all have a happy and sober Purim! 

Tomorrow, Thursday, March 9, we will observe Ta’anit Esther, a day of fasting before the celebration of Purim. Fasting begins in the morning and lasts until night. In New York the fast will begin at 5.09 am.