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    Drinking on Purim – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. How can a serious work like the Talmud tell us, “A person should drink wine on Purim until he can no longer distinguish between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai'” (Meg. 7b)?

    A. Rava’s statement in the Talmud does not necessarily imply that Purim is an occasion for intemperance and inebriation. It all depends on the way we translate the Aramaic phrase, liv’sumei b’Purya.

    The root of liv’sumei means to season or sweeten something. The same word is used in relation to sweetening the sound of the Temple music (Sukkah 51a). Its meaning may be extended to indicate being happy or delighted, and hence on Purim the rule is that one must be filled with rejoicing, which does not necessarily require alcoholic assistance.

    However, the traditional interpretation is quite clearly that the happiness we feel on Purim is reinforced by wine, in accordance with the phrase in the Psalms, v’yayin yesammach l’vav enosh, “wine gladdens the heart of man” (Ps. 104:15).

    How far should one go with wine on Purim?

    Rava’s answer is, far enough for one’s mind to be a little blurred and unable to distinguish between “Cursed be Haman” and “Blessed be Mordechai” – the words, not the idea. This is suggested by the numerical calculation (g’matria) that finds that in Hebrew the two phrases each add up to 502. But though we may drink, there is no excuse for being drunk. Not even on Purim may we lose our wits and abandon all touch with reality.

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