Purim is a pretty strange holiday. The text we read, Megillat Esther, isn’t a typical biblical book; it makes no mention of the big guy upstairs. Its heroine, a nice Jewish girl bunking with her uncle, ends up in the arms of the non-Jewish king (oh gosh!), and exchanges certain things, namely her wedding vows, in order to save her people. The story ends with the Jews going out on a revenge spree, killing thousands. And how do we celebrate this event every year? By dressing up in costumes, making lots of noise, gorging on delicacies and getting drunk out of our minds ad d’lo yada. Pretty strange in comparison to, let’s say, Yom Kippur, where we don’t eat or drink, instead spending the day in deep and contemplative prayer. What’s even stranger is that we’re taught that Purim is an even “higher” holiday than Yom Kippur. In fact, the rabbis teach that during the Messianic Era, Purim will be the only festival that we observe.
So why the near-obsession with alcoholic beverages? We usher in our holiest days with a hefty cup of wine, and during Purim we are commanded to not only drink, not only to become inebriated, but to get smashed, utterly and completely wasted. What gives? How can a set of laws that call for the best behavior, and the pinnacle of ethical culture sanction getting drunk to the point that we cannot distinguish between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai”? Generally, drinking to the point where one cannot know the difference between right and wrong is seen as a bad thing. The mystical depths of Hasidic thought bring new light to this issue, hopefully making you feel a little better about throwing away your inhibitions this coming Purim. Besides, your zaydie and bubbe did it well before you were born.
The Kabbalists (not of Yehuda Berg lore) came up with this pretty nice teaching that I alluded to before; Purim and Yom Kippur are very much connected. Kippur in Hebrew means “like Pur”, which our rabbis subsequently made to mean “like Purim.” How could Yom Kippur possibly be like Purim? Rather than spoil ourselves in food, drink, and dance like we do on Purim, we await all day for that glorious lox and shmeer platter. While on Yom Kippur we refrain from the physical pleasures and atone, on Purim we become almost gluttonous. It is precisely within this indulgence of the physical that Purim takes on its special significance.
I mentioned before that the rabbis of the Talmud inform us that during the Messianic Era Purim will be the only festival that we commemorate. They also tell us that during this era, G-dliness will fill the world and we will be connected with the divine every moment of every day. It is due to this teaching that the Hasidic masters suggest that Purim is in reality a higher day of atonement than Yom Kippur. Through our embracing of the physical world, specifically with the aid of drink, one can reach the innermost depths of the soul. How often have you had a bit too much to drink and found yourself sobbing yourself to sleep, because you had suddenly had some kind of alcohol-induced epiphany? A few times I’m sure, it happens to the best of us, and with reason.
Hasidic thought teaches us that everything in this world falls into two categories; the holy and the not yet made holy. Everything that exists exists for the glory of G-d. It’s up to us to take everything and realize its purpose. Hasidic thought also teaches us that we don’t contain within ourselves one soul, but two; the G-dly soul and the animal soul. When we drink to excess and with no purpose, our animal souls get the best of us; in fact, we turn into animals! But when this drinking is done with a higher purpose, namely, in the service of our Creator, or in the process of finding ourselves in this universe and contemplating our true existence and our true selves, we are doing a great mitzvah. It’s within this idea that the rabbis teach us that only Purim will be celebrated in the Messianic Era and that Purim is a higher day than Yom Kippur. It’s easy to repent and become inward thinking while you can’t eat, while you are in denial of the physical. But precisely because Purim is a day of feasting, drinking, singing, and dancing, the power to repent becomes that much harder and therefore that much deeper. This is why our rabbis insist that Yom Kippur is “Ke-Pur,” like Purim.
Now I know what you’re thinking, this guy is just giving a standard “drink as much as you want because G-d says so” schpeel. Au contraire, to get drunk under the guise of religious obligation, without connecting to the purpose is no different than going out on a bender in Cabo. So this Purim when you’re drinking to your heart’s delight please keep these teachings in mind and the following cocktails in hand! Happy Purim!
This cocktail is easy, quick, refreshing, and requires minimal work (since you’ll probably be gone by the time you get around to it)
2 oz. White Rum
.5 oz. Crème de Menthe
Squirt of fresh lime juice
Twist of lemon
For all you spring breakers and uni students at heart…
Pour the following into a cocktail shaker with a generous amount of ice and DRAIN into a cocktail glass
2 oz. Anejo (Dark) Tequila
.5 oz. Blanco (Light) Tequila
.5 oz. Triple Sec (I prefer Bol’s brand)
3 oz. pineapple juice
.5 oz. lime juice
Twist of lime