22 Feb Grape Expectations – Drinking on Purim and Recovery
Purim 5766 -2006
Feb 2018 (r)
inspired by the teachings of Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh and Rabbi Moshe Genuth
One of the most popular questions about Purim is ‘why drink to get drunk on Purim?’ Perhaps the following will offer an explanation…
Beyond the common celebration most people know as Purim, the deeper insights of the Festival of Purim is a holiday that asks us to take a look at our yetser hora (evil inclination/desire). The yetser hora unbridled however causes a disharmony often manifesting in repeated extreme or unmanageable behavior may be categorized as addiction.
Perhaps the most extreme examples of the yetser hora unbridled can be found amongst those who have substance or behavioral addictions. If you were to ask someone suffering from addiction, in recovery from addiction, or those individuals yet to admit their addiction how they ended up in their present state of unmanageability, resoundingly you would find that almost every single person would say ‘they believed that they had it (i.e. their yester hora/addiction) under control’ …, until they didn’t.
Whether it was; alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy or other drugs…, eating disorders/food addictions, gambling, issues of anger and rage resulting in physical and/or verbal abuse, oppressing other people, belittling or discounting other people, speaking loshen hora, haughtiness, (the list goes on and you can fill in your own personal yetser hora [negative-unhealthy-evil desire] here). We may simply categorize these behaviours as obsessive-compulsive, dysfunctional, unstable and unmanageable behaviors et al. In fact verything created may potentially be addictive if it causes physical and or spiritual unmanageability.
A person in recovery from substance abuse, behavioural issues, medical or other psychological issues, or drug interactions should not drink alcohol on Purim or any other time. It is recommneded to avoid Purim Parties that have alcohol. You may find that there may be Recovery Friendly Purim Parties. Don’t compromise, talk to an expert!
All those who with substance or behaviour problems believed that at some point ‘it wasn’t a problem’. We all have that built in mechanism called ‘denial’ which manufactures the mask that protects our soft and squishy, ever so vulnerable ego (self), and thereby limits our potential to grow in a spiritually healthy way.
We know that when the substance or behavior is removed from the equation, the process of healing can begin. The first step is to stop the negatively impacting behavior. This begins the process of the removal, or the peeling back of the layers of the mask(s). However, in preparation of the removal of the mask(s), just like building a house, there needs to be a plan for laying the foundations and proceeding with construction. A plan for success…tshuvah (the return to a pristine or rectified state).
Each one of us has a mask of many layers we have managed to acquire through our lives. Some people have learned to mask their ‘authentic self’ to the point of unmanageability until the physical and spiritual consequences are overwhelming (as is the case with the addict). Others have yet to discover just what parts of their life are unmanageable or compromising to their relationship with themselves, their family and friends, and ultimately, their relationship with G-d. These challenging gifts of character development are given to help us rise to the challenge and in so doing inspire us to earn a closer relationship with Hashem through the process of tshuvah (return) and tikun (rectification).
Drinking to get drunk is considered to be a chet (transgression) as it causes us to block out G-d’s light and effectively removing us from our ‘authentic’ relationship with G-d thereby putting a barrier (klipot) between ourselves and G-d.
So the question remains, ‘can drinking to get drunk on Purim be a good thing’? The answer is surprisingly yes and no…
If we causes G-d to be blocked out of our lives, that person may considered a chilul Hashem (a person whose act of rebellion [transgression] who has effectively blocks out G-d’s light – his goodness). Whether it is the use of substance or behavior, the spiritual and physical consequences are eminent. Drinking to get drunk on Purim however is in a category unto itself, and must be carefully understood if one is going to derive the d’vacoos (to stick, to connect, to have an intimate reciprocating relationship with G-d) from that experience. This is an issue that should be discussed one-on-one with a Rav.
In brief, a goal of drinking on Purim may be to drink until you can’t tell the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai’. When a person has immersed himself in the study of Torah and has committed him/herself to the development and refining of one’s character, he then has a plan and a foundation to ‘build his house’. This is what one may then consider ‘Holy Drinking’. For those who may drink, drinking of the wine in a Holy way may help reduce his inhibitions, and will allow the concealed (masked) weaknesses of character, one’s yetser hora, to be revealed. When a person has reached a state of spiritual loftiness, the powerful positive sparks of holiness concealed within the darkness of ‘cursed be Haman’ become revealed and ‘cursed be Haman. and blessed be Mordechai’ are equal and become unified as one. The darkness no longer exists. In fact the gematria for these 2 phrases is exactly the same; 502. This is a Messianic and Kabbalistic concept…. All is One, All is G-d.
‘Equal to the effort is the reward’ and sothe potential reward that is available on Purim, like any other opportunity to grow and come close to Hashem requires effort. Everything Hashem gave us has the potential for both good and evil depending on our connection with the Almighty and how we use all that this world has to offer to the fullest potential. Through our actions, we can either bring in G-d’s Light… His Goodness, or by a negative action or our failure to act we can block out G-d’s Light thus allowing darkness and evil to proliferate.
The wine goes in and the secrets come out’. If one wants to become drunk with wine to accomplish the available connection , one should be immersed in Torah study and make intense preparation for this mitzvah. Part of his preparation would include regularly doing a cheshbon hanefesh (a personal inventory), and having a plan in place to take action following what is revealed to him during this time of intoxication.
It is only through careful and thorough preparation that one may be able to grasp, understand and grow in his tshuvah and tikun from that which may be revealed during the period of ‘intoxication’ . Then an individual will then have appropriately performed this mitzvah and can truly be considered a Kiddush Hashem (a sanctification of G-d’s name).
However, there is another opinion as stated in the Shulchan Aruch (for those who may drink in a hol; ‘If you are not going to get intoxicated, you should drink more than you usually do and go to sleep. ‘…Once you are asleep, you cannot tell the difference between cursed be Haman and blessed be Mordechai… If you know that as a result of drinking you will, G-d forbid, ignore a mitzvah, a bruchah, or a prayer, or that drinking will lead to lightheaded exuberance, it is better not to become drunk.’
Another understanding of ‘… you should get intoxicated on Purim’ can also be translated as ‘…you should become intoxicated on/with Purim’. The indication in the latter [as in with Purim] is that
one should become intoxicated spiritually with the spiritual joy of Purim.
There are 7 liquids in the Torah that relate to the 7 Emotive Experiences (7 Lower Sephirot). Wine is from the emanation of Gevurah-Might. We can reference back to Pharoah who’s might caused him to ‘harden his heart’. He acquired a husk- shell (klipot) that caused him to believe in his own self detached from G-d’s Will. He lost all objectivity.
A person who desires objectivity through and growing relationship with G-d, one must be mindful of a klipot or shell that may cover ones heart creating an obstacle obstacle. G-d is the greatest objective being and a relationship with Him is the antidote for our ‘klipot or blockages’. G-d is the remedy to our subjectivity and the path to our greater objectivity.
Wine, especially red wine is considered as possessing the power of gevurah-might . It is only on ‘this day at this time of Purim’ that there are commentaries that speak of the use of wine as might-gevurah, that can be used break through the shell-klipot-blockage of the might over ones heart.
The Torah and teachings expound the use of loving kindness , however on this day, this opinion holds that one can use might against might to break through the klipot of the heart and have revealed to him the secrets within.
The day of Purim is only the first stage of a process. One must be of reasonable mind to recognize his unique powerful message and be prepared take action (tshuvah –tikun) on that revelation the very next day.
Purim is not a day to be a drunk fest, but a powerful tool to transformation.
Arguably the most common reason as to why a person begins to use substance is that they may be inherently spiritually sensitive and/or may have other issues that cause them to feel discomfort; existential angst and angst of the ego. This may often be unconscious. Through the discomfort or disharmony to cope with life in a healthy way, a person may have found interim but damaging relief, a counterfeit comfort through the use of substance. There is help available for the addict and the family and friends of the addict. What we should know is that individuals with issues of addiction often have great spiritual potential.
I hope this will help you to elevate your Purim experience and your everyday life experience by helping to remember that the basic choice our free-will has to offer is to bring G-d into this world, or by our default, cause G-d to be blocked out.
In simplest terms, the power of Purim is to reveal the concealed. We must be prepared receive and embrace that tremendous gift from G-d. Drinking to get drunk on Purim can be an enlightening experience when done in the most appropriate way... if we do the right thing for the right reason. Or, it can be an unfortunate display of repeating the self pleasuring behavior of the chet as it was at the time of the Purim of the Meggilah. To fulfill the mitzvah without transgression we must keep in mind that to be intoxicated can have many different meanings. Please consider these thoughts for yourself , your family, your friends and your community.
Have a Leibedik Purim,
Leib Getzel (Lawrence) Lax
Addictions and Counseling (Hnrs)