“…until he no longer knows…” A Purim Riddle?



« Since wine served as a catalyst throughout the saga of the Purim miracle — Vashti lost her position at a wine feast, Esther was granted her [throne], and similarly, Haman’s downfall came about through wine — our Sages obligated us to drink wine and become intoxicated. [Megilloh 7b] ordains, “A person is obligated to become so drunk on Purim that he does not know the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai’. » (Ganzfried 142:6)[1]


This precept of the Sages raises a question. Duly considered, the two sentences ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai’ are logically equivalent. For, in the context of the Purim saga, the cursing of Haman implies the blessing of Mordechai, and, vice versa, the blessing of Mordechai implies the cursing of Haman. The two sentences thus are two expressions of the same state of affairs, of basically the same fact.


Consequently, it seems that the drinking of wine is not needed at all to be in a state of not knowing the difference between these sentences. Why then, we may ask, did the Sages establish this as a measure for the amount of wine to be drunk at the festival? Is their precept itself perhaps a Purim riddle?


A possible solution of this riddle seems to be that at Purim we drink out of excessive joy, because the Jewish nation was in mortal danger and was miraculously saved. This excessive joy is thus not the result of our drinking, but the motivating cause of it. We are already ‘drunken’ of joy before we drink. And by drinking wine at this time we do not get drunk but instead  become ‘sober’, able to see and experience things as they really are. And we do see and experience things as they really are, if we see and experience them as they are made by HaShem, who redeemed his people on this day. What thus is the measure of our drinking at Purim? Our measure should be based on the experience of redemption of the Jewish people. As it is said, « The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honour » (Est. 8:16). We cannot be honourable or see the light if we ‘are tight’. Nor are we able then to experience true joy and gladness.


Things are turned upside down at Purim. The order of this world is disturbed. Things raised high are cast down, and things cast down are being raised up. The order of the World to Come shines through these miraculous events. We already get drunk in a sober state and become sober by drinking wine.

This explanation of Megilloh 7b accords with the words of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, in his Shulchan Aruch (529) where he says: “It is impossible to serve HaShem either in levity or drunkenness”. One of the final authorities on halachah, the Chafetz Chaim, in Mishnah Berurah (695), states clearly that the proper thing to do is not to drink to intoxication, but rather to drink just a bit more than is customary — which would be a glass or two of wine — and go to sleep. This is the proper way to fulfil “not distinguishing between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai’”.


Gut Purim!



[1] Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried, Kitzur Shulchon Oruch. A new translation with notes and diagrams by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, Moznaim Publishing Corporation — New York, Jerusalem 1991.


1 Response to ““…until he no longer knows…” A Purim Riddle?”

  1. 1 Kristenmomof3 March 13, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    I am happy to have found your blog. I have book marked it. and plan to continue to return and read.


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