Everyone knows that Purim is the single day on the Jewish calendar that we are commanded to get drunk. Or are we?
Rava teaches that a person has an obligation of livsumei (Rashi interprets this to mean “to get drunk with wine”) on Purim, until he does not know the difference between “Cursed be Haman” and “Blessed be Mordechai.”
There are many approaches to this statement. Some include:
- Maimonides suggests that a person is obligated to drink until he falls asleep, at which point he will not be able to distinguish between things.
- Tosafot base themselves on a statement in the Talmud Yerushalmi that indicates that a confusing poem was recited after the reading of the Megilla, which included blessings bestowed on Mordechai and curses on Haman. Someone who has had a little to drink will be unable to recite the poem without making mistakes in it.
- Others suggest that the gematria – the numeric value – of the letters of arrur Haman and barukh Mordechai are the same. A person should drink until he can no longer do the arithmetic necessary to figure out the gematria.
It is commonplace to find that after a statement of halakha, the Gemara will tell a story that illustrates the halakha. It is interesting to note that after Rava’s ruling obligating a person to drink on Purim, the Gemara relates a story about Rabba and Rabbi Zeira, in which they got drunk at a Purim meal, whereupon, “Kam Rabbah shahtei le-Rabbi Zeira – Rabba got up and slaughtered Rabbi Zeira.” The commentaries reject the possibility that this story can be understood on a simple straightforward level, suggesting, for example, that the expression shahtei may be understood to mean that he gave him so much to drink that he became ill (Maharsha) or that he squeezed him until he fainted (Meiri). Nevertheless, the juxtaposition of this story with Rava’s ruling leads some to understand that Rava’s ruling is rejected and that a person should follow the position of the Rambam and simply drink in order to get drowsy and sleep (see Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 695:2).