Wednesday nights - Rav Benzion's Tanya shiur..........Please continue to daven for the good health of the Rebbe (Yechiel Michel ben Devorah Leah) and Rebbetzin (Feiga bas Sarah).

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Purim: Too Drunk to Know the Difference

Written by the Rebbe, Rav Michel Twerski, shlit"a  for Purim 1989

(from Turning Pages, pg 62-63)

Most everyone looks forward to the Purim holiday with eagerness and excitement, because after all is said and done, it is in practice a pleasant and enjoyable event. Nonetheless, the day does, in theory, raise an eyebrow of puzzlement about the range and character of its obligations and mitzvos. Let's review them briefly: 1) the reading of the Megillah, evening and morning; 2) the festive Seudos Purim (the meals); 3) the sending of "Mishloach Manos" to friends (food gifts); 4) the giving of charity to  "Evyonim" (poverty stricken people); and 5) drinking intoxicating beverages to the point where one cannot distinguish between the meaning of "blessed is Mordechai" and that of "cursed is Haman. Although it's not entirely clear how the first four of these hang together, as an integral unit, the last of the five responsibilities confounds us completely. Getting drunk? A Jew? So drunk that we can't differentiate between Mordechai and Haman? As the pundits all put it these days - Gimme a break!

It is not my intention to detract from the literal requirement to drink copiously, even an iota, by what follows here. Rather, I wish to provide a perspective which I believe is implied by this practice, a perspective which lends a certain thematic consistency to the whole of our Purim obligations.

An "Evyon," a poverty stricken individual, who qualifies as the recipient of our Purim charities, is defined halachically in a very specific way, which carefully circumscribes the pathetic circumstances of impoverishment in which the Evyon lives. In a broader sense, the commentary Rashi enlightens us about the essential quality of an Evyon. An Evyon, he says, is a person who is in desperate need, who is wanting in all matters (ha'toev l'chol davar). What emerges from Rashi's insight, is the central characteristic of "needfulness," in the personality of the Evyon. In contrast to an "Ani," a poor person, whose material resources are seriously depleted; where the Ani is in need, the Evyon is needful. The ramifications of this distinction should be obvious. It takes no great genius to survey a situation which speaks of poverty, and respond accordingly, by replenishing or introducing the necessary materials which are missing. It does, however, require time, sensitivity, and caring to understand another person's "needfulness" which is an inner state, rather than an external one, and compensate with the requisite interest and concern which will effectively address the Evyon's inner desperation and hunger. This latter task can only be accomplished by those who are not preoccupied and busy with their own agenda of need. Directly proportionate to our obsession with own deep seated needs and areas of personal desperation, is the capacity to liberate the energy to concern ourselves with someone else's "needfulness" and "know" what they require to become whole. 

One of the ways in which our Sages attempt to teach this principle is through the institution of drinking until one doesn't "know"...Mordechai is good "for us;" Haman is bad "for us." I stress the words "for us", because the object is for us to reach a state without alcohol where what matters and concerns us is not whether Mordechai or Haman is busy at work in our lives, but who and what is troubling the heart of our friend's life, and what one might possibly contribute to alleviate his suffering. "Ad d'lo yada", not knowing the difference, refers to our coming to a state where we rise above ourselves, the successes and the failures, the blessings and the curses. "Matonos l'Evyonim," gifts to the needful, is the logical consequence of the former, and refers to our ability to "know" someone else, to concentrate on their unspoken needs and their choked cries of desperation.

The secret of overcoming the Hamans, the Amalekites, and the Hitlers of our or any era in history, is dependent upon "lech knos es kol ha'yhudim" - "Go and bring together all of the Jews" (Esther 4:16) , the capacity of G-d's people to come together and unite in a powerful bond of loving concern for one another, of giving, "knowing" and understanding. Hence, gifts to friends and charity to the needful.

Let us bear in mind that all of this takes time and effort, two commodities which are in short supply in our culture. But that's what Purim is for, to create a time when we're too drunk to know the difference, while simultaneously registering the sensitivity that shows that we really do know the most important differences of all.

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