“Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king’s command and edict were about to be carried out, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them.” (Esther 9:1)

Ancient Persia of biblical times is today known as Iran.It is now more than two millennia since the Purim story took place there and an attempted genocide against the Jewish people was miraculously aborted. Haman of old had a plan. “Death to the Jews” was his program. Celebrating Purim is our commemoration of his failure. But history has a remarkable way of repeating itself. Jew-haters still live on, renewing Haman’s efforts with even greater dedication and perseverance—not only from Iran, the biblical home of Haman, but also from ISIS and many other countries where sympathy  for Islamic radicals is on the rise.

Although celebrating Purim is not a commandment from God, it continues to be celebrated because its message needs to be remembered. Those who seek destruction of the Jewish people are evil. Their evil must be acknowledged. Their words must be taken seriously. Their goal must be prevented.

And how do we celebrate Purim today in light of modern day Haman’s seemingly rise to power, strength and wealth? Perhaps the most important words of the Megillat Esther, the Scroll of Esther are V’Nahafoch Hu – “it was reversed”. (Esther 10:1) Tragedy was turned around at the last moment, and all the plans that Haman tried to implement in order to destroy the Jews were used in the end to save the Jews.

Today, we celebrate Purim with costumes, noisemakers, and a feast that includes wine and Hamantashen, special filled cookies that resemble Haman’s three cornered hat. We give gifts of food to our friends, and money to the poor.

“…as the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” (Esther 9:22)

We also read from the book of Esther and use a special noisemaker every time Haman’s name is mentioned as a sign of disrespect and make our hearts glad with wine.

“A person should drink on Purim until the point where he can’t tell the difference between “Blessed is Mordechai” and “Cursed is Haman. (Talmud – Megillah 7b; Code of Jewish Law 695:2)

Some think that just as the Irish have a springtime drinking holiday called St. Patrick’s Day, the Sages instituted Purim as Judaism’s springtime drinking holiday. This is absurd!

To begin, we first need to define the Bible’s concept of feasting and gladness. Throughout Scripture feasting is always associated with drinking and rejoicing. Rejoicing often includes laughter. Laughter occurs when the unexpected happens. A toddler puts on her father’s big shoes—and we laugh. Someone forgets their lines in a play—and we laugh. The sudden surprise catches us off guard. And the more unexpected it is, the funnier it is.

The story of Haman’s downfall and Mordechai’s rise teaches us that even at a time when we’re powerless to think and respond logically, God continues to protect us and shield us. On Purim, we drink to life (“L’chaim”) with the knowledge that all of our troubles are temporary. We capture the joy that just as God redeemed us from previous dangers, sins and problems, He will do so again. Because God is always here, running the world for our ultimate benefit.

Many people drink to forget their problems—and for a while, it works. But if we were on a higher spiritual level, we wouldn’t need to drink. But since we’re not on such a high spiritual level, we drink in order to loosen up, laugh at our troubles and forget our anxieties. If we were truly clear on the idea that the only real power operating in the world is God, we wouldn’t have nearly as much worry and anxiety as we normally do. If we trusted in God, we would be fully relaxed. Then we could really see that God has everything under control, and in spite of us, everything will work out.

The message of Purim is that even though it’s hard to see Him, God is here in the world. Even when things look bad, even if we’re suffering, in some way it has got to be all for the best, because there’s a benevolent God behind everything, manipulating events for our good. This is what is means to “drink until you can’t tell the difference between Blessed is Mordechai and Cursed is Haman.” It is only because of our limited perceptions that we see a difference. But in God’s infinite reality, there is no difference between the two. It is all ultimately for the good. (This does not mean that we are to drink to the excess where we cannot walk or talk at all, but just to the point of not being able to use our logic)

A fun fact on this theme: In Hebrew, the numerical value (gematria) of “Cursed is Haman” is 502. The numerical value of “Blessed is Mordechai” is also 502. On Purim we drink to the point that we can no longer compute the mathematics.

A final word on drinking:

Let us use good judgement on Purim. We should set a model for our children by not drinking to excess and by supervising adolescents and teenagers to make sure that they do not drink. In this way we can all enjoy a safe, respectable Purim. There have been far too many teenagers as well as adults who require emergency attention after becoming too drunk. Drinking and driving is not only against Halacha, but obviously against common sense. Rabbis, teachers and parents should be encouraged to discuss this issue with all children and adults not only before Purim, but throughout the year.

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