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D'var Torah by Dr. Kalman Stein, Head of School

Dr. Kalman Stein, Head of School

Dear Hebrew Academy Community:

I try not to send year-old Dvar Torah messages, but this pre-Purim message is worth sending again.
If there were one line in the Talmud which most Jewish educators would love to remove it would be the all-too-well-known 

חייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי 
(Megillah 7b)

which is usually translated as “One is required to drink, or to be intoxicated, on Purim to the point that one can no longer distinguish between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai.’” Many important rabbinic figures through the centuries have ruled that this statement should not be taken literally. Some, for example, argue that a story in the Gemara about the negative impact of drinking on one particular Purim which follows immediately after this statement is meant to demonstrate that getting drunk on Purim is a terrible idea and that the previous statement should be ignored. Rambam states that one should drink enough wine at  the Se’udah to become drowsy. (No one, by the way, talks about drinking anything other than wine, not even fine single malt). Nevertheless, drinking, even excessive drinking, has regrettably become a Purim tradition in some sectors of the observant community.

The Netivot Shalom, looking carefully at the wording of this statement writes that it doesn’t say

 חייב איניש לבסומי בחמרא בפוריא

—that is, that one is one is to be intoxicated with wine on Purim, it states 

חייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא

that is, that one is one is to be intoxicated with Purim. It is the significance, holiness and message of the day which should intoxicate us, not alcohol. (I guess this is sort of analogous to drug counselors urging young people to be high on life, not high on drugs).

Whatever your own adult perspective on drinking on Purim is, it is clear that Purim is not intended to give license to teenage drinking and to all of the negative behavior that inevitably accompanies teenagers’ alcohol use. PLEASE make sure that your teenager understands exactly how you feel about underage drinking. If he/she suggests that he/she feels a religious obligation to drink on Purim,  you might suggest that perhaps there are other areas of his/her religious life that he/she might try to improve instead.
Shabbat Shalom.

Dr. Kalman Stein
Head of School

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