Drink—Don’t Drunk

“Wine gladdens man’s heart” (Tehillim 104:15). Wine is used for important mitzvos: Kiddush, Havdalah, Birchas Hamazon, bris milah, chuppah,. Yet, for bread we say hamotzi — “He Who brings forth bread from the earth, giving extra emphasis that it is Hashem who gives us bread. Because bread is so important, being the basic food of life, we wish to accentuate that Hashem gives it to us. Why, then, do we not follow suit as with bread, and say, Haborei pri hagafenHe Who creates the fruit of the vine?

The answer is that, in the account of creation, the Torah says, “Hashem called the light ‘day’ and the darkness He called ‘night’” (Bereishis 1:5). It only mentions Hashem’s Name in relation to light, but not to darkness. This is because darkness has a negative connotation, and Hashem does not associate His Name with negativity (Bereishis Rabbah 3:8). Inasmuch as wine can have a negative effect when drunk to excess, we do not emphasize His role in Haborei pri hagafen.

What are the negative effects of alcohol? If it affects a person’s behavior, causing a person to loosen one’s inhibitions and speak or act improperly, it is harmful. If a person becomes dependent on alcohol it is harmful. The traditional l’chaim of one or two drinks (if a person is not alcoholic) is safe.

Drunkenness is so loathsome that it is considered alien to Judaism. But now comes Purim, and the Talmud says that one should drink heavily, to not distinguish between “Cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai.”

We do not rule according to the Talmud, but according to the Shulchan Aruch. In the latter, we rule according to the latest poskim, who knew the Talmud and the earlier poskim thoroughly. For most Torah Jews, the final halachic authority is the Chofetz Chaim’s Mishnah Berurah.

In Orach Chaim, Rema rules that it is not necessary to get drunk on Purim, but to drink just a bit more than usual, then take a nap, whereby one will not distinguish between “Cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai.” The Chofetz Chaim comments, “This is what is proper to do.”

The Chofetz Chaim knew the Talmud better than all of us.

If we listen to the Chofetz Chaim, we can fulfill the mitzvah and avoid the ugliness of drunkenness.