It was the day after Purim. And I woke up in a strange dormitory room.
I usually don’t top off the tank. Even if I did, body weight and acquired immunity pretty much kept me on my feet. Or on my … well … sitting down. I barely ever succumb to total oblivion. This time, though, I was a blank.
I stood up. Everything seemed to be working. And I had my coat on.
I had slept in my clothes, down to my shoes and up to my coat. I slipped my hands into my coat pockets. I felt a piece of paper and glanced at it. It was a receipt from some tzedakah. I stuffed it back into my pocket and started toward the door.
* * *
Funny thing about Purim. OK, there are a lot of funny things about Purim. But I mean in the sense of odd. One of the hardest things for the uninitiated — or uninebriated — to understand is frum males zealously fulfilling the mitzvah of drinking on Purim.
Reactions run from disapproval, dismay, disdain and disgust on one side … to laughs and l’chaims on the other.
Jews aren’t traditionally drinkers. Maybe that’s why Jewish drinking takes on a character of its own.
When I was a teenager, we lived in Brownsville, Brooklyn, in a house with my great-uncle. He used to rent out the basement for parties. My brother remembers, if there was a party going when he came home at night, he could always guess the background of the partygoers. If — instead of being out in the street, fighting — they were inside hugging each other and crying, he knew it was a Jewish party.
Jewish tradition frowns on drinking. The 15th-century Mussar classic Orchos Tzaddikim condemns it:
“There is another kind of confusing joy which beclouds all of the mitzvos and causes fear of Hashem to depart from the hearts of men — that is of the drinkers and the revelers at houses of drink. The end of this joy is sorrow, for many ills result from the frivolity of drinking.”
That’s pretty clear-cut. Now turn two pages in the same sefer and the Orchos Tzaddikim quotes from Mishlei (31:6–7):
“Give strong drink to one who is in despair, and wine to the bitter of soul; let him drink and forget his poverty, and remember his toil no more.” Then he goes on to quote other verses about the benefits of wine — which ‘gladdens the heart.’”
Lest you think this is a contradiction, he adds:
“All this teaches us the benefits of wine when it is drunk in moderation in the manner of the wise — in which case the mind rules over the wine and not the wine over the mind — who drink at set times with friends and acquaintances and with the saintly and the righteous, and not with boors and empty-headed people. For wine will increase the wisdom of the deep. It is a tree of life for those who keep [the Law]. … This is how wine should be used: One should use it as a cure for his sorrow, in order to strengthen himself in Torah by learning it with joy, for when one is steeped in sorrow, he cannot learn.”
So a Torah approach to drinking is balance and moderation. Boozing and bars are base. But drinking with friends and family in moderation to lift one’s spirits can be an inspiration. It all depends on who, what, where, when, why and how.
Harav Mendel Weinbach, zt”l, Rosh Yeshivah of Ohr Somayach, told me a terutz to the old kushya: The Arizal says that Yom Kippur is Yom k’Purim — a day like Purim. That would imply that Purim is on a higher level than even Yom Kippur. How could that be? Reb Mendel quoted the Apter Rav, zy”a, who said we figure all actions based on s’char mitzvah k’negged hefseidah — the value of a mitzvah is based on profit and loss, that is, how much you sacrifice to do the mitzvah.
“On Yom Kippur, we sacrifice some body weight and fluid. On Purim,” Reb Mendel said, pausing for emphasis, “we sacrifice our minds!”
Essentially, getting drunk on Purim is admitting we are not in charge. And we give it all up to the Ribbono shel Olam.
* * *
I opened the door and walked into the hallway. I was in the basement, near the mikveh, in the Amshinover Yeshivah in Yerushalayim.
Suddenly, I felt at home.
Then I remembered that paper in my pocket. It was a receipt for a hachnasas kallah fund. I deciphered the handwriting. It was for 50 liras (pounds — the currency of the time) and it was made out to “Plony Ad D’lo Yada — Mr. Ad D’lo Yada.”
I was more confused than before.
Slowly, through the fog, an image began to come into focus. I was at the tisch of the Rebbe, shlita. A guy was going around, collecting. He came over to me and I handed him a 50-lira note. He started to write out a receipt and he asked me my name.
I smiled and answered, “Ich veis? — Do I know?”
So that’s how I got a receipt made out to Mr. Ad D’lo Yada.
I don’t have my diplomas framed. But I do have that receipt framed. How many people do you know who have an official certificate that they were yotzeh Ad D’lo Yada?