Purim 5778

Undeserved merit[1]

חייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי
A person is obligated to get drunk on Purim to the point that they don’t know the difference between “Cursed is Haman” and “Blessed is Mordechai”[2]

The mitzvah to get drunk on Purim is quite surprising. It is well-known that getting drunk can easily lead to inappropriate behavior. Why was this instituted on Purim? As well, what relevance is the idea of “Cursed is Haman” and “Blessed is Mordechai”? Why is our getting drunk dependent on it? To begin to answer these questions, another halacha needs to be examined. There is an obligation on Purim to say the words “ארור המן ברוך מרדכי”, “Cursed is Haman; Blessed is Mordechai”[3]. Why is this formulation unique to Purim? There are other festivals where we were saved by our leaders from our enemies. Why don’t we say on Pesach: “Cursed is Pharaoh; Blessed is Moshe”? Or on Chanukah: “Cursed are the invaders; Blessed are the Hasmoneans”?

The gemarra notes[4] a contradiction in how Mordechai is first introduced. The verse says איש יהודי היה בשושן הבירה ושמו מרדכי…איש ימיני, there was Yehudi man in Shushan the capital, whose name was Mordechai…a Benjamite[5]. Was he from Yehudah or Binyomin? Rather, this alludes to a complaint the Jews had to Hashem. The tribe of Yehudah and the tribe of Binyomin bore some responsibility for Haman’s decree to commit genocide against the Jews. Yehudah bore responsibility because King David, from the tribe of Yehudah, didn’t kill Shimi ben Gera, an ancestor of Mordechai[6], although he was deserving[7]. This gave Mordechai the opportunity to incite Haman against the Jews because he refused to bow down to him. Binyomin bore some responsibility because King Shaul, from the tribe of Binyomin, failed to kill Agag[8], an ancestor of Haman[9]. As such, he had the opportunity to use his power to destroy his enemy the Jews.

We see from here, although Mordechai meant well, he was considered partially guilty for the impending calamity against the Jews. If he had bowed to Haman as commanded, the whole Purim story might not have happened. On the other side, Haman seemingly earned some merit for his plot. Chazal point out[10] that the act of Achashverosh giving Haman his ring, which signified ultimate authority to carry out his plot, was more effective than all of the rebukes of the prophets throughout the generations. Whenever the Jews were sinning, the prophets’ attempts for change were in vain. When Haman’s plot became known, the entire Jewish people repented. Haman therefore caused the Jews to commit to change for the better.

Late in his reign, King David’s son Avshalom orchestrated a temporary seizure of the throne[11]. Despite this horrible betrayal, King David was later horrified to hear the news that his son had been killed. He cried out, “My son!” seven times in anguish[12]. Chazal explain[13] the significance of this: for his sins, Avshalom had descended to the seventh level of purgatory. Every time King David said, “My son!”, he raised Avshalom one level up[14]. This lightened his punishment in the Next World. This is the explanation behind why we were commanded to say: “Cursed is Haman; Blessed is Mordechai”. Haman shouldn’t be rewarded for his cruel plot, and therefore any merit is negated by us saying, “Cursed is Haman”. Mordechai shouldn’t be punished for his acts of righteousness, even though they gave him some liability, so we say, “Blessed is Mordechai”.

It is obvious that if a person, let’s call him Joe, intended to harm Bob, Bob would be justified in hating Joe. Even if Joe’s plans failed to come to fruition, the bad intent is enough. However, if Joe while attempting to harm Bob, caused a tremendous good to Bob, the bad intent would be inconsequential. For example[15], let’s say Joe tripped Bob, causing him to break his chin. Bob had to go to the hospital, and while they were doing exams on his chin, discovered a cancerous tumor. They immediately performed surgery, since had they delayed it any longer it would have been impossible to cure. After hearing this news, Bob would have been happy to be tripped thousands of times by Joe. He for sure bears no hatred towards him, as his evil intent is now deemed insignificant in his eyes. If someone reminded Bob that Joe tripped him, not only would he refrain from cursing him, but he would even bless him!

If we only recalled on Purim the fact that we were saved from utter annihilation, for sure we would have considered cursing Haman for causing such a threat. For sure we would have blessed Mordechai, who helped orchestrate our survival. However, if our hearts would feel the tremendous joy from the fact that on Purim we accepted the Torah anew, this time with complete intent[16], we would wonder, why should we curse Haman? He caused this tremendous spiritual growth! This is what Chazal mean when they say חייב איניש לבוסמי בפוריא, a person is obligated to be besumei on Purim. Another way to translate besumei, instead of drunk, is pleasure[17]. That is to say, that the pleasure and festivities of Purim should be due to the joy that comes from the accepting of the Torah at this time. We accepted it willingly, causing us to reach tremendous spiritual heights, allowing us to cling to the Master of the Universe. When all these thoughts come upon our hearts, we won’t be able to understand why we should curse Haman. After all, his plot caused all this greatness.

Have a freilichen Purim!

[1] Based on the introduction to Megillas Sesarim, by Rav Yaakov MiLisa (the author of the Nesivos HaMishpat)

[2] Megillah 7b; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 695:2

[3] Yerushalmi Megillah 3:7; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 690:16

[4] Megillah 12b

[5] Esther 2:5

[6] As ibid. relates; see Targum Yonasan ad. loc.

[7] See II Samuel Chapter 16

[8] See I Samuel Chapter 15 and http://parshaponders.com/tetzaveh-zachor-5778

[9] As Esther 3:1 with Targum Yonasan ad. loc. relates

[10] Megillah 14a

[11] II Samuel Chapters 14 – 18

[12] II Samuel 19:1, 5

[13] Sotah 10b

[14] The fact that he is the son of King David is meritorious enough to relinquish some of the punishment

[15] To illustrate this point, I heard a similar example to this one from Rav Beryl Weisbord, the Mashgiach of Ner Yisroel

[16] See Shabbos 88a

[17] The Megillas Sesarim uses the Sefer HaAruch to justify translating בסומי as pleasure. However, it appears to be a later commentary on the Aruch. It points to Shabbos 66b, which describes a person as נתבסם after they’ve had good food and drink. This seems to be where he is coming from, and adds that it’s used to describe giving pleasure to one’s flesh. Based on this explanation, it seems like the Megillas Sesarim’s conclusion is that there’s no idea to drink on Purim

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