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March 20, 2011 / 14 Adar 2, 5771
Unravelling the Customs of Purim

Tractate Megillah: Chapter 1

You may have heard about the mitzvah of drinking on Purim. While the drinking of wine and spirits is not at all prohibited in Jewish life, moderation in all areas is the goal. A commandment of imbibing to excess, to say the least, is unusual. Your humble servants, members of the International Kiddush Club, have spent many, many hours studying the Talmud, looking for the clues to unravel this mitzvah.

The news is good. We found the source in the first chapter of Megillah!

"Rava said: One is obligated to become intoxicated on Purim, until one does not know the difference between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai."

Rambam (Maimonides) understands this to mean that a person is supposed to drink wine until he/she falls asleep, because then he/she cannot recognize anything at all, thus satisfying the condition of being unable to tell the difference between Haman or Mordecai.

To show the level of confusion required, a few verses later the Gemara states:
"Rabbah and R' Zeira had their Purim feast together. They became intoxicated. Rabbah rose and slew R' Zeira. The next day, [Rabbah] prayed for mercy (on R'Zeira's behalf) and he was revived. The following year [Rabbah] asked: 'Let master come and we will have the Purim feast together'. [R' Zeira] answered him: 'Not every time does a miracle occur.'"

Thus one is encouraged to drink but not to the extent that he may do damage that he may be unable to undo. Even though R. Zeira was miraculously brought back to life, he didn't want to be a guest at that party again! No more miracles for R. Zeira, so he found another, and presumably less exciting seudah to attend.

So how can you drink enough but not so much that you require a miracle? An answer comes from Tosafot who find a prayer that became a rabbinic sobriety test.
"Cursed is Haman, blessed is Mordechai, cursed is Zeresh, blessed is Esther, cursed are all the wicked, blessed are all the Jews."

The prayer was turned into a song to be sung after the Megillah, which required the group to respond to the statements. In short, a drinking song! What a wonderful idea, and a great way to bring music to your seudah. Compliments of Chazzan Alberto Mizrahi (thirtysixov fifths), here is another way to bring music to your Purim festivities.

 

Who was the man that would kill all the Jews?
Achashverosh the King, Blow the man Down
And who was his wife that wouldn't take off her clothes?
Vashti the Babe (Queen), oh, Blow the Man Down.

REFRAIN: Blow the man down boy, oh, blow the man down
Pass me some schnapps and blow the man down,
Bad news for Jews the bad little king
Pass me more schnapps and blow the man down.

Who wore a triangular hat on his head
Haman the schmendrik, blow the man down
And who didn't bow down to him, nor did he dread
Mordechai the hero, blow the man down.

REFRAIN: Blow the man down boy, oh, blow the man down…
Pass me some schnapps and blow the man down,
Bad news for Persia and Haman's ten sons
Pass me more schnapps and blow the man down.

Who saved the king from his bad little guards
Haman the goy, blow the man down????
And who dreamt he saw a ladder going up and down
Zeresh the ugly, blow the man down…????

REFRAIN: Blow the man down boy, oh, blow the mand down
Pass me more schnapps and blow the man down,
What is this story that going through my head?
Let's go to scotch and blow the man down!

Who jumped in bed with Esther the Queen?
Potifar the Mitzri, blow the man down.
And who caught them talking, that signaled his death?
Elisha the Novi, blow the man down.

REFRAIN: Blow the man down boy, oh, blow the man down
Why's my head ringing, blow the man down.
Could we keep it quiter, till it goes away,
WHERE IS THAT SCOTCH, oh, blow the man down!

Who caused the great fire - in Chicago town?
Haman the cow, blow the man down.
And who put it out with an ungodly rain,
Noah of the Bulls, oh, dunk the man down!

REFRAIN: Oh, please keep it down I am going to explode
FJMC, oh blow the man down.
Even Kiddush Club drinking was never like this
Just one more scotchy (urrppp) and blow the man down.

What's the moral of this story if you are a Jew?
A drink once in a while may blow the man down.
But, maybe next year we'll drink Mountain Dew
Oy vey, enough..let's blow the MAN DOWN!!!

 

One more point about Purim. While the text reads "one" or a "man", the Talmud says some interesting things about women and the Megillat Esther. After spending the first three pages of the first chapter of Megillah discussing the various reasons for reading the Megillat Esther on days from the 11th of Adar all the way to the 15th, in incredible detail and covering any possible circumstance that one may confront for reading on each of the days, the Talmud states, without any discussion:
And R' Yehoshua ben Levi said: 'Women are obligated in the reading of the Megillah for they were in that miracle.'

Three pages of discussion on city walls and market days and unemployed minyanim, then one line about what would seem to be the most contentious of questions, the role of women. The only question is whether a woman may read the Megillah for a man, which is not completely answered. Some held that she could read for the men and others said that since it was everyone's obligation, he/she must do it for his/her self.

All the mitzvot of Purim are for everyone. Woman and man, we are all required to read, celebrate and feast on this day.

So celebrate and be glad. Eat, drink and be confused. Enjoy Purim, the official holiday of the International Kiddush Club.
 

This week's Mishnah lesson was written by
Stan Greenspan and Chazzan Alberto Mizrachi

The opinions expressed in this Unraveller are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the FJMC.


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