by Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com
They come to the door collecting for their Yeshivos. Should one offer them a drink? Yes. But nothing alcoholic – Snapple does the trick as well.
Let us, with this in mind, remember the words of the Nesivos Shalom regarding drinking on Purim. He writes that the word “wine” is absent in the formulation of the Shulchan Aruch. “Chayav adam libsumei bePuraya ad delo yada.”
The reason is clear. We must become inebriated with the concept of Purim and not with wine. The concept of Purim is that Hashem is very close and that we can achieve remarkable Dveikus Bashem at this time.No matter how distant we are – even if we are “Arur Haman” in terms of our general distance from Hashem– we can become, at this particular time of Purim, as close as Boruch Mordechai.
Aside from this, the Mitzvah of drinking is only at the Seudah. And there are numerous interpretations which seem more in line with what the guidelines that the Torah requires of us.
One pshat is that ad de lo yada – means ad velo ad bichlal – never get to that point. Rav Avigdor Miller zt”l held that way. The Aruch haShulchan (695:3) states that it means to reach a point where one would be unable to recite an ancient poem with the stanzas “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai.”
The Remah writes that one is merely required to drink “a little more than usual” on Purim which would cause one to fall asleep.
Another explanation (See Mogain Avrohom 695:3) is that one should drink to the point where one is unable to calculate the gematrias of “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai.”
The baal haMaor writes that the reason that the Gemorah tells us the story of Rabba killing Rabbi Zeira was to show us why we should not be drinking excessively on Purim.
There is a fascinating Gemorah that backs up this idea. The Talmud Yerushalmi (Tractate Shabbos 8:1) explains that Rabbi Yehudah Bar Illai would only drink wine from Pesach to Pesach. The implication is that Rabbi Yehudah Bar Illai did not drink wine on Purim. The Talmud Bavli has a similar statement in Nedarim (49b).
There are three possible understandings of this passage of the Yerushalmi. The first is that indeed, this is the case, but the halacha is not in accordance with Rabbi Yehudah Bar Illai. The second possibility is that we are misreading the import and implication of this Yerushalmi.
The third possibility is that Rabbi Yehudah Bar Illai had a perfectly valid reason not to consume wine on Purim and was in complete accordance with our statement in the Gemorah which is cited by the Shulchan Aruch.
The Shaarei Teshuva (695:2) writes clearly that we should interpret the Yerushalmi in this third method. This third understanding of the Yerushalmi understands that Rabbi Yehuda Ben Illai had a weaker constitution and that drinking wine would actually damage his health, body or general welfare.
WE ARE ALL LIKE RABBI YEHUDAH BAR ILLAI
A very good argument can be made that in contemporary times we all share the status of Rabbi Yehudah Bar Illai.
According to the National Institute of Health [See http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/alcohols-effects-body ], drinking too much – even on a single occasion, can take a serious toll on your health. Here’s how alcohol can affect your body:
Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain looks and works. This is even on a single occasion.
Drinking a lot, even on a single occasion, can damage the heart, causing problems including:
Cardiomyopathy – Stretching and drooping of heart muscle
Arrhythmias – Irregular heart beat
High blood pressure
Heavy drinking, over time, can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including:
Steatosis, or fatty liver
Alcoholic hepatitis (single occasion)
Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.
Drinking too much alcohol can, over time, increase the risk of developing certain cancers, including cancers of the:
Drinking too much can weaken the immune system, making it a much easier target for disease. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.
According to “Alcohol Use and Abuse,” a Harvard Health Publication, the use of alcohol nowadays is fraught with danger, and is often quite damaging to the body. Among the effects are:
Alcohol has some very harmful and permanent effects on developing brains and bodies.
For adolescents ages 15 to 20, alcohol is implicated in more than a third of driver fatalities resulting from automobile accidents and about two-fifths of drowning, r”l.
Drinking interferes with good judgment, leading young people into risky behavior and making them vulnerable to all sorts of other problems.
Teenagers who use alcohol and tobacco are at greater risk of using other drugs.
Teenagers who drink are more likely to develop behavioral problems, including stealing, fighting, and skipping school.
Underage drinking is illegal, and there are and have been some serious consequences and repercussions of arrests.
OTHERS CERTAINLY ARE IN THE RAV YEHUDAH BAR ILLAI STATUS
Let us not make the tragic error that we are above any of these problems. They exist in our communities and often under our very noses. Even if it was not true that alcohol consumption constitutes a “Rabbi Yehudah Bar Illai risk” to a particular individual, the very fact that new and more dangerous technologies have developed in the past century that can greatly increase dangers to other around us, the status of Rabbi Yehudah Ben Illai would apply to others around us. Automobiles did not exist in previous times and cars plus alcohol endanger the welfare of others. In our communities, not one year has gone by in recent years where alcohol consumption did not cause a major tragedy or accident.
As far as the Mitzvah itself is concerned, the opinion of the Ravya (564) and the Mordechai (Megillah Chapter 2) and the response of the Maharil (#56) is that even back in the time of Chazal it was not obligatory, rather it is a “Mitzvah b’almah” – an ideal that is no way obligatory. The Ramah cites these views as halacha.
Some will invariably make the argument that drinking large amounts of alcohol was always the practice. How can we now, all of a sudden, assume that it is a health risk and declare that we all share the status of Rabbi Yehudah Bar Illai?
The answer to this question rests within an answer to yet another question. According to the National Vital Statistic Reports of 2004 (52 #14), the life span of Americans has nearly doubled since 1900. What modern innovation contributed the most to the increase in human longevity? The answer is most likely, the refrigerator and the decline in the use of salt as a preservative. Salt kills. We have lowered our consumption of it and now we live longer. The same is true with alcohol.
It has been said that the Shaarei Teshuvah’s understanding of the Yerushalmi is the one that is halachically most cogent as it does not posit a contradiction of sources. It is also clear that many people fall within the rubric of the exemption of Rabbi Yehudah Bar Illai, and should not drink to the point of anywhere near drunkenness – even according to the Poskim that do not agree with the Ramah’s reading.
So the next time singing Yeshiva boys come to the door for Tzedaka for their Yeshiva, reach for the checkbook and the Snapple.
The author can be reach at firstname.lastname@example.org