Wednesday, March 07, 2012

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by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

We are told to drink so much on Purim that we cannot tell the difference between “Bless Mordechai and curse Haman,” or the other way around! What does this mean? How is it possible to drink like that?

First, for a well known fact: if you mix drinks – whiskey, wine and vodka or whatever - the chances are that you are going to become violently ill and miss the entire point of the party. (You will also earn the great disrespect, to put it mildly, of the one who has to clean up after you.) It is best to drink wine since wine was served at the original Purim party.[i] Whatever taste you prefer is fine, but stick to one type throughout the entire day.

The spiritual task on Purim is not simply to be happy. We must try to experience the highest spiritual joy possible. This joy comes when Hashem’s Presence is unmasked. How can drinking on Purim do this? By breaking down the human system of logic that prevents this understand from dawning. We try to take a peek into the greatest mystery of all. This can happen only when there is joy, and this joy has to be the joy that comes from doing a mitzvah. We are not searching for mere physical joy, such as the joy that comes from eating and drinking. But on Purim, even the joy that comes from eating and drinking is a mitzvah!

Once, there was a holy king. This king was not just an ordinary king. This king demonstrated his royalty by exuding a wondrous feeling of bliss. This feeling was so strong and so enjoyable that when his subjects would come into the palace for a feast, they would say, “This feeling emanating from the king is so wonderful, if only there could be more of it.” They reasoned that the only thing stopping the king's bliss from entirely filling the room was their own bodies, which took up so much space.

They decided to shrink in order to leave more room for the king’s bliss. And it worked. As they shrunk, more and more bliss filled the room. They enjoyed the additional bliss so much that they shrunk again and again until finally, they completely disappeared.

Unfortunately, this left the king with a problem. “I want to enjoy a feast with my subjects, but every time I invite them over,“ he complained, “they disappear on me. I want to eat and drink with my friends, but they evaporate right before my eyes. I don’t want to eat and drink all this food by myself.”

“Wait a minute, I know what I can do,” he reasoned. “After all, I am the king, so I can do whatever I want. I’m going to apportion myself around the banquet table. I am going to take small portions of myself and form these individual portions into different people, and on each person I am going to put a distinct mask. Each portion is going to see itself solely as the person that its mask depicts. And this mask is going to be stuck on each portion so that none will be able to remove its mask for the entire party. Maybe some portions will be able to sneak a peek from time to time, but for the most part, the masks are going to be permanently affixed.”

“What a party it will be! There will be eating and drinking and grand entertainment, with everyone ordering whatever he wants and eating whatever he orders. Then, at the appropriate time, when the feast is over, the strings holding on the masks will be loosened and each portion will be able to lift off its mask. Everyone will see it was really only me sitting there the entire time.”

This is the hidden story of Purim. This is why we wear masks and costumes on Purim, hiding our true identity. The truth is, only the King will be at your Purim meal, but you will not know this because logic tells you that you and your friends are the only ones there.

And this is why we drink so much on Purim. When the wine goes in, the mysteries come out. This year, when you are so very drunk, try to recall who is really filling your body. Try to take a peek under your mask.

“Know this day and take it to your heart that the L-rd is G-d; in the heavens above and upon the earth below there is nothing else.” Ain od! (There is no other).[ii]

[i] Esther 1:7
[ii] Deuteronomy 4:39

1 comment:

  1. Dear Gil, a friend linked me to this post. Below is my response to the post. I'd be interested in your ​​reply.
    I find the whole thing pretty disturbing. Turning identity into an illusion. I don't buy it. The Torah works very hard to develop individuals in relationship, not to get us to take our individuated selves less seriously since really it's all just one. That's the kind of oneness -- or rather tawhid in Arabic -- that leads to the submission of islam. (Check out -- the quote is from Chittick, who's a devout Muslim and giant scholar.) My point is just this: if identity is an illusion, what's the point of creation?

    Gil, it seems, would answer that the point is the occasional mystical glimpse that I am God (check out the Sufi butthead Hafiz) and--moreso--the eventual letting down of the mask. But then what's the point of the party? Why describe the period of concealment as a party? Because God's havin' a good time with us? Then why end it? Well, of course, so that we can have a good time! But then we don't exist anymore! This idea puts us and God in a zero sum competition. And the story glosses over that implication by describing the world of concealment, separation, estrangement, and exile as a party, and by making as if there are still individuals to share with once the masks are let down.

    It's remarkable that the story makes the problem overenjoyment of the king's bliss. (This might be a gesture to the problem of Nadav and Avihu.) The Torah describes this not as the original problem -- though H' is originally very concerned about people breaking through the boundaries and running up the mountain -- but as a secondary problem. The original problem is that the revelation at Sinai was terrifying -- it threatened our sense of independent existence. (That's why the golden calf is a recreation of the sin in the garden. Adam thought he had to transgress the mitzvah in order to gain independence, freedom, individual integrity.)

    Another bizarre thing in the story is that getting more bliss is imagined as having more bliss in the room. For me, the image doesn't really make sense. If I imagine myself surrounded by bliss saying I want more of this bliss, I imagine myself trying to get more bliss into myself. And consider the description of Nadav and Avihu. They are described as eating and drinking, as Rebbi says, "feasting their eyes." They are trying to get too much into themselves. Their problem isn't self-annihilation, it's indigestion -- the fact that they are trying to consume and digest what is not to be consumed and digested. This overstepping the bounds amounts to the same destruction of individual identity and even the possibility of relationship; it just effects it from the opposite direction. (Because the result is the same, Gil can get away with it in the story. But the image is still bizarre and doesn't, at least in my eyes, make the issue any clearer.)

    And even weirder, the whole drasha ends by encouraging people to get drunk (like Nadav and Avihu?) and to peek under their masks. In other words, Gil just told us to violate the boundaries which -- according to his own story -- are precisely the boundaries which enable our relationship with the king. Huh? But I guess it has to come down to that if it's man's bliss versus God's desire for other and relationship. I mean, the whole vision stinks. It's that sense of competition which must be addressed.

    One last thing. I'm not against getting drunk on Purim -- chas ve-shalom -- but that drinking -- which on the calendar corresponds with our reading of sidrot about the Mishkan -- better fix Nadav and Avihu's destruction of the Mishkan -- not reiterate it.


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