Whereas throughout the year alcohol consumption is barely tolerated by Jewish tradition, on Purim, the boundaries fall away. Jewish law actually dictates that on Purim one should drink to a degree that he doesn't know the difference between "blessed is Mordechai" and "cursed is Haman"! (Click here for more on this topic.)

Why the change of policy?

I have a thought that perhaps one of the Rebbe's commentaries on the Purim story can provide an answer to this question.

A Strange Story

The more I think about the basic storyline, the less I understand.

To the best of my knowledge, one of the most powerful Jews of all times was in fact a Jewess, the heroine of our story, Queen Esther. She was literally the queen of the world.1

one of the most powerful Jews of all times was in fact a Jewess: Queen EstherAnd Mordechai, her cousin, wasn't all that bad off himself. He was one of the king's most influential ministers,2 to whom the king owed his very life!3

So how is it, I ask, that a decree of such magnitude – total annihilation with nowhere to run – comes to pass at a time when Jewish continuity was more stable and assured than ever before? I mean, we were clearly hooked up.

And the story only gets odder.

Mordechai finds out about the decree, and what does he do? He gathers Jewish children in the town square and together they study and pray.


He should have marched straight up to the White House and demanded reward for saving Ahasuerus from certain death at the hands of Bigthan and Seresh!

It gets weirder yet.

Esther finds out about the decree and decides to visit Ahasuerus unannounced. Given the king's mood, this move could very well cost her life. She decides to prepare for her royal visit by fasting for three days. The Midrash tells us that at the end of her fasting, Esther looked very sickly, a green color pasted to her face. How becoming...

We're talking about Miss Persia here. Shouldn't she have spent the three days beautifying herself? After all, isn't that what made her appeal to the king in the first place?

Enjoying the Ride

The Talmud4 tells us of the following discussion:

The students of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai asked him, "Master, what was it that brought about so terrible a decree against the Jews of Shushan? What was their crime?"

"What do you think the reason was?" Rabbi Shimon rejoined.

"They enjoyed the meal of that wicked man [Ahasuerus]," the disciples responded.

A Jewish presence was definitely necessary. But why the excitement?On this the Talmudic commentaries ask: Understandably eating non-kosher foods is a sin deserving of punishment. But complete annihilation of the Jewish nation? After all, eating non-kosher food is not a capital offense according to Jewish law.

To answer this question, the Rebbe takes note of the precise wording employed here: "they enjoyed the meal," not "they ate from the meal."

Diplomacy called for a Jewish presence at a party of this nature (which actually had kosher food on the menu5).

Leaders from all over were present, dignitaries, politicians, the movers and shakers of the world. Yes, a Jewish presence was definitely necessary.

But why the excitement?

Have you ever been at a party and felt like it was the last place you'd like to be?

"A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do...," so you were there. But excitement? Enjoyment?

"They enjoyed the meal." They were thrilled by the invite, ecstatic by the company. They were rubbing shoulders with the cream of the crop, bankers, lawyers, doctors, thinkers, artists, the who's who of the time!

They wanted to be at that party and enjoyed every moment of it.

This was their sin.

They were proud to be at the party, proud of their political connections. Secure in the knowledge that since they curried favor with the king, all would be fine.

They believed in man over G‑d.

A Ride Takes a Frightening Turn

This explains it all.

His message to us was, "You want to be like them, enjoy the ride."We were at the top, seemingly untouchable, but instantly we hit rock bottom.

This was G‑d's (not so gentle) reminder that we are different, and must always retain our distinct identity. Our survival is not due to our political connections, but due to our relationship with G‑d.

And His message to us was, "You want to be like them, enjoy the ride."

That was one heck of a journey.

Mordechai finds out about the decree, and what does he do? He gathers Jewish children in the town square and together they study and pray.


Maybe that wasn't so bad an idea after all.

Mordechai realized that the White House (the one in Persia, of course) was not where the problems would be fixed, but rather where they had begun.

And so he did the "old school" thing. He prayed with the little children.

Esther, too, understood this idea. Instead of focusing on her body, she spent time on her soul, fasting and praying, imploring the Almighty to have mercy on her people.

They believed in G‑d over man.

And the miracle was then quick in coming.6

In light of the above, perhaps we can understand how alcohol got involved. For alcohol is different than all beverages.

Throw a can of Coke into the freezer and it'll freeze. As will almost any liquid.

The Coke looks around the freezer, takes in its new surroundings, and throws in the towel...Except the Smirnoff. It just won't freeze.

The Coke looks around the freezer, taking in its new surroundings, and sees a frozen chicken, some leftover frozen matzah ball soup, a frozen bottle of juice, and thinks, "I'm throwing in the towel. It's too hard to be myself in an atmosphere as cold as this."

The Johnnie Walker, on the other, hand sticks it out. He knows who he is and from where he comes and does not bend to the freezing temperatures of his surroundings.

He remains warm and warms others.

This, I believe, is the story of Purim.