Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ad lo Yodoh

There are lots of practices, things we are told to do, in yiddishkeit that we simply do without ever asking why. Then there are a few that totally raise questions in our minds. Purim, for me, brings one of those practices--ad lo yodoh. We are told to drink sufficient wine so that we don't know the difference between blessed Mordechai and cursed Haman. In other words, we forget that there is a difference. Why? Many other times we are told zacher--remember. Why now are we told to forget?

We read Megillas Esther twice on Purim. It's very clear from the Megillah that there is a huge difference between Mordechai and Haman. Mordechai is clearly the good guy and Haman clearly the bad guy. When the Megillah is studied I know of no one who teaches it who makes excuses for Haman's behavior, who refers to him as anything but Haman Ha'Rashah. Pick up that same megillah on Shushan Purim and there Haman is--still a Rashah, and Mordechai still the good guy. We have the holiday of Purim so that we will never forget what happened. So why, for the brief period of the Purim seudah and the hours that follow it do we suddenly change course and tell people to drink to forget that there really is any difference between them? What benefit is there to us in forgetting the difference?

Our history is unfortunately replete with any number of times that others have meant us harm, have attempted to c"v eradicate the Jewish people. That same history is also replete with "heroes" who have risen to the occasion and helped, with God's help, to save us from this intended harm. No one ever tells us to forget the difference for a few hours between those who intended the harm and those who averted it. Yet on Purim this is precisely what we are told. To not know the difference between Mordechai and Haman is to confuse who is who.

And it's not that we are told just to mentally tell ourselves that there was no difference between Mordechai and Haman--we are told to "eradicate" our memories through the use of alcohol. So again, why? There is more than one mishteh mentioned in the Megillah. Certainly the first one mentioned brought nothing but trouble in its wake. We see Ahasueros befuddled with wine and clearly not knowing the difference between the "good guys" and the "bad guys" when he listens to Haman. Ad loh yodoh, at least to me, seems to be establishing that we, too, have a mishteh that will make us befuddled. Why? Ma nishtanah ha yom hazeh mikol hayomim?

We are told that alcohol "gladdens the heart." Yeah, and I suppose that one glass of wine could do some gladdening and mellowing. Three or more glasses could make you far more than gladdened, particularly for those not accustomed to this much consumption at one time. But it isn't gladdening that we are solely instructed to do--it's forgetting the difference between two people that it's really hard to confuse. Again, why?

My confusion is further heightened by this: if enough is drunk to make someone unable to tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman there are also an awful lot of other things that will come along with this--the lack of ability to tell the difference between many other good and bad things. Get in this condition and you also can't tell the difference between right and wrong either. You can't tell the difference between "I'm impaired and should not get behind the wheel of a car" and "I have all the mental faculties and physical abilities needed to drive a car." Get in this condition and many a tongue has been loosened, saying things that in no way would be or is acceptable in polite company. Get in this condition and certain inhibitions as regards behavior get forgotten about.

So yes, I'm asking why we Jews need ad lo yodoh? Why for this holiday would we be instructed to get into a condition that is so opposite of the behavior expected of us all the rest of the year? Why for this holiday do we advocate a condition that surely is going to have many people doing and saying things they may live to regret? And yes, what are we supposed to learn from this?


Leahle said...

I remember in high school that ad lo yodoh was mentioned and being told that it applies only to the men not to the women. I was told that it comes from the gemorrah and since most girls aren't taught gemorrah I don't know if there is a reason given there. Without any other knowledge about the saying I have to agree with you that it seems out of char5acter for the kind of behavior we are usually told to follow. And I'm thinking that a lot of men go way beyond what may really be required to get to ad lo yodoh.

Anonymous said...

Female here and I'd also like to know what the reason is behind this. Any males willing to give enlightenment?

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that in your other posting on the Rambam and drinking the point was made (I think in a comment)that he never mentions the words ad lo yodoh. Why make such a point of this on Purim? (Scratchiing head and wondering too.)

miriamp said...

I remember reading or hearing that the point is NOT to forget the distinction between Mordechai and Haman, but the distinction between Blessed is Mordechai and Cursed is Haman as you initially stated.

A more subtle difference, and an easier line to blur with less alcohol. I wish I remembered more of the details of what exactly that difference is.

efrex said...

With the all-important caveat that I am not a rabbi, here goes:

Tractate Megillah, Talmud Bavli 7b:
אמר רבא מיחייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי
"Rava said: a man is obligated to drink on Puriah until he does not know between curse Haman and bless Mordechai"

(This statement, by the way, is in the middle of some very strange aggadot, and, in context, I would never have considered it to be a halachic statement).

This is then directly quoted in the Shulchan Aruch (O:Ch 695:2) without any explanation. The Rema, in his gloss on the Shulchan Aruch, notes that this is not a universally accepted view, and that many have the custom simply to drink more than they usually do and then go to sleep, and while asleep, one does not know the difference. (It should be noted that this section of the Shulchan Aruch is dealing with the Purim meal, implying that this "obligation" only applies during the meal itself, and not the night before or after Purim).

The overwhelming majority of post-Shulchan Aruch commentators and poskim have rejected the idea that there is an obligation to get that drunk, and have interpreted the talmudic line in various ways. Even the ones who interpret the line literally explicitly state that one should not drink to where he will end up missing out on davening or learning because of his drinking, and certainly not if he will cause a chillul Hashem.

Feivel ben Mishael said...

Late comment but as efrex said many poskim state explicitly that if becoming inebriated will cause a person to transgress any negative mitzvos or not fulfill any positive mitzvos than one should not become that drunk.

Side note: Alchohol reveals a person's inner self. Someone who is internally developed would not really need to fear ch"v doing anything bad as a result of intoxication. Also being part of a group with adequate supervision will usually keep things safe.