Why to Eat, Drink and Be Merry
By Rabbi Yehudah Prero
“. . . and the month which was turned to them from sorrow to joy, and from
mourning to a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and
joy. . .” (Esther 9:22)
Rav Tzadok of Lublin writes in Machshavos Charutz (19) that the holiday of
Purim is encapsulated in the last portion of the verse cited – “days of
feasting and joy.” In practical terms, we find specific celebratory
mandates: that one is obligated to drink wine on Purim, that one is
obligated to have a special Purim feast. Clearly, there is a focus on this
rejoicing with food and drink on Purim.
The story of Purim itself revolves around feasting with food and drink. At
the beginning of Megillas Esther, we read of the extravagant parties that
King Achashverosh threw. It was because of these parties that the nation
of Israel found itself in trouble. They were not to have derived any
benefit from the feast of the wicked king (Megillah 12a). Yet they did,
and for that reason, they deserved punishment. Later in the Megillah, we
read how the king having too much to drink led to Vashti being removed and
Esther becoming queen. This feast was the beginning of the salvation of
What is the point of feasting? Why do we have celebratory gatherings? Rav
Tzadok says that feasting and celebrating are meant to bring people
together. Such events should join people in feelings of brotherhood and
love. The feelings of joy lead to heightened feelings of closeness and
endearment. There is a true value to such gatherings.
Yet, the feasts that we read about in the Megillah did not accomplish the
purpose that they should. As stated above, Achashverosh threw an elaborate
feast for all of his subjects. The Megillah states (1:8) that Achashverosh
ordered that the will of “ish v’ish,” every man, should be fulfilled. The
Talmud (Megillah 12a) notes the repetition of the word “ish” in the verse.
One mention alludes to Mordechai, one to Haman. The Maharsha quotes the
Targum on this verse, and explains that Mordechai was there to serve the
Jews, to ensure that they did not partake of forbidden food, and Haman was
there to do the will of the citizens of the other nations, to feed them
and ply them with the drink they desired. Although all were together in
the same room, there were no bonds of kinship. They stayed separate. They
ate separately. They drank separately. And Mordechai ensured that it
stayed that way. This was not a party that brought people together.
Vashti, as well, bore witness to that.
Esther herself threw two small parties. Haman and Achashverosh were the
only guests at those small feasts. Haman truly believed that the point of
these parties was to engender closeness and to establish a relationship
with the new queen. He could not have been more wrong. The point of these
parties was to establish a distance between Esther and Haman. As Haman
eventually learned, the parties actually led to his demise.
The Megillah mentions the “reversal” of fortune for the nation of Israel.
In the Megillah, we read of deception. That which appeared to be true was
actually false. We read of people manifesting a desire to bring people
together, to foster unity, by celebrating together. In actuality, these
celebrations accomplished just the opposite. They created vast divisions
and pushed people away from each other.
Purim is the time when we are supposed to truly celebrate. We recognize
what true joy and happiness is – a joy that unites people. We do not
engage in the farce of a celebration the Megillah describes. We have a
tradition, as the Megillah states, of the “reversal” on Purim. When we
celebrate on Purim, we are to do the opposite of what happened originally.
We are supposed to have a day of feasting and joy – when we feel united,
as one family, rejoicing together. We celebrate the close relationships we
have with one another. We celebrate the close relationship we have with
Hashem. Our celebrating with food and drink is not a mere physical
indulgence; it is a tool to bring the nation of Israel together, using
expressions of happiness, thanks and joy as the ties to bond us. It is
this celebration that has value. It is this celebration that Purim is all
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Yehudah Prero and Torah.org.
The author has Rabbinic ordination from Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem, NY.