As there is a Mitzvah to begin learning about a holiday thirty days before that holiday, Rosh Chodesh Adar Sheini is a good time to learn about Purim. Rava makes a very controversial statement: “Mechayav Inish LeVesumei BeFuriya Ad DeLo Yada Bein Arur Haman LeVaruch Mordechai,” “A person is obligated to get intoxicated on Purim until he does not know the difference between ‘Cursed is Haman’ and ‘Blessed is Mordechai’” (Megillah 7b). Many Poskim ponder upon this statement. Immediately following this statement, the Gemara records the story of a Seudat Purim that Rabbah and Rabi Zeira had together. Rabbah got drunk and killed Rabi Zeira. Many Poskim derive from this story that Rava’s Halacha of intoxication applies only at the Seudat Purim. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 695:2) seems to follow this opinion, as he cites this Halacha within the section of the Halachot of the Purim meal. The Baal HaMaor cites the opinion of Rabbeinu Ephraim that this story follows immediately after Rava’s Halacha because this story serves as a refutation of that Halacha. Though originally there was an obligation to become inebriated, the rule was rescinded when the Rabbanan saw the dangers of its implementation.
The Shulchan Aruch codifies Rava’s statement; however, it is still not exactly clear what the Halacha is. The Beiur Halacha cites a Machloket (dispute) between the Meiri and the Chayei Adam as to whether one must use wine specifically to fulfill this Halacha. The Meiri believes that the Mitzvah is simply to be happy, while the Chayei Adam holds one must use wine to appropriately commemorate the miracle. The Beiur Halacha also points out that although getting intoxicated is generally looked down upon in Tanach, we require it on Purim because the Purim miracle happened through all of the parties (at which wine was a central feature) and Achashveirosh getting drunk. The Rama writes that in order to fulfill the Mitzvah, one can drink a little more than usual (to fulfill the drinking part) and then go to sleep, because in one’s sleep one will not know the difference between “Cursed is Haman” and “Blessed is Mordechai.” Regardless of which Pesak is correct, all Poskim who rule that one should drink believe that he should drink wine only LeSheim Shamayim, with the purest of intentions and only if it does not undermine one’s safety, dignity and observance of Torah Law.
Editor’s Note: For a full Halachic discussion of the obligation to drink on Purim, see Rabbi Jachter’s article on this subject, which is available at www.koltorah.org and in Gray Matter (pp. 234-238).