If you are Jewish and celebrate Purim, you might know that we are commanded to get drunk on Purim. In fact, tradition says that one should be so drunk that you can’t tell the difference between Haman and Mordechai.
For those of you who are not familiar with the story, Haman is the villain who tried to have the Jews exterminated, and Mordechai is one of the good guys who opposed him. Rabbis, scholars and everyday Jews have joyously followed this tradition, and of course debated what it really means for thousands of years. I won’t try to recapitulate their various arguments – indeed I haven’t read up on the subject. My understanding comes from Rabbi Jennifer Clayman, who taught me one interpretation: For most of the year we are expected to be restrained, thoughtful and dignified. For one day a year, it is important to cut loose, and go for unrestrained joy. (Apologies to R. Clayman if I am misremembering this.)
With Purim starting tonight, I’ve been thinking about this interpretation through a Mussar lens. The night of partying, silliness and even raunchiness balances everyday life when we are serious. Does that mean that if we spend our life drunk, should we spend this day sober? What is to be learned from having an experience far outside of your normal behavior?
I won’t be attending the Purim Shpiel tonight. The Shpiel is a funny re-enactment of the Purim story. It would be a great time, but I’ve just had too much going on. I’m wiped out from both work and personal stresses. Yes, the one who writes about work life balance isn’t going to the party because he has been working too much. I will, however, take the night off, and make it an evening of fun.
Whether it is tonight or in the near future, I wish you a window of unadulterated joy. Life will have its ups and downs. Sometimes the downs are trivial, sometimes they are severe. Whatever our life circumstance, we all deserve times of joy. Tell me about yours. I’d love to hear it.