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March 02, 1990 - Image 69

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-03-02

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Making A Purim Custom Safe

Continued from Page L-1

as leaders for a day and marched
through the streets with great
fanfare. The actual leaders — sages
or rulers — were mocked in
parodies, and drinking and disorder
overturned normal values. Some of
this survives in Purim."

Today we find ourselves
immersed in a society which is filled
with chaos caused by substance
abuse. The use of alcohol for ritual
observance continues to sanctify
Jewish life and drinking wine at
kiddush and enjoying the taste of
wine and the scent of spices at
Havdalah are a beautiful part of our
heritage.
If we are truly to be happy and
not worry, let's look at the custom of
drinking to excess at Purim and see
if we can reconstruct a way to make
this custom safe, without
compromising our happiness.
We knew of no parallel to the
precept of our ancient sages that on
Purim we should drink until we no
longer can distinguish between

It's A Start

Prior to 1989, there was virtually
no opportunity for Jews who were
suffering from substance abuse to
find an Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.)
group or Narcotics Anonymous (N.A.)
group that met in a Jewish facility or
to learn about this problem in a
comforting Jewish atmosphere. Now
we have:
• Both A.A. and Alanon (For
spouses, children and parents of
Alcoholics) meet at Temple Israel
(Thursdays, 8:00 p.m.)
• A.A. group meets at the J.P.M.
Oak Park Jewish Community Center
(Tuesday evenings at 8:00 p.m.)
• The J.A.C.S. group (Jewish
Alcoholics Chemically Dependent
Persons and Significant Others
Foundation, Inc.) is underway and has
meetings for recovering Jewish
addicts.

order to raise ourselves, we
celebrate the failure of others.
Jewish tradition provides a
reference point as we face the
danger of drinking excessively and
still wish to feel the joy of Purim. I
wish to suggest several, which if we
do with all our hearts can help us
feel the joy of triumph of good over
evil without having to drink.
First of all, when we practice
shalach manot, the giving of food
gifts to friends and family, we enjoy
the closeness of dear ones. Bake
hamantashen and prepare food
packages, not only for your
immediate family and close friends,
but widen your gift giving to the
elderly, the developmentally
disabled, and those who are less
fortunate.

Mordecai" is to eliminate the gray
area between the bad and good. In
order to fulfill the obligation one
needs to forget all the gradations
between doing good and bad since
our lives are so filled with
ambiguities. What we do can be
considered right and wrong
determined by the perception of the
one who is judging. Becoming
intoxicated makes life simple; there
is no middle ground.

"cursed is Haman" and "blessed is
Mordecai." Why are we supposed to
become so inebriated we can't tell
the difference between the names
of Haman and Mordecai? The
sages suggest that during the
period of Esther and Mordecai, the
Jewish people derived pleasure
from Ahashverosh's feast in which
he desecrated sacred vessels in the
Temple and behaved evilly after
drinking too much wine at his party.
God's mercy prevented their
destruction and thus we say after
the reading of the Megillah, "You
were our hope in every generation."
Thus we realize that the
redemption of the Jewish people
has not been brought about by their
merit but because of Divine mercy.
Therefore, we drink to excess to
reaffirm that we must rely on God
since we sometimes do not know
the difference between right and
wrong, good and evil.

Another interpretation of this
custom comes from "God's desire
that we praise the just. Sometimes
when the just don't deserve to be
praised, we seek our praise through
the degradation of the wicked. If we
are "not evil" we feel as if we
deserve praise for not being as bad
as someone else. The joy which
emerges from this point of view is
limited. However, on Purim, the
downfall of Haman is equal to the
joy we feel in praising Mordecai
since Haman is a descendant of
Amalek of whom it is said, "When
the wicked perish — there is song."
Thus we are faced with three
issues for which we need to provide
alternative customs to drinking
excessively: 1) each of us has a
good and bad inclination (i.e., a
piece of Haman and Mordecai); 2)
sometimes we can't tell the
difference between good and bad
because issues are not black or
white, but filled with gray; 3) in

Our own teshuvah (repentance)
is reliant upon a merciful God who
recognizes our inability to
distinguish between good and evil.
The rabbis teach that each one of
us has a yetzer ha tov (a good
inclination) and a yetzer hara (an
evil inclination) and our lives are
filled with tension as we try to
respond to these two urges.
The motivation to get so drunk
as to not determine between
"cursed is Haman" and "blessed is

Secondly, practice the mitzvah
of matanot I'evyonim — giving gifts
to the poor. Collect food and bring it
to Yad Ezra, the new Jewish
community Food Bank and help the
poor who are in need. Finally,
prepare purimspiels (parodies) that
mock the evils of our day (male
chauvinism, anti-Semitism), or
celebrate a festival of Jewish folk
arts through Jewish humor or
storytelling and enjoy the joyful
heritage of our people, (P. 125 —
Arthur Waskow, Seasons of Our Joy.)
Most importantly, it's Adar — so
BE HAPPY, BUT BE SAFE, and do
it in a non-alcoholic way.

PURIM POEM ANSWERS

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There remains much to be done
both by the organized Jewish
community and by all of us as
individuals. Consider the following:
• The organized Jewish
community does not have available an
out-patient treatment facility which
can provide counseling on a sliding
payment program or free, if
necessary.
• There is no residential (live-in)
treatment program that addresses
Jewish needs.
• There are no half-way house
facilities catering to Jews, nor any
similar houses that might be available
to the Juvenile Court in placing
problem cases.
• There is no co-ordinated effort
among our educators and Rabbis to
provide a structure for our education
and that of our children as relates to
addiction.
— Stephen C. Cooper

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THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

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