Rav Zeira Lets Loose: Purim Torah

A famous Talmud teaching relates that it is obligatory to become intoxicated on Purim to the extent one cannot tell the difference between “Blessed be Mordecai” and “Cursed be Haman,” which, if you don’t know Hebrew, you have a 50-50 chance of mixing up anyway.

However, the Talmud goes on to share a story about how the sage Rabbah, in fulfillment of this commandment, murdered his friend Rabbi Zeira. The next day while nursing a hangover, he realized what he had done, prayed to God for mercy and revived his friend. The next year, Rabbah invited Rabbi Zeira over again, and he wisely declined the invitation, (snarkily) saying, “Miracles don’t happen all the time.” (Megillah 7b)

The lesson seems to be that while we should have fun and let loose a bit on Purim in order to embrace the tumultuous nature of the world, we also must be careful that we don’t overdo it.

But to fully understand this story we must ask, who was Rabbi Zeira? The Talmud relates that Rabbi Zeira would destroy his friends’ golems for fun (Sanhedrin 65b), got kids to take his tests for him (Menahot 29b), would sit outside the study hall just so he could suck up to Torah scholars (Berakhot 28a) and would passive aggressively get all up in people’s faces to get them to apologize to him for some perceived slight (Yoma 87a).

This puts the story in greater perspective. For while yes we should have fun on Purim — and yes, we should be mindful of excess — sometimes literally ghosting the jerks in our lives by killing and resurrecting them is a good way to get rid of them.

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To celebrate five years of this sacred work, we are designating the month before Purim as a time in which we fulfill the line from the Book of Esther, “The Jews had light/ Layehudim hayeta orah.” During this month, we will publish and distribute materials related to light and Purim.

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