As a result, it is difficult to fathom the primary Talmudic source related to drinking on Purim (Megillah 7b): "Rava said: a person must get drunk on Purim until he cannot distinguish between 'cursed be Haman' and 'blessed be Mordechai'. Rabbah and R. Zeira made a Purim feast together. They got drunk. Rabbah stood up and killed R. Zeira. On the morrow, Rabbah prayed for him and revived him. The following year, Rabbah said to him: Come, let us celebrate the Purim feast together! R. Zeira replied: Miracles don't happen every day! "
Rava's statement begs an explanation. R. David Abudraham explained that the Sages required drinking on Purim since all of the miracles in the days of Ahashverosh occurred at drinking parties (Sefer Abudraham, pp. 209-210). On the other hand, Rava was a vintner (Berakhot 56a and Bava Metzia 73a) and clearly liked to drink wine (Pesahim 107b). As for the strange story, Rabbi H. Z. Reines suggests that the entire episode is a Purim joke (Hadoar 5737, p. 266)!
Whatever the simple meaning is, it is clear that the poskim (halakhic authorities) throughout the generations felt very uncomfortable with Rava's demand to get drunk on Purim, and therefore each posek tried to circumvent the requirement. Here is a sampling of their rulings:
- R. Ephraim (North Africa, 11th cent.) claimed that the story comes to cancel out Rava's statement and therefore one should not get drunk on Purim.
- R. Alexander Zusslin Hacohen (Germany, 14th cent.) explained that "cursed be Haman" equals "blessed be Mordechai" in gematria - they both add up to 502! - and it requires less wine to become that intoxicated.
- R. Yosef Haviva (Spain, 15th cent.) wrote that one should say funny things so that the beholders will think that one cannot distinguish between "cursed be Haman" and "blessed be Mordechai".
- Maimonides (Egypt, 12th cent.) rules that "he drinks wine until he gets drunk and falls asleep...", and this ruling was adopted by Rabbi Moshe Isserles in the Shulhan Arukh (Poland, 16th cent.).
- R. Natanel Weil (Germany, 18th cent.) explained: " until - up to and not including, because otherwise he would reach the drunkenness of Lot".
- R. Aaron of Lunel (Provence, 14th cent.) commented "that he should drink more than his normal custom in order to rejoice greatly and to make the poor rejoice and he shall comfort them...and that is true joy." This is the most original interpretation: that the purpose of drinking on Purim is to help us fulfill the mitzvah of mattanot laevyonim (alms to the poor) and not simply to get drunk.
- Finally, R. Menahem Hameiri (Provence, 14th cent.) said: "In any case, we are not commanded to get drunk ...for we were not commanded to engage in debauchery and foolishness but to have heartfelt joy which will lead us to the love of God and to gratitude for the miracles which he performed for us".