S P E C I A L S

For the week ending 15 March 2003 / 11 Adar II 5763

Feeding the Ducks

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

I once saw someone counting empty wine bottles with great glee. No, it wasnt the day after a fraternity bash. It was the day after Purim. "Wow," he said with awe. "It must have been some party!" It was. And thats what was so strange.

We Jews are not known as "boozers". Even when I reached my teens I remember that one of the highlights of Shabbat morning was having a small glass of cherry brandy. Not exactly the stuff that drinking binges are made of.

And yet it seems that the day of Purim is designed to help us make up for lost time. A years worth of sobriety needs to be rectified. But to get drunk on a Holy day?

Yes, and thats the beauty of Purim.

The Talmud teaches there are three ways that a person reveals his true, inner self: in personal money matters, when he gets angry and when he gets drunk. In his dealings with others he projects the kind of personality he would like seen. The real "him" is camouflaged. He prefers to show a more presentable side. The Talmud is telling us that there are times when a person "loses control" and the real person slips out.

Prerequisite to becoming a better person is knowing that there are many flaws and negative character traits that need to be dealt with. If a person hasnt even reached that point, there is little chance he will be able to better himself. So, what happens if a person knows that at least once a year he is going to place himself in a situation that requires that he lose control of his carefully self-designed image? In addition, he knows that he is required to lose control in the company of other people. What does he do then?

I was always reasonably wary of one of my childhood friends father. He was quite a fearsome looking fellow. He had, in my young mind, wild eyes and an untamed beard. Clearly not someone to get on the wrong side of. For years I was convinced that there were some latent homicidal instincts lurking underneath the surface. Of course he never once proved me right, but I could never quite shake off the feeling until one Purim afternoon.

I went round to deliver Shaloch Manot food gifts to neighbors and family friends, and there was this object of terror, completely drunk, sitting on the kitchen floor trying to feed pieces of bread to ducks he had drawn on the floor! He looked up at me with a beatific smile and told me (somewhat indistinctly) that just as it was a mitzvah to be kind and thoughtful to other people, it was also a mitzvah to be kind to animals. Homicidal? No. Just a compassionate and considerate husband, father and Jew.

One of the many lessons of Purim is that when a person spends the year working on his character, striving to become a better person, he does not need to fear losing control when drunk. When I think back to the truly memorable Purim meals that I have participated in through the years, I always conjure up the image of a certain Rosh Yeshiva (dean), a true Torah scholar, being "held up" by his students as he recited, absolutely drunk but with heart-felt fervor, the entire Book of Tehillim (Psalms) by heart. I similarly recall his brother playing the keyboard so that we could dance and sing with spiritual abandon. As the meal progressed he became more and more inebriated, his ability to remain upright became more precarious, but never at any point did he stop playing. Towards the end of the festivities he could be found lying semi-comatose on the floor, fingers still moving feverishly over the keys. Why? So that our enjoyment shouldnt be lessened in any way. And always, always in my mind are the ducks.

Purim is all about internalizing the precious idea that if I better myself, the year can truly belong to me. It is all about making the most of whats available. Success in self-improvement will turn Purim into a truly glorious day of pure pleasure. And thats worth drinking to.

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