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Purim, Carnival, Anti-Structure

The Jewish holiday of Purim was last week – a fun story about a woman who hides the fact she’s Jewish when she marries the Persian King, but is convinced to come out of hiding just in time to save the Jews from annihilation. But… I want to dive into the obligation on Purim to get drunk.

So drunk, in fact, you’re not supposed to be able to tell the difference between the good guy and the bad guy; the evil and the righteous.

In essence, then, Purim becomes like Carnival – a time when social roles are supposed to be turned upside down. When social structures and codes are torn down, if only for a brief period of time. And I think the benefits here are threefold:

  1. The pressure of holding to a social code is stifling. Historically there were times and places to let down one’s following of the codes, but today, with ubiquitous cameras and social media and sought outrage, there are few (if any?) opportunities to let off steam.  But it’s those times when we are freed from the need to fit in and be careful that we can be most creative, and find our imagination, and often ourselves.
  2. There’s a belief that the drinking on Purim is done to silence the intellect for a day. Of course we need the intellect to make sense of the world, to survive and thrive day-to-day, but to exist only in that intellectual state negates the greatness that we have when we quiet our minds. As in meditation, silencing the mind allows us to hear the quieter, subtler parts of ourselves that are normally drowned out by our incessant thinking.
  3. That functional, intellectual state of life is also what creates social structures and codes that separate people. It creates labels, roles, hierarchy, judgments. Purim, like Carnival, exists to help us shed those labels, if only briefly. 

If the goal is to get so inebriated that we can’t tell the difference between good and evil, what does this say about the labels to begin with? If we can get rid of labels like those, can’t we then consider what it means to get rid of other labels that push us apart? Genders, ethnicities, political parties – really any status labels that create enemies out of us.

We can’t live in such a state of course, we need social structure, but to touch such an existence, even for a weekend, is to absorb a bit of awareness of the transcendent, and to consider true egalitarianism. It can be a way to bring together antagonistic forces. Because we are all a giant community of complex human beings, fundamentally equal in our uniqueness – and this community can be felt, intuited, in those moments when the intellect stops perceiving the labels.