Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, March 10, 2017 – 12 Adar, 5777
Chaverim, I’m pleased to announce that we will have a guest cantor with us this weekend. Robert Pflug is not a candidate in our cantorial search process, but happens to be in Portland visiting some friends on a weekend when Cantor Bletstein is. Given that, this is a wonderful opportunity for our community to see how different individuals approach the sacred work of leading a congregation in prayer. I hope to celebrate Shabbat and Purim with you this weekend.
This past week, our Portland MJCC (Mittleman Jewish Community Center) received a bomb threat. In the wake of an ongoing national epidemic of such calls, and after so many other minorities are experiencing their own disheartening episodes of hate, it would be too easy for us to succumb to fear, anger or despair at such moments, or worse yet, to avoid these issues entirely. There is a way that darkness can threaten to absorb every bit of light in the world. How we respond is therefore essential.
On a serious note, there has been a flurry of activity. Some of that involves law enforcement as our institutions continually review and improve how we deal with threats. Other responses include a tremendous outpouring of support from our community partners and our Muslim and Christian neighbors. I want to share some of that with you at another time, because there is something magnificent and heartening in how we are all pulling together and expressing concern through word and action. But not today.
The book of Kohelet, or Ecclesiastes, you see, wisely reminds us that “there is a time for everything underneath the sun.” Judaism lives that message. We set apart times for fasting and mourning, as well as learning and celebrating. Just this past week, our fifth grade class celebrated its annual mock wedding, as Steven and Stefanie Goldsmith renewed their vows and our youth entertained them with dance, piano, ukulele and voice. It was a beautiful morning.
Nowhere is Kohelet’s lesson clearer, however, than at Purim. Purim teaches us that sometimes the most powerful way to respond to darkness, tragedy and hatred is through farce and satire (A topic for another time: how we live in a singularly unfunny age, where all humor is subject to scrutiny that sucks the joy out of it). So on Purim, we dress in costumes, disrupt our holy services with inappropriate behavior and loud noises whenever “he who’s name should not be mentioned” is recited. [That’s Haman for those wondering.] Most startlingly, we are commanded to get sufficiently inebriated so that we can’t quite distinguish between the hero and the villain of the Esther story, or between good and evil. In an era of division, imagining that we might be wrong about our moral judgments and might even have things backwards makes one pause.
It’s that element of inebriation that I want to address. Yes, there are real limits set on how much one should drink and when. (Absolutely anyone who struggles with substances should refrain from ingesting anything. If you’d like to attend Purim but are worried about being around drinks, please contact me to arrange a partner for the evening who can provide you support.) But our topsy-turvy day remains with its serious spiritual significance, which is why a congregant came seeking my halakhic advice (Jewish legal decision).
Since one is supposed to drink on Purim, is it permissible instead to smoke marijuana on Purim, and if so, how much ought one smoke/vape/ingest to fulfill the mitzvah.
That’s a serious and complicated question beyond the scope of this column. Instead, let me provide an answer based on another ancient custom, Purim Torah. In the days and weeks leading up to Purim, frivolous questions about the Torah are asked, and answered. The best use serious halakhic concepts incorrectly, adding an element of intellectual silliness. As is also known, we always refer to past decisions. On a halakhic website, the following question was raised:
Have our holy Sages given us guidance about specific brands, flavors, or types of beer that are preferred or to be avoided?
Beer is an essential beverage. Indeed, many questions in Jewish sources are concluded with the statement וצריך ביאור, “tzarikh bi-ur”–this needs beer”. But what sort of beer?
The first concern is the bitterness of the beer, and we learn from the book of Psalms that fewer hops are better, as it says in Psalm 107:42
וְכָל -עַוְלָה, קָפְצָה פִּיהָ
All injustice, hops are its mouth.
This helps us understand that a lighter beer, such as a lager, is the preferred style. But what of brands? Here there is a makhlokhet l’shem shamayim, there is a holy disagreement.
On the one hand, we learn from the prophet Jeremiah that imported beer is the better choice.
מנעי קולך מבכי, ועינייך, מדמעה: כי יש שכר לפעולתך נאום-יהוה, ושבו מארץ אויב
Refrain your voice from crying and your eyes from tears, for your workers have beer, says the Lord, and they are returning from enemy lands. (Jeremiah 31:15)
On the other hand, we have learned that on Rosh Hashanna, one should drink Schaefer beer, because Schaefer sounds like “Shofar,” the horn we blow to announce the New Year. This is related to other signs or “simanim” we use to eat or drink foods that sound like or are related to Rosh Hashanna. That’s why we eat a fish head at the head of the year.
Similarly, for the old timers, we are reminded that Schaefer’s advertising slogan used to be, “The one beer to have when you’re having more than one.”
Since Purim is a time when people should have more than one beer, we learn that Schaefer beer is the preferred beer on Purim and not just on Rosh Hashanah.
Finally, one should celebrate in the manner of one’s community. We have a congregant who brews Matzohbrau in Hillsboro. (Shameless commerce plug–Ambacht Brewery–Tom, we’ll let you know what our advertising rates are later) While this is certainly more “hoppy” than Schaefer, Purim is the holiday closest to Passover when we think most of matzoh. Additionally, it is a wheat based beer, and one can therefore recite the grace after meals on it (birkat hamazon).
Most importantly, for my Portand beer afficionados, the mere thought of drinking an unhoppy beer makes them unhappy, let alone drinking a non-local brew. And on Purim, we understand it is forbidden to be unhappy. Therefore, since we have already said that the normal rules of right and wrong and of hero and villain are overturned on Purim, we also don’t need to be worried that “all injustice, hops are its mouth.” You may drink what you wish, so long as it is imported from another neighborhood or town.
In conclusion, be hoppy, don’t worry, and come celebrate Purim with us tomorrow night. And please be safe. Take an Uber, cab, or Lyft home if you are indulging.