Post-Purim Reflections from Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem:
The letters of the Hebrew alphabet are also numbers, and our tradition teaches that when the numerical value of one word within our Torah equals the numerical value of another word within our Torah, it can be alluding to a deep connection between these two words. For example, the Talmud points out that if we add up the letters in the Hebrew word for “wine” – yayin – we get the number “70”; moreover, if we add up the letters in the Hebrew word for “secret” – sod – we get the same number. The Talmud teaches that this similarity alludes to the following idea: “When wine enters, the secret comes out!” (Eruvin 65a)
As we know, drinking much wine can make a person less inhibited; thus, when wine enters a person, the “secrets” of that person – personal information or aspects of the personality which are normally hidden – can come out. For example, the violent impulses within a person which are normally controlled can come out when a person is drunk, and one does not need to be a psychologist or sociologist to realize that when many people get drunk, the chances of violent behavior also increase. This was common knowledge in the New York City neighborhood where I grew up.
I would like to tell you how I discovered another side of the “drinking” story after I became part of the Torah world. I joined the Torah world at age 10 when Rabbi Gabriel Beer, the rabbi of our local synagogue and its afternoon Hebrew school which I attended, persuaded my parents to take me out of public school and send me to a yeshiva a few miles away in Far Rockaway, New York. When I was age 14, my Rebbe invited the students in our class to join him in celebrating Purim at the Chaim Berlin Yeshiva in Brooklyn, New York, which was headed by Rav Yitzchak Hutner, a leading Torah sage, who was my Rebbe’s Rebbe. The celebration was scheduled for Purim afternoon during the traditional Purim feast of food and wine.
When I arrived at the yeshiva on Purim, I found a large hall full of teachers and students who were singing deep spiritual melodies with great passion. Many of them had already drunk much wine, but there was no violent energy in the room; in fact, I immediately sensed the loving and unifying energy at this gathering. After I walked in, my Rebbe noticed me, and he walked over to greet me. I noticed, however, that he was tipsy.
When he greeted me, he kissed me on the cheek, and holy words of love began to flow out of his heart. I do not remember the exact words, but his words revealed that he loved me, that there was great potential in my neshamah (soul), and that I must therefore devote myself to the study of Torah in order to become the person I was meant to be.
My Rebbe had never kissed me before, and while he was always warm and encouraging, he was usually more reserved, unlike that Purim, when loving words kept flowing from his heart. When wine entered my Rebbe, his secret came out. And when his secret was revealed, my love for the Torah increased.
I have friends and neighbors who have had similar Purim experiences with their Torah teachers and/or chavrusas – study partners. When wine entered, the “secret” came out – the secret of holy love. For example, a woman in my neighborhood recently told me that a number of years ago the chavrusa of her husband came to visit him on Purim, and the drunken chavrusa kept telling her husband how much he loved him!
I live in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem, and the warm way in which this Torah-committed community celebrates Purim is one of many reasons why I am grateful to our Creator for bringing me to this special neighborhood. Although I do not appreciate the noise of the firecrackers used by a few mischievous children on Purim, I very much appreciate the many children who are busy bringing Purim gifts of food to others, and who are also collecting money for worthy causes. I especially appreciate the joyous and unifying Purim spirit of our community. I must confess, however, that I face a bit of a risk when I start to walk in my neighborhood on Purim. There is no risk of violence, but there is the risk that some men and boys that I don’t even know will come over to me and start dancing with me! That risk, however, is part of the following secret which is revealed to our people on Purim:
There are no “strangers” among us; there are only brothers and sisters!
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen