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Parenting and Drinking Responsibly
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

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2/24/10

“It is an Aveira to Get Drunk on Purim,” was a direct quote from Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky shlit’a, who took precious time from his busy schedule and shared his da’as Torah with hundreds of participants worldwide last week during a Project Y.E.S. conference call, titled, “Purim Parenting: Keeping Our Children Safe and Sober.”

I had intended to keep the scope of the conference call limited to practical advice that my dear chaver Dr. Benzion Twerski and I would offer parents on setting appropriate limits on Purim activities and to teach their children how to resist negative peer pressure to engage in hard drinking. However, as soon as we announced the conference call, we were inundated with questions from many people who asked me to clarify the words of our chazal (sages) “Chayav einish l’besumei be’puria ad deloi yoda bein arur Haman l’baruch Mordechai” which loosely translated says that one is obligated to drink [on Purim] until he cannot discern between Haman and Mordechai. With that in mind, I asked the Rosh Yeshiva shlit’a, who has served as our posek in Project Y.E.S. since its inception thirteen years ago, to take a few precious moments from his busy schedule and share his da’as Torah with our listeners.

“Chas v’shalom (Heaven forbid) that our Torah would consider getting drunk to be a mitzvah,” said Reb Shmuel. He explained that the word l’besumei is derived from the root word which means to sniff something – and said that this means that one should have only “a whiff” of drinking.

The Rosh Yeshiva also shed light on the words “ad deloi yoda bein arur Haman l’baruch Mordechai” and said that when one sings a song when he is in a heightened state of simcha (joy) he occasionally will sing the verses in incorrect order – meaning that he will sing the verse of Arur Haman in the place of the verse of Baruch Mordechai. It is inconceivable, he stated, that the words of our chazal condone the type of drunkenness which render a person incapable of performing the mitzvos of our Torah.

Reb Shmuel shlit’a is hardly a da’as yachid (a lone voice) in this matter. There is a kol korei issued by Agudas Yisroel and disseminated by my dear chaver Elly Kleinman signed by 26 leading gedolim, admorim, rabbonim and mechanchim that states in unequivocal terms that “chayav ainish...” only refers to wine and not whiskey. And it states that “free use of whiskey” is entirely inappropriate and contrary to da’as chachamim. Obviously, the term “free whisky” was used to denote hard drinking as opposed to a moderate amount of drinking. (A hard copy of the kol korei can be downloaded from my website www.rabbihorowitz.com. Just click here.)

Responsible vs. Irresponsible Drinking

To be perfectly clear, the Rosh Yeshiva shlit’a was discussing irresponsible drinking – and not the moderate drinking which allows a person to break free of his day-to-day inhibitions and arrive at the type of exalted “neshama yeseira” that allows him to connect to Hashem and all that is beautiful in Yiddishkeit with “soaring spirits” (pun intended).

My brother, Reb Yehudah shlit’a, who is the Mashgiach in Yeshiva South Shore, drinks along those lines on Purim. It would be fair to describe him as being above the legal drinking limit during the latter hours of the Purim Seudah. He would never think of driving home from the seudah on Purim, not should he, for it would be illegal, and he would be putting his life in sakana as well as the lives of others. So in technical terms or legally for driving purposes, he certainly could be classified as “drunk” during that time. But the words that would come to mind when observing him in that state would be, “Kedusha, elevated, hisorirus, simcha shel mitzvah, … perhaps even funny.” My brother sings “gramen,” gives brachos to all he speaks to, tells them how wonderful they are, talks about Mashiach and how he needs to do teshuvah. Honestly; I make sure my wife and I, and all our children and now our grandchildren go to him for a bracha when he is in this spiritual high. Far from being “drunk,” he has the “whiff” of intoxication that the Rosh Yeshiva was referring to.

However, the flat-drunk state that some adults and bachurim are engaging in under the guise of Purim which is in a very different category. This is the type of hefkarus (frivolity) that does not lead to any of the attributes of one who is drinking with true Simchas Purim, and that is the aveira that Reb Shmuel s’hlita was discussing. And Reb Shmuel firmly added that “It is an aveirah to say it [hard drinking] is a mitzvah.”

Some point to people of generations past who engaged in serious drinking on Purim and use that to support their claim that getting drunk on Purim is “a mitzvah.” However, I propose that it is illogical to bring proof from anyone who allowed or condoned Purim drinking back then and apply it to today’s climate. That would be like saying that one need not wear a seat belt today because someone in the 1950’s (before it became the norm and the law) didn’t wear one.

Times have very much changed in the thirty-five years since I was a teenager. None of my friends drank aside from Purim – including those who were less than model students – and many didn’t even drink on Purim itself. None of us. Period. Pull up a chair at a Shalom Zachor or Vort nowadays and see if that is the case today.

I also invited Professor Lazer Rosman, who is one of the original members of Hatzoloh, served as an active volunteer for the past 40 years and is currently the senior coordinator of Boro Park Hatzolah to join our conference call as well so our listeners can hear firsthand of the devastation caused by out-of-control drinking. He spoke about the chilul Hashem, injuries, carnage, full-blown toxic shock comas and even deaths that he personally witnessed as a direct result of Purim (and Simchas Torah) drinking. With all that in mind, I maintain that the dynamics have changed dramatically and in light of the sakana hard drinking represents nowadays we must completely end its existence in our community.

I very strongly recommend that all parents with pre-teen and teenage children at home listen to this conference call to hear the da’as Torah of the Rosh Yeshiva shlit’a and the wisdom and life lessons of Dr. Twerski and Professor Rosman. You can do so easily by visiting our website, www.rabbihorowitz.com, or by calling (712)432-1011 and entering access code: 455963558#. The content of that conference call is most certainly appropriate for children of any age and I suggest that you have your children listen along with you if possible.

Aside from the short-term danger, the brutal fact is that the vast majority of people in our community have their first exposure to drinking and smoking on Purim. Alcohol and tobacco are “Gateway Drugs,” meaning that nearly every single hard-core addict started with these substances. Worded differently, keeping your kids from early experimentation with alcohol and tobacco is by far the best way to keep them from becoming addicted later on in life. Just read these stunning statistics from the Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse that I’ve been quoting in the dozens of columns I’ve written on drinking and smoking over the past 12 years:

“A child who gets through age 21 without smoking, using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol is virtually certain never to do so.”

“Teens who smoke cigarettes are 12 times likelier to use marijuana and more than 19 times likelier to use cocaine.”

The message is crystal clear – stop your kids from experimenting with smoking and drinking and they are almost certain to remain drug free all their lives.

In light of the danger of long-term addictions and their subsequent consequences, I honestly feel that any adult who encourages or even condones hard drinking on Purim bears some moral (and probably legal responsibility for short-term effects in many cases) responsibility for the ruined marriages and lives of those in his care who later become alcoholics and substance abusers.

One also must take in mind what message adult hard drinking gives to our children. Many things start out as neutral or commendable actions and then become distorted beyond recognition a generation or two later. So bear in mind, that your (what you may think is) “under-control” hard drinking might be giving free license to your children and grandchildren to get “toasted” on Purim in a manner that is far, far removed from yours, and certainly not what you had intended. And, sadly, you cannot “unring that bell,” once you decide it has gone too far.

Finally, please understand that kids really do “get it” regarding drinking and drunkenness – or almost any other topic – at a very young age. My jaw dropped some twenty years ago when a friend of mine casually asked our eldest son – then eight or nine years old – if his father gets drunk on Purim. (I had never really discussed this with him previously and his response was purely what he had picked up about this matter by osmosis.) My son responded, “No way. My father knows so many secrets about other people’s families [due to my work with teens-at-risk and shalom bayis] that he always keeps to himself. He would never get drunk because if he would, he might start telling people all those private things.”

© 2010, Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved



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