Today’s daf (Megillah 7b) includes the oft-quoted teaching of Rava that: ‘It is the duty of a man to intoxicate (לבסומי) himself on Purim until he cannot tell the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai’’ which is understood as endorsing excess drinking ‘for the sake of Purim’. However, the real question is what does this phrase actually mean?
Rather than granting permission for drunken behaviour, as I explain in a more lengthy treatment of this teaching (see http://bit.ly/2VkwVDM), I believe that what is being said here is that we are being encouraged to reach an emotional and intellectual state where we see the good in the bad to such an extent that we cannot distinguish between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai’. But doesn’t the Gemara tell us explicitly that we should reach a state of drunkenness?
The answer to this question is an emphatic no. Just a few lines above Rava’s statement in the Gemara we are told of a saying that רווחא לבסימא שכיח – ‘there is always room for sweet things’, meaning that at the end of a meal, we always find room for dessert. However, as Rav Chaim Friedlander points out (see Siftei Chaim, Moadim Vol. 2 p. 230), the term used by Rava of לבסומי – which is generally understood to mean ‘to intoxicate himself’ – is the same word used in the phrase to mean sweet!
Given all this, it would appear that what Rava is telling us to do is to have a paradigm shift in which we find sweet in the bad to such an extent that we cannot tell the difference between the curses of Haman and the blessings of Mordechai. As Rabbi Friedlander explains: ‘The sweetening of [our perception of] the bad is achieved by the deeper understanding that bad itself enables us to reach the good.’
What we see from here is that while some people interpret the word simcha to defend practices that lead to drunken stupor, what Rava is teaching us is that during the month of Adar, and specifically on Purim itself, we should try and see good in the bad, make peace with the challenges that we confront in our lives, and we should remove all worry and sadness from our heart.