Purim commemorates the Jewish people's miraculous delivery from destruction in ancient Persia as told in the Book of Esther. It is a holiday of joyous celebration unlike any other on the Jewish calendar.
The Talmud counsels that one should drink on Purim until he can no longer distinguish between the phrases "Cursed is Haman" and "Blessed is Mordechai" (two of the main characters in the story). There is disagreement in the tradition as to how much one should drink to honor the holiday. What is agreed upon is getting intoxicated on Purim to the point that one's reason is totally incapacitated is a valid way to celebrate it.
What does getting seriously drunk have to do with spirituality and our relationship with the Creator?
Blogger Yanki Tauber helps frame this question. He writes that reason is a kind of "language," meaning it is a way to understand the world and is a means of communicating that understanding. But reason is limited; we are much more than logical machines. A life lived exclusively through the mind is a narrow life. The play of emotions, the yearnings of the heart, the excitement of experiencing the world with all our senses is a small sampling of living in a wider container than reason alone. Living a rational life filters out the parts of ourselves that exist beyond reason. It confines all our relationships, including our relationship with God.
Most days we need to use our minds to navigate the world in a reasoned way, to limit the experience of life so we are not overwhelmed by its intensity. This is a good thing! We constantly use reason to choose between seeming opposites. Drinking on Purim is a way to go beyond the distinctions of normal consciousness and experience life without our normal barriers. Purim points the way that beyond the give and take of the dance of opposites that is the nature of life, is the reality that God is beyond opposites and can be experienced directly in a state of pure, unfiltered joy.
The essence of drinking on Purim is to not know the difference between right and wrong. As The Creator said in Isaiah 45:7, "I form light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil; I the Lord maker of all these." If you are willing, there is no limit as to where one can find God in this world.
(Note: It is obvious that getting drunk is not a guarantee of experiencing God in a direct way. While celebrating Purim, the idea is to set your intention that you are using alcohol to get there. It is also noteworthy that this is a once-a-year event, not something recommended by the Jewish sages every day!)
Lewis Carroll's character the Hatter, popularly known as the Mad Hatter, is an example from literature of someone living beyond reason in the spirit of Purim. He said, "Have you any idea why a raven is like a writing desk?" (I don't!) Johnny Depp portrayed the Mad Hatter in the 2010 version of "Alice in Wonderland." In the movie, he is known for his Futterwacken, which is a dance of extreme joy. That is a dance right in line with Purim!
Finally, here is another way to look at intoxication and spirituality. Meher Baba, the great Indian spiritual master, worked with God-intoxicated people called masts. They appeared to be mad, but they were not. Concerning masts, Meher Baba made a Sufi analogy to the drunkenness of one intoxicated with wine, but in this case the wine is the love of God. (On another note, Meher Baba is famous for using the expression, "Don't' worry, be happy!")
Purim is a day when one can be like a mast through letting go of all reason and be intoxicated by the love of God. Unlike masts, the idea is not to stay in that state. Rather, it is to return to normal consciousness, to embrace reason as an important tool, and to remember that it is also possible to connect to God and life with a more expansive, joyous spirit that embraces more than you thought was possible. Happy Purim!