Yoseph Needelman-Ruiz
Yoseph Needelman-Ruiz
Maggid of Cannabis Chassidis, PopCartoonKabala

Purim for drugs: a midrash taken literally

“Haman in the Torah from where? המן העץ the from the tree that you ate”

“Esther in the Torah from where? “אסתר אסתיר פני I will hide my face

“Mordechai in the Torah from where?

“מר דרור = מרה דכיה(((???)) head spices, bitter/myrhh free flowing

What does it mean to suggest that Mordechai exists in the Torah as the head spices in the annointing oil, and that Haman exists as the fruit of the tree of knowledge? It means a cohesive theology of exctatic self-medication, only as much as it takes not to die.

What does it mean that Mordechai is mentioned earlier in the Torah? Or Haman? Just that they are older, more fundamental concepts, incarnated and engaged by the personages traditionally, but somehow also bigger and deeper according to all traditions. Haman is an original problem, accounting for the Quranic presence of a Haman villain in Pharoah’s court, against Moses, like the Bilaam he’s partially associated with: knowledge itself, that which is tempting in strategy, theory and the nihilism that can follow.

This is part of why the ancient rabbis, as well as the early modern philosophers, denigrated and eschewed intoxication: the true knowledge in the arcane mystery religion makes it hard to take death seriously, or any other attachment. That said, there’s another kind of intoxication, that of the head spices, בשמים ראש, here associated with Mordechai, because the Aramaic translation for Mar Dror, as the head spices used in the annointing oil in the desert and in all literal messianism of kings, is Mara-Dakhya.

This doesn’t have to be meaningful, except that the name is exceptional in Jewish literature, existing not at all before the book of Esther, and introduced in tandem with a story and holiday that involves week long intoxication parties and months of reprogramming of would be brides in the chamber of myrhh, followed by the chamber of spices.

Prof. J. H. Chajes once, in a Purim context suggested to me a causal explanation: what if Mordechai IS drugs, freedom-through-bitterness, the good through the bad that makes stories possible because suddenly the heavy and terrifying is just fun and dramatic? It would explain why Mordechai is so sympathetic, despite not being especially virtueous, instead inviting his “niece” to compromize herself before the opportunity to be married to a king, often associated with G-d, the king of kings, himself. To the degree that Esther is identified as “hidden”, ironically, in light of how much Isthar goddesses tend to be defined by their visibility and access, she is identified with the divine presence itself, constantly in danger and yet, all anyone wants to support, encourage or appreciate.

Mordechai and Haman are not like this. Neither is respected or trusted, but both are deeply appreciated by the king for the depth of insight and support associated with them each. Chris Bennet argues for the “Haoma” identified by ancient Persian religions with a psychoactive drug mix that was the illumination of all who would understand and represent divinity, which alas can come with a dehumanizing coldness, as we’ve seen with elitist and neo-nationalist co-options of psychedelia and exctatic culture: for money, at the expense of other people, in a purely competetive, triumphal ego driven goal oriented way. Mordechai isn’t so different, he’s just mellower, like the head spices he’s identified with, Cinnamon and “קנה בושם” now more and more popular identified with marijuana/cannabis, the safest and most fragrant of popular pain relievers and intoxicants, traditionally and now more than ever.

Cannabis has in common with Mordechai a certain dignity in exile expressed by the treasured nature of the wisdom they impart, as well as the “chill” and peace identified with them. Even at the even of the story, Mordechai remains relatively untrusted by many of the people, the massacre of amalekites fueled by Esther and her army leaving a bad taste in the mouth of all who fear unaccountable, self righteous violence. And so cannabis is not innocent, and demands conscious, intentional and directed use in order to be righteous, trusted, and legal, like the Jewish people themselves, capable of so much with our insight and joy, but better dipped in the waters of humanism, concern, and collaboration in order to be an authentic messianic “healing of the nations”.

Note how much, ultimately, in the last few hundred years if not longer, the war with Amalek is associated with the war on doubt and insecurity itself, and the main expression, literalized, of the destruction of Amalek is like the sort immortalized in Fiddler on the Roof, when the Jews enter the Cossack bar to dance with the Cossacks until there is no antisemetism left in them. This is based on the Purim stories of R Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, who took his chassidim to the cossack bar on Purim to kill amalek with joy and kindness, saving many lives as the association people have with the Jews, with the Chassidim, was only joy and relief. So be it with us, that we would care and live and love enough and rightly to wake the joy in all people around us everywhere, and in many ways, that’s part of what we learn from the best of drugs: how to just make people feel better until your well being matters to them so much. So be it with us!

About the Author
Yoseph Needelman-Ruiz a.k.a. Yoseph Leib Ibn Mardachya is the author of "Cannabis Chassidis: The Ancient and Emerging Torah of Drugs" (Autonomedia press, 2012) an epic devotional study of Cannabis and other ethneogens in Judaism and its heresies throughout history, into super-modernity, in the hopes of passing on a useful counsel with regards to their use beyond "do" or "don't." He is currently working on a book about Pop Cartoon Kabbalah, and alternates between leading services and sermons in Williamsburg Brooklyn at Cong. Beth Jacob Ohev Sholom, and living in Israel's Elah Valley.
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