Revealing the Heart Unto the Mouth

Safed, 19th century, "Hassidim Celebrating Purim with Sephardic Jew", Author unknown, collection of Isaac Einhorn, Tel Aviv (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

“Each individual is required to intoxicate himself, until he cannot differentiate between ‘blessed is Mordechai’ and ‘cursed is Haman’”
-Tractate Megillah, page 7b

Why is intoxication so crucial to Purim? What religious significance does alcohol have? Two giants of Jewish thought, along with some modern scholarship, provide a helpful answer.

Rav Yitzchak Hutner, born in 1906, was a student of the Mussar movement in Slabodka, Lithuania. After a brief stint at Yeshivat Hebron, where he befriended HaRav Kook, he ended up in Brooklyn where he worked on his magnum opus, Pachad Yitzchak. Rav Hutner had the unique distinction of rubbing shoulders with both Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Berlin, and all three of them most likely influenced each other subtly throughout their lives.

In Pachad Yitzchak, Rav Hutner discusses the function of alcohol on Purim (Pachad Yitzchak, Purim, Daled):

 “On the day when G-d shall avenge all of Israel, that day is stuck in G-d’s heart, and is deeply buried in the deep mysteries of that same heart, so that no part of it shall be revealed in His mouth.”

Here, Rav Hutner refers to the end of days when G-d will visit His vengeance upon Israel’s enemies. This day is stuck in G-d’s heart, and He is constantly reminded of it when He sees His people suffering. Nevertheless, He represses it, waiting for the right moment when we are ready to be redeemed.

“All of this is said regarding the normal days of the year, but on Purim, when Israel is assembled to visit revenge upon their enemies, this revenge is tantalizingly close. On this day, the partition between the heart and the mouth falls. G-d’s heart is very close to his mouth on Purim.”

During the year, there is a clear divide between heart and mouth, which in the case of G-d means His actions don’t completely reflect his feelings. Therefore, He doesn’t bring the end times upon us, even though He wants to. This sober, utilitarian explanation is typical of modernist Jewish thought, echoing similar sentiments found in both Rav Soloveitchik and Rav Kook’s writings. On Purim, however, this divide is lifted, meaning that it’s the only day of the year He would be able to enact revenge. We see this happen in the book of Esther: “So the Jews struck at their enemies with the sword, slaying and destroying; they wreaked their will upon their enemies.” Rav Hutner continues:

“This is one of the greatest joys of drunkenness on Purim, that a state of intoxication brings about the removal of the divide between the mouth and the heart”

We mortals can emulate the removal of this divide by getting drunk. In very clear anatomical terms, the effect of inebriation is laid out by Rav Hutner: alcohol removes the divides between one’s heart and one’s mouth, allowing our desires to freely translate into action, something we must try to achieve on Purim to emulate G-d, and hopefully bring redemption upon us.

Rav Tzadok of Lublin was born into a prestigious Lithuanian family in Kreuzberg in 1823. He quickly showed an advanced grasp of Torah study and was on his way to becoming a great scholar. After hearing a rumor about his wife shaking a nobleman’s hand, he attempted to divorce her, but she refused, so he travelled around Europe to acquire 100 signatures from major rabbis, the procedure required by Rabbeinu Gershom’s famous ban on polygamy. During his travels, he met Rav Mordechai Yosef Leiner, the Rebbe of Izbica and the author of Mei HaShiloach, and quickly fell in love with Hassidut, straying far from his upbringing.

One of his best-known works is Resisei Layla (lit. ‘Locks of the Night’), a collection of ideas that came to him in his dreams. In the heavily deterministic Izbica Hassidut, dreams hold great significance as revelations of G-d’s will. These dreams, then, are of utmost importance, and warrant being written down and compiled into a book.

Rav Tzadok writes:

During drunkenness, the body acts without the soul’s supervision, as in Lot’s drunkenness, he is like a fool with no obligations, and can then act as he pleases, and then the ‘Force of Amalek’ is no longer present at all.”

Here, Rav Tzadok on the surface writes a scathing critique of inebriation, comparing the drunkard to a fool. However, if we look deeper, we see something much more interesting: the drunkard, having cast off the chains of logic, morality, and control, achieves a much more Divine state, where he is able to act more freely and become closer to G-d. This abandonment of order and principle in exchange for spiritual enlightenment closely mirrors Rav Tzadok’s biography, as his Hassidic ascendance can be seen as a sort of rejection of the logical in favor of the spiritual. This is also reflected in the value placed on dreams: as extensions of our subconscious, they represent our true selves, unbridled by worldly devices. He continues:

“When one is drunk to the point when he cannot differentiate the greatness [of Mordechai] from the detriment [of Haman], then the root of his self is revealed, and he can understand the truth of the will of the Israelite man, which is only to do G-d’s will.”

The language here, which borders on the psychedelic, states that drunkenness creates a vacuum, which can then be filled with heavenly truths that were until then unattainable, due to mental and moral inhibitions.

So, on the one hand, we have Rav Hutner’s divide between heart and mouth being removed by alcohol, and on the other hand we have Rav Tzadok’s divide between mind and body being caused by the same thing. Interestingly, what little we know about our brain confirms both explanations. Intoxication causes our pre-frontal cortex (PFC) to deactivate. The PFC filters out actions that are to our societal detriment, modulating other parts of our brain that in turn control our body. As ScienceDirect puts it,

“The connectivity of this region supports the proposed function of this area, specifically the processing of various multimodal sensory inputs to modulate behavior, including visceral and autonomic function, to match behavior to fit appropriately to the situation in which an individual is placed.”

This description may seem familiar to those who’ve had their PFC impaired by booze. More interestingly, it seems to fit both Rav Tzadok and Rav Hutner’s description: instead of our mind controlling our actions and speech, our heart does; or in medical terms, the part of our brain that processes stimuli rationally is disabled, leading to control being handed, unfiltered, to previously restrained parts of our brain. As Rav Hutner puts it, “Liba LePuma Galia”, or “The heart is revealed to the mouth.”

If so, wouldn’t we benefit from more-oft inebriation? After all, wouldn’t we benefit from the spiritual enlightenment on days that aren’t Purim? In his book Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced and Stumbled Our Way To Civilization, Edward Slingerland makes exactly that case. He argues that alcohol, in its inhibition of the PFC, lubricated our brains and lowered our defenses, allowing us to make the much-needed social connections required for building society. Therefore, he continues, alcohol continues to play that same role, and intoxication in moderation is vital in helping us form bonds with each other. Out of the many examples he brings throughout his book, from the Ayahuasca in the lush jungles of South America to the role of beer in ancient Egypt, he misses probably the best example of this: Hassidut. No Tisch, Farbrengen, or Aufruf is complete without schnapps, and it’s well known that the booziest Purims are always among the many Chabbadniks and Breslovers around the world. Even the other forms of deactivating the PFC that Slingerland brings up, such as ritual chanting and dancing, are classic hallmarks of many a Hassidic court.

Enjoying one day a year where we can freely let go of our inhibitions, abandon logic, and reveal our heart to our mouth perfectly fits within Slingerland’s thesis of routinely giving our PFC a break and forming closer bonds with those around us. Without knowing it, two distinct Hassidic masters separated by generations and an ocean both described what it then took another half century for science to prove. All of this harkens back to the original Talmudic commandment about intoxicating ourselves until we can’t differentiate between good and bad: this muddling of judgement is the most important part of drunkenness and is a good sign we’ve neutralized our PFC and revealed our heart unto our mouth. Purim Sameach!

About the Author
Eytan is a 19 year old Oleh from California, currently residing in Ra'anana and studying at Yeshivat Maale Gilboa. He can best be reached via Facebook Messenger.
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