To life, To life, L’Chaim

For those of you who believe in fate, karma, a guiding divinity, or just plain dumb luck, a short article I read yesterday is clearly intended for the Jewish season of Purim.

Apparently, the controversial company Uber has had an unexpected yet positive social effect. It seems that in those cities where the app has been launched, the number of intoxicated motorists has dropped significantly. I don’t think that it is even necessary to delve into the statistics, to appreciate that despite the very problematic issues with this ride-sharing system, it has had the unexpected side effect of saving lives. There is absolutely no question that reducing the degree of drunkenness amongst drivers, reduces accidents, related injuries and deaths.

Given the significance of this social change, this finding should have been front-page news on every single newspaper in the world. The first thing all of the various reporters should have done is to see whether the same results are seen when other similar types of services are used. Ideally, it would be best to find cities where only Uber is being used, versus other cities where a competitor is solely being used. In this way, one could know if the positive effect is specifically due to Uber, or if it is universal to any ride-sharing system.

Why would such a thing happen? The simple answer is that people who provide the car rides want to make money. And if they are drunk when they accept the passenger, they will get a low rating and lose income. The obvious question to ask is why such an effect is not seen in other parts of people’s lives. The same people who are imbuing a significant amount of spirits, likely engage in other socially important activities [like driving for personal needs]. Yet somehow, it is only when there is a direct connection between the very personal experience that a passenger has and the income of the driver, that the social effect occurs.

I certainly hope that there is a sociology student out there who will do their Masters if not their PhD on this incredibly important topic. Perhaps, the key to the social success of a ride-sharing system, is that the driver experiences the immediate and direct link between performance and profit. When a person is working in a company, even if that person is a high-end executive, there is rarely a situation where a defined action generates cash in hand.

Let’s imagine a programmer who is brilliant. This programmer is is able to write the kind of software that generates millions of dollars. But the same programmer gets drunk on a regular basis. As it turns out, this programmer is still good enough when drunk, such that no one wants to fire him. But he has been told multiple times that if he were to stop drinking, he could make a huge bonus at the end of the year. Nevertheless, this programmer continues to come into work every day, inebriated.

Perhaps, the lesson from Uber is that this programmer should have a chart placed within his office, with each day marked off as being work well done versus substandard performance. And on those days when the programmer is more productive [and less drunk], he is handed a $100 bill. I have no idea if this would work. But the experience with Uber really begs the question if there is a way to modify such a destructive behavior as drunkenness.

I mentioned at the top, that this article is very appropriate for the special holiday period we are now in. As a physician, I have treated many young men on Purim who presented to the clinic in a disgusting state. Some of these young men had managed to literally poison themselves from the amounts of alcohol that they acutely took in. Others, were filthy from their own vomit and very difficult to manage.

At one point, I broke my professional form, and angrily said to one of these young men that their drinking was in no way or form the way to glorify the name of G-d. I said to the young man that his behavior was a social embarrassment, and did not demonstrate thankfulness for the miracle of the holiday. Not surprisingly, the young man responded angrily as well, and said that it is a commandment to get drunk on Purim. All he was doing, in his mind, was being respectful of Jewish law.

The twisted logic in this argument is evident. Alcohol can be a wonderful thing and is included in multiple rituals across many religions and other ceremonial traditions. But drunkenness has no value in a society that suffers from the repercussions of drunken behavior.

To quote my father in law, the commandment to drink on Purim “up to when you cannot tell the difference between Haman and Mordechai”, should be translated from the Hebrew to start as “up until the point”. In other words, enjoy yourself but only up until you start to get really drunk and thus dangerous to yourself and others. The Uber drivers seem to have figured this out on their own. I think that the Purim celebrators should glorify G-d’s name in the same way.

Thanks for listening

My website is at

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.
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