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The Talmud records that according to one authority of the late third century, Jews are obligated to drink as much wine on Purim as it would take to obliterate the difference between “Cursed be Haman” and “Blessed be Mordechai” (Megillah 7b).   Yet this requirement to overindulge to the point of disorientation is immediately followed by a cautionary tale.  Rabbah and Rabbi Zeira jointly organized a Purim feast in which both fulfilled the obligation to drink.  But in his drunken state Rabbah slit the throat of his rabbinic colleague and killed him.  When Rabbah sobered up the next day and realized what he had done, he prays – successfully - for his colleague’s revival.  The next year, Rabbah invites Rabbi Zeira to join him once again in Purim celebration.  This time, however, Rabbi Zeira declines on the grounds that he cannot count on another miracle.

Professor Eliezer Diamond interprets this passage as an example of Talmudic humor.  In declining Rabbah’s invitation Rabbi Zeira is not expressing a loss of faith but a new found discretion.  It is not a factual report on resurrection but a joke.  Since Purim is the quintessential day of joy and laughter in the Jewish calendar, there is much to recommend this interpretation.

Alternatively, the Talmudic story may have been intended to serve two entirely different purposes. 

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Being a kohen was not easy.  The kohen was totally dedicated to God and was thus preoccupied with Temple service.  The kohen could own no land and was subsequently entirely dependent on priestly emoluments.  Sometimes the emoluments were small or even lacking and could no way compensate for the time and energy required.

The “olah” sacrifice, for example, occupied the priest for the entire night and the only benefit the kohen could derive from this category of sacrifice is the hide that was of little value.  On occasion, the kohen would not receive even this minimal compensation for in the case of potential sacrifices that became disqualified before the blood was sprinkled on the altar, the hide was denied to the kohen (Mishnah Zevahim 12:2).  This explains why the Torah includes a special command to Aaron and his descendants when it comes to the “olah.” 

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Words to live by

 

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

-       Robert J. Hanlon