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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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Upon seeing the Israelites worshipping the Golden Calf, Moses smashes the two tablets of the covenant at the base of Mount Sinai.  The narrative then includes a curious continuation.  Moses took the calf they had made and burned it, pulverized it, sprinkled it upon the water and then made the Israelites drink it (Exodus 32:20)!

To understand this aspect of the story, a comparison with the only other similar procedure mentioned in the Torah is in order. 

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Words to live by

 

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

-       Robert J. Hanlon