Vol 31.27 - Purim 2                 Spanish French Audio  Video

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(5748) Explanation of the wondrous story of (Tal. Megillah 7b): Rabbah and R' Zeira joined together in a Purim feast. They became intoxicated, and Rabbah arose and cut R. Zera's throat".

Explanation of the death of Nadav and Avihu because they entered the Mikdash while intoxicated (Rashi Parshat Shmini 10:2)  

Tal. Megillah 7b:
Rabbah and R. Zeira joined together in a Purim feast. They became intoxicated, and Rabbah arose and cut R. Zera's throat. On the next day he prayed on his behalf and revived him. Next year he said, Will your honour come and we will have the Purim feast together. He replied: A miracle does not take place on every occasion.


1. The Talmud first tells us the ruling of Rava (a famous Amora) that, “One is obligated to become intoxicated on Purim until he does not know the difference between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai”, and then it recounts a very interesting story for us:

“Rabbah and Reb Zeira (two prominent Amora’im) had the Purim feast together. They became intoxicated. Rabbah arose and slaughtered Reb Zeira. The next day, Rabbah prayed for mercy on Reb Zeira’s behalf and revived him.

The following year Rabbah asked Reb Zeira, ‘Let master come and we will have the Purim feast together’. Reb Zeira answered him, ‘Not every time does a miracle occur’”.

2. The Rebbe begins the discussion:

When looking at this story in its simple form we are forced to search for an explanation because how can we say that Rabbah, one of the great Sages of Israel, spilled the blood of a fellow Jew?!

3. The Rebbe now quotes, and refutes, two general ways in which our commentaries approach this story in the hopes of explaining it:

The first answer: The truth is that Rabbah didn’t literally kill Reb Zeira; he merely gave Reb Zeira a superabundance of very strong wine and this caused him to be very sick, even near death.

The problem with this answer is double fold: Firstly, the simple wording of the story tells us that the next day Rabbah revived him, meaning, that Reb Zeira was indeed killed. Secondly, even if those commentaries are correct, this still doesn’t answer for Rabbah’s behavior. So what if he didn’t actually kill him; he almost killed him! Again, how can we say that the great Rabbah would hurt another Jew (in any way, and especially to almost kill him) when the Torah clearly forbids this!?

The second answer: Elsewhere in the Talmud it says, “(Rabbi Chanina said), ‘He who is born during the hour of Mars will be a man who spills blood’,…., Rabbah said, ‘I was born during the hour of Mars’”. Therefore, we can understand how Rabbah was indeed a man who would spill the blood of another Jew.

There are three clear issues with this answer:

First of all, in addition to our own amazement at how one could say that Rabbah spilled the blood of another Jew, the famed Rabbi Yaakov Emden clearly writes that even if Rabbah was born during the hour of Mars he still did not spill any blood, Heaven Forbid. Moreover, the Rambam writes that even though one may be born with a certain natural inclination, this doesn’t get in the way of his free choice, and on the contrary, it must be the case that Hashem gave him the strength to overcome this natural inclination. Consequently, we must say that Rabbah did indeed use the strength given to him to overcome his natural inclination.

Second of all, towards the end of our story it says, “The following year Rabbah asked Reb Zeira, ‘Let master come and we will have the Purim feast together’”. In other words, not only do we not find in the Talmud that Rabbah did Teshuvah (repentance) over the last year’s Purim feast; he even invites Reb Zeira back! This surely cannot be coming from the same man who spilled his blood the year before!

Third of all, the only reason Reb Zeira didn’t accept the invitation is because, “‘Not every time does a miracle occur’”. In other words, Reb Zeira would have been happy to have a repeat performance of the year before; the only issue was that he wasn’t sure it would be an exact repeat with him coming back to life. If he would have been guaranteed that he would be brought back to life again, he would have happily gone to have the feast with Rabbah again. This obviously cannot be the reaction of a man who was killed by his host.

4. The Rebbe now suggests and refutes his own answer:

We find in the writings our Sages that our story alludes to different mystical and spiritual ideas. Therefore, we might want to say that our story is strictly a parable and not literal, as our Sages do indeed explain regarding different stories in the Talmud.

However, we cannot say this in our case because our story was brought as a follow up and a support to the Halachic ruling (ruling in accordance with Jewish law) of Rava that, “One is obligated to become intoxicated on Purim until he does not know the difference between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai”. In other words, if this story was only hinting at spiritual ideas, it could not have been brought by the Talmud as a support for a Halachic ruling. (However in the other cases where our Sages do explain the stories as parables, it is in the context of Aggadah and not Halachah).

5. The Rebbe now begins his final explanation:

Bearing all of the above in mind, we must conclude that the story is a literal one, and because of their “intoxication” Rabbah actually caused Reb Zeira to die; however at the same time we must conclude that Rabbah didn’t spill the blood of Reb Zeira (in the classic sense) or cause him any harm, to the extent that the next year Rabbah wanted to do it again.

To understand this seemingly difficult anomalous approach we must first discuss the story told in the Torah of the two eldest sons of Aharon Hakohen (Aaron the High Priest)- Nadav and Avihu- who died because “they were intoxicated by wine and entered the Sanctuary”:

The question on this story is, “How is it possible for the two sons of Aharon Hakohen (Aaron the High Priest)-Nadav and Avihu- to sin like this? Nadav and Avihu were on such an elevated level that Moshe Rabbeinu, their uncle, said of them to his brother Aharon, “Aharon my brother, I had known that the Temple would be sanctified with those who are loved by Hashem and are intimate with Him, and I thought that this would be me or you, but now I see that they (Nadav and Avihu) are greater then you and I”! If so, how could they come to sin like this?”

Chassidus answers this, (based on the commentary of the Or Hachaim Hakodesh,), and says that Nadav and Avihu had hoped that their very strong connection to Hashem would eventually lead to their Soul’s departure from their bodies and becoming one with Hashem. Indeed this is the meaning of the Torah’s description of what happened when it says, “B’kar’va’sam Leefnay Hashem Va’ya’moo’soo”, which simply means, “They brought an offering before Hashem and they died”: The word, “B’kar’va’sam”, also means, “they came close”, so the verse is saying, “Because they came so close to Hashem this brought to their death”.

How does this explanation connect to them “being intoxicated by wine and entering the Sanctuary”?

“Wine” refers to the secrets and hidden parts of the Torah. As the Talmud tells us, “When wine enters a person his secrets exit”; as the Talmud continues on to explain that the word, “Sod – secrets”, has the same numerical value as, “Yayin – wine”, (which is seventy). Moreover, just like physical wine reveals what is hidden in the heart of man, so too spiritually, “the wine of Torah” means the revelation of the hidden parts of Torah. Furthermore, “being intoxicated by wine”, refers to an overwhelming revelation of the secrets of Torah, until the point of their Souls leaving their bodies (just like physical intoxication causes a loss of the senses).

Why was this a sin? What was wrong with Nadav and Avihu wanting to leave this world and be one with Hashem? Our Sages tell us that “we live against our will”. This means that even though we would love to leave this world with all its tests and battles and cleave to Hashem instead, we must stay down here in this world because Hashem wants it this way; being that Hashem desired to have a dwelling place in this physical world, we must fulfill His desire.

This is why the Torah warns us after this story not to drink wine specifically in a matter in which it intoxicates, because the Torah is hinting to us that when we are experiencing the secrets of the Torah (wine) we should not take it to a point where our Souls leave our bodies (we should not become intoxicated), because the point of the world is to stay down here.

6. The Rebbe now explains that since we cannot take the simple meaning away from a verse in Torah, we must say that Nadav and Avihu didn’t solely experience overwhelming revelations of the hidden part of Torah; we must say that they also physically got intoxicated by wine, and this goes hand in hand:

The holy Shelah says, “This that we find that some of the holy ones sometimes drank and became intoxicated at great feasts is understood because their intention was for the sake of heaven because when they drank a lot they would become unconstrained and very comical, and this would cause them to reveal Torah at the table much more than usual, because when a wise man is joyful he reveals the secrets of the Torah due to the fact that happiness strengthens the attribute of thought in the Soul and therefore he is more prone to reveal the secrets of his heart, as it says, “When wine enters the person the secrets exit”, “the secrets” being words of Torah”.

This was also the case with Nadav and Avihu: Being that they were “holy ones”, when they drank and became intoxicated physically, this caused them to be more receptive to the revelations of the secrets of the Torah, to the point that their Souls left their bodies.

7. The Rebbe now explains that this also applies to the story of Rabbah and Reb Zeira:

When Rabbah and Reb Zeira got together, they indeed physically drank a superabundance of very strong wine, however this also caused them to be more receptive and open to the hidden secrets of the Torah, even to the point where Reb Zeira’s body couldn’t handle such revelation anymore and his Soul departed.

Indeed, when the Talmud says that, “Rabbah arose and slew Reb Zeira.” it is being perfectly exact, because Rabbah was on a higher level than Reb Zeira and was able to handle more revelation than Reb Zeira, therefore when Rabbah revealed everything that he was comprehending in G-dliness Reb Zeira’s Soul left his body. In fact, this can also be seen from their names, because, “Rabbah”, means “immense”, because he had immense vessels, and, “Zeira”, means “small”, because he had smaller vessels.

Moreover, the wording, “(Rabbah arose) and slaughtered (Reb Zeira)”, is also exact because the Talmud tells us that the connotation of the word, “And he shall slaughter”, is, “And he shall draw up”. In other words, the idea of slaughtering an animal is to pull up and elevate the animal from its previous status of being a part of the animal kingdom to becoming a part of the human kingdom. Therefore, regarding our story, the Talmud is telling us that Rabbah was pulling Reb Zeira up to a level which was infinitely higher than Reb Zeira’s norm, and this caused Reb Zeira to expire.

Furthermore, the wording, “(Rabbah) arose (and slaughtered Reb Zeira)”, is also exact because Rashi says that the word “arose – V’Kum” means “it was elevated”. In other words, Rabbah became elevated to an exceedingly high level, however being that Rabbah had immense vessels (as we just said) he was able to handle this exceedingly high level and didn’t expire, however Reb Zeira who had smaller vessels was not able to handle this level and expired.

8. The Rebbe now explains how Rabbah could cause Reb Zeira to expire even though the point of this world is to have a Soul clothed in a body (as we explained earlier):

On a simple level we could say that Rabbah overestimated Reb Zeira and thought that he would be able to handle the same exceedingly great level that Rabbah was experiencing, and therefore he mistakenly revealed to him everything that he saw.

On a deeper level we could say that Rabbah knew he would cause Reb Zeira to expire but he also knew that he had the strength to bring him back to life the next day. Moreover, Rabbah figured that since Purim is a day of “not knowing the difference between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai”, in other words it’s a day where the obligation to have the Soul clothed and conscious in a body doesn’t apply- it wouldn’t be against Hashem’s will for Reb Zeira to expire for this day.

9. Now we can understand the end of the story which says, “The following year Rabbah asked Reb Zeira, ‘Let master come and we will have the Purim feast together’. Reb Zeira answered him, ‘Not every time does a miracle occur’”:

According to the simple way of understanding- that Rabbah underestimated Reb Zeira- we could say that when it came time for the next year Rabbah figured that Reb Zeira had grown over the year and would now be able to handle the exceedingly great level he would reveal to him; therefore he invited him to the feast again. However Reb Zeira answered him that he had not grown to the level of Rabbah and would expire again.

According to the deeper way of understanding- that what Rabbah did was calculated and intentional- we could say that Rabbah wanted to do the same thing again this year; he wanted Reb Zeira to experience this exceedingly great level, and he would revive him the next day. However Reb Zeira told Rabbah that even though he would love nothing more than to experience this delight in G-dliness and expire because of it, he knew that the point of this world is to have Souls clothed in a body, and he couldn’t take the chance that he would not be able to be revived because his Soul might not want to come back down again.

10. The Rebbe now finishes off:

Being that the Halachah is that we are obligated to become intoxicated to the level of “not knowing…”, we can be sure that every Jew has the strength to learn immense secrets of the Torah and not expire from the world, and on the contrary, Purim gives us the strength for the entire year to come to serve Hashem with enthusiasm.

Translated and adapted by Shalom Goldberg. Taken from Likutei Sichos volume thirty one, second Sicha.









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