What Did Rava Mean By “Lev’sumei”?

Happiness, Mazal, and Eating Sweets – Solving the Mystery of Drinking on Purim

לק”י

The Dictum of Rava

אמר רבא מיחייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי

“Rava says, A person is obligated livsumei on Purim until he doesn’t know the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordekhai.’” (b.Megillah 7b)

Many people, adopting a widespread view, interpret Rava here to be communicating some sort of obligation to excessively consume alcohol on Purim until one either loses some or all of their senses.

What many do not know – or choose to ignore – is that there were those among the Geonim and the Rishonim who understood this statement, as it appears within the context of the Gemara, as being nidheh (“pushed out,” “set-aside,” “excluded”) from the halakhah. These posekim maintain that there is, in reality, no obligation to drink at all other than the inclusion of wine at one’s Purim seudah, and much less to get drunk.

The Rishonim most notably of this position are the Ran and the Rabbenu Efraim (see Arokh HaShulhan, Hilkhot Megillah 695:1-5 for a full discussion). In his siddur, Rav Saadia Gaon lists and explains the laws of Purim, but makes no mention whatsoever of drinking or becoming drunk. He merely instructs that a seudah be eaten during the day that includes meat and wine, both which usually accompany any festive meal in the halakhah.(cf. b.Pesahim 109a, Hilkhot Shevitat Yom Tov 6:1). He also nowhere mentions falling asleep from drunkenness (cf. Siddur Rasag pp. 256-257).

However, it is likely that we are missing the entire point that Rava intended to make in his famous statement. The entire enterprise of drinking on Purim in the first place is suggested based on reading the word livsumei as “to make [oneself] drunk.” In full context of the Gemara and the Geonic codes, the basis for such an interpretation is in actuality fairly weak, and is even forced. As was asked above, what if livsumei doesn’t refer to drinking alcohol at all?

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From Forthodoxy, here.

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