Motherless on Purim: The wine in Gematria

In Kabbalah, therefore in the Zohar, therefore in Chabad Judaism, therefore in “de facto Judaism” (Rabbi Shmueley Boteach), the permutations of the twenty-two Hebrew letters “suffice to cover every object and every concept” (Preface to the Zohar). One of the pivotal tools of the Zohar is Gematria. Gematria assigns numerical values to a word or phrase, in the belief that those words or phrases with the same numerical values are related to one another.

In one of his lectures, Rabbi Akiva Tatz says that wine is not merely wine; it’s mystical, a mitzvah. Here is a “Mitzvah to Drink,” from the Chabad library, which retells the tale I heard from Rabbi Tatz.

The Talmud states that “on Purim we are obligated to drink wine to the point where we do not know the difference between Boruch Mordechai (‘Blessed be Mordechai!’) and Arur Haman (‘Cursed be Haman!’).” Our Rabbis point out that according to the rules of gematria, the letters that constitute the two phrases have the same numerical value; our Sages’ injunction means that we should drink to the point that we are unable to realize this relationship. But once a person is intoxicated, he is incapable of even the simplest numerical computation; why, then, do the Sages tie the amount of wine one is obligated to drink on Purim to this particular gematria?

This question can be answered by realizing that a numerical correspondence between two words in gematria is not coincidental, but reveals an intrinsic bond between them.

The Torah states that G d created the world through speech. The Alter Rebbe explains that the letters that spell out the Hebrew name of an object comprise the conduit which conveys its G dly life-force, bringing it into being and maintaining its existence. It follows that if there is a letter-relationship between the names of two objects, there is also an underlying spiritual relationship between them. Hence, though the expressions “Blessed be Mordechai” and “Cursed be Haman” appear to be diametrically opposed, their shared numerical value reveals a basic similarity between them. The same Divine intention motivates both of these expressions.

So, the best way to enjoy and (not?) understand anything about Purim is when you’re motherless.

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