Dear Rabbi Pollock,
I think that it is disgusting that you mentioned the idea that drinking on Purim can be beautiful to your class of elementary school boys. You are the mentor of impressionable young neshamos. After hearing what you said in class, my own child told me that he wants to drink on Purim when he grows up. I am completely sure you did not think of the effect that your words may have. I merely ask that you pay heed to your words because in today’s world, alcohol abuse is a big problem.
A Concerned Parent
I have been thinking about what you said since Purim. You are correct. It is not a good thing to make light of such a potentially serious thing as drinking. We don’t want our children to think that this is something that is socially acceptable.
In regards to telling children that it is beautiful to get drunk… a boy came back from Purim talking about his Purim seudah and mentioned that the son of someone well connected to the school was drunk. He was describing the brochos this bochur was giving to people and the songs he was singing. I said that it sounds like this bochur got drunk in the proper way. Unfortunately, on Purim we often see people drinking and ending up doing the things that you described in your email. However, sometimes when a person who is a Ben Torah drinks on Purim, all the externals fall to the wayside and you see his penimius – who he really is on a deeper level. It is beautiful when you see that all this person wants deep down in his heart is to be close to Hashem. I have seen many people crying on Purim that they don’t daven with enough kavanah, that they don’t do their mitzvos carefully enough, that they don’t set aside enough time to learn torah and that they feel that they can accomplish more in their avodos Hashem. I was using the term beautiful to describe this boy’s desire to connect with Hashem because that was truly beautiful. That is what we want every Jewish person to want. This is supposed to be the focus of our life.
Obviously I did not go this in detail in class. A young child can not understand more than the idea that it is beautiful to want to connect with Hashem. But, I think it is important for these impressionable young neshamos to know that this is a focus in life. They are 7 and 8 years old and life is simple to them. We learned about Hagar this year. She was a princess in Paroah’s palace and he gave her away to Avraham because “it is better to be a servant of a tzaddik than to be a princess in a royal palace.” When I ask the boys what they would rather be. Rich princes or servants to a tzaddik? Every single one answered that they would give up all the money in the world to serve a tzaddik. The boys are impressionable. It is obvious to them that this is the correct answer. In another year or two the world won’t be so black and white to them. They will be a little bit more savvy about life. These questions will not seem so simple. Kedushah vs. Money? How many of us adults would be (easily) able to make that same decision.
My goal every day in class is to make Yiddishkeit real to the boys. When we daven, it is because Hashem is really there. When we learn, it is because this is Hashem’s Torah. We daven and learn for people who are sick because Hashem can really make them better. I try to make them realize that Hashem is part of their life and we can get close to Him. That is what I want them to take out of each Yom Tov. On Rosh Hashana we daven to Hashem. “He loves us. Does your father love you? Of course!! Hashem loves you the same way. We can ask Him for anything we want. Do you need a new bike. Daven and ask. He can make sure you will get one this year… or He will say no because it is not the best thing for you this year.” On Succos, I want the talmidim to internalize that we are moving outside into Hashem’s house. I attempt to drive this idea home every single Yom Tov. The same is true when we are learning Chumash. Avraham was a real person who reached the level that malachim frequented his house. He really talked to Hashem. Hashem was part of his life. I want my second graders to know that Hashem is part of our lives also. That is where the Purim comment was coming from. Perhaps you feel that this was still too much for a second grader and if so, I am sorry. My point was not to romanticize alcohol consumption in the slightest degree. My point was to germinate the idea that every boy in the class can have a personal relationship with his Maker.
Sure, there are people who drink too much and this is completely not okay. If a person looks at Purim as a time to get wasted, then let him get himself wasted someplace far away from our children. They don’t need to see that. Drinking is not okay on Simchas Torah, at a kiddush, at a restaurant or in any other social scene. I emphasized to the boys that in my house there is a little bit of wine by kiddush on Shabbos and that is it.
Thinking through the whole conversation in class and reading your email, I was wondering if perhaps, a better response to this kid could have been, “Ew, that is disgusting.” and then just to move on to the next thing in class. Perhaps it would have been better to sidestep this whole idea and not expose these precious young boys to something that has the potential to be misused. On the other hand, I am nervous that by not exposing these precious neshamos to ideas that are essential to life as a Torah Jew that something eternal might be lost. It is precisely at this time when their minds are so impressionable that they are able to understand that the reason we were put into this world is to connect ourselves to Someone greater.
I am not writing this to try to change your opinion in the slightest. I feel that just as you took the time to express sentiments, it is important that you should hear mine.
Once again, I appreciate your candor and your taking the time to put your thoughts into writing. It is obvious from seeing your son’s actions in class just how much effort you are putting into him to make sure he grows up to be a Ben Torah and Yorei Shamayim that we will all be proud of.
Your Son’s Rebbi
Rabbi Yisroel Pollock