Purim is a fun holiday. It is the day of dressing up as our favorite characters, children shaking the groggers, eating a festive meal with family and friends, exchanging edible gifts and giving to those in need. As adults know, there is much more to the history of Purim. The story is written in such a way that drinking plays a prominent role, whether in the text, through the lens of the rabbis or the laws associated with Purim. Whether that was Ahasuerus having a six-month party, the extra week of feasting, or the custom to drink until one can’t distinguish between Haman and Mordechai, drinking plays a major role. As the Talmud states, “One must drink on Purim until that person cannot distinguish between cursing Haman and blessing Mordechai” (Megillah 7b). Unfortunately, we have seen various communities where drinking has caused serious issues on Purim including death. As a former Hatzolah member, I’ve seen too many young people drink too much with serious consequences on Purim. As a midrash from Leviticus Rabbah 12:1 states about drinking,” the negative effect of wine is like a snakebite, separating life and death.” We know the dangers of drinking on Purim and many synagogues take precautions so that young people do not drink excessively and adults don’t make decisions that have unintended negative consequences.
There is yet another serious and dark underbelly of Purim. That is the role of sex addiction. Since sex plays such an outsized role in our culture and pornography is readily available, one might gloss over the continual sexual innuendos in the story. But this aspect of the story contains important lessons about sex, intimacy and addictions. The definition of any good addiction is the inability to stop something even when you know that it does not behoove you to continue and the consequences are constantly ignored. This might include losing your dream job, your standing in the community, or more importantly your spouse, children, or even your life.
Let’s set the scene, as Ahasuerus was having a shindig for all of his kingdom and then the extra week just for the people of Shushan, he asks his wife, Queen Vashti to come and show herself to his royal court. The Talmud understands that there were a couple of important aspects of this. The first was that while the King was having his party, Queen Vashti was having one simultaneously. These were no ordinary parties. Besides the eating and drinking, the Talmud understands that the King and Queen were having massive orgies. One midrash from Esther Rabbah 3:10, explains that the festivities were held in rooms that women would be comfortable in doing things that they might not normally be willing to do in front of other people. The rabbis of the Talmud went one step further and stated, “Both [Ahasuerus and Vashti] had a sinful purpose [that is, they wanted to sleep with the people at their party]”. Vashti is defined in other Talmudic literature as someone who cheated frequently on her husband. When she is asked to come out naked before the court, the midrash notes that she was stricken with a skin disease because otherwise she would have acquiesced without an issue. According to another understanding of the text, when Vashti was sentenced to die, she sent a message to the King. “You were my father’s steward, and you were accustomed to having naked harlots come before you. Now that you have become king, you have not mended your ways.” There is another description of Ahasuerus as someone with an insatiable appetite for sex. So much so, Talmud notes that his advisors, Bigtan and Teresh, wanted him dead because he requested to have sex every night with Esther and this put an extra strain on their job.
As stated by Dr. Michael Herkov, “Sexual addiction is best described as a progressive intimacy disorder characterized by compulsive sexual thoughts and acts. Like all addictions, its negative impact on the addict and on family members increases as the disorder progresses. Over time, the addict usually has to intensify the addictive behavior to achieve the same results.” Ahasuerus’ sexual compulsion led to the death of his wife and the death of two of his trusted advisors. It almost also cost him his life. This would qualify as hitting bottom. Studies vary between 3-15% of the population struggle with some form of sexually related issues according to recent studies. According to many studies, 5-8% of adults struggle with porn addiction. The World Health Organization now recognizes porn addiction as a behavioral disorder. The condition, called Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder (CSBD) is defined as “a persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges resulting in repetitive sexual behavior.” The famed explicit site Pornhub recently stated that its site received over 30 billion hits in 2018, according to Esquire Magazine. According to Covenant Eyes, an Internet accountability software company, roughly 28,000 users are watching pornography every second. Users spend around $3,000 on porn every second. Covenant Eyes also notes that 56% percent of divorce cases involved a partner’s obsessive interest in porn sites.
The Purim story contains an important lesson about the dangers of sex addiction, and a deeper reading of the Megillah can help our children – and ourselves – navigate the internet safely.
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Image: “Two White Masks On Red Poppy Flowers”