The guest contributor to this issue is R’ Aryeh Winter.
The Jews outside of Shushan completed the attack on their enemies on the 13th day of Adar. On the next day, the 14th day of Adar, they celebrated by rejoicing, feasting, giving gifts of food to each other, and giving gifts of money to the poor. The Jews of Shushan, who were still battling their enemies on the 14th, held their celebration of the 15th of Adar. Mordechai wrote down all of the events leading to the celebration and sent out this “book” to all of the Jews in Achashverosh’s empire. Mordechai said that the days of the 14th and 15th of Adar should be celebrated annually, as the anniversary of the day on which the Jews were freed from their enemies. The practices of sending the gifts, feasting, and rejoicing were to be continued as well. All of the Jews were united in their acceptance of the words of Mordechai upon themselves and upon their children. To this day we celebrate Purim in the same way – with the reading of the story – the Megilla, rejoicing, feasting, sending gifts of food to each other, and with giving gifts of money to the poor. The holiday is called Purim after the selection process which Haman used to select the date of the Jews destruction: a lottery (or a “Pur”), using astrological forecasting. This method was supposed to result in the date that the Jews were most vulnerable to attack. In fact, that was astrologically true – the Jews were most vulnerable on
the 13th of Adar. One of the miracles of Purim was that Hashem totally reversed the astrological implications of the day so that the Jews would instead be victorious. Because of this miracle which came about through the lottery – the “Pur,” the holiday is called Purim.
The Megilla closes by telling us that under Mordechai, who was appointed Achashverosh’s viceroy, the empire grew stronger, and that Mordechai sought the good of his people and was concerned for the welfare of his nation. The Jews under Mordechai had attained stature and they were secure.
As we have seen throughout the Megilla, the miracle of Purim came about throughout banquets and feasts. Therefore, when Purim was established by our Sages as a holiday, it was decreed that on the day of Purim, we should have a festive feast, with all of the trappings that are normally associated with a Shabbos feast. The Aruch HaShulchan writes that one should make as nice a feast as one can afford. He also writes that one should start their meal with bread (as on Shabbos) and eat meat, because the absence of these foods detracts from the importance of the meal. The feast, called the “Se’udah,” can take place at anytime on Purim day. However, one should not start around midday unless they have prayed Mincha, the afternoon prayer, first. One should have the majority meal during the Purim day, and therefore should allow themselves enough time before sunset to complete most of the “Se’udah.” If one completes the Se’udah after sunset, one would still recite “Al HaNissim,” the special prayer we insert thanking and praising Hashem for the miracles he has performed, during the “Bentching,” the Grace After the Meal.
Part of the “simcha,” the happiness and celebration of Purim consists of what the Gemora tells us – One should drink wine until “one doesn’t know between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed by Mordechai.'” There are many interpretations of what this Gemora means, and it beyond the scope of this article to mention all of them. One of the more popular interpretations is that one is supposed to get drunk. How drunk? The Chafetz Chayim writes until you cannot differentiate between the good things that Hashem has done for us – the downfall of Haman and the victory of Mordechai.
Our Sages required us to eat and drink on Purim because these acts were integral to the miraculous plot of Purim. The intentions of our Sages, as the Meiri writes, we not that there should be a happiness of frivolity and emptiness, but rather a happiness of pleasure that through it one can reach and realize a love of Hashem and recognize all the miracles Hashem performs for us. The Chayei Adam writes that if one knows that he will not act properly or even not say the Grace After the Meal properly, he should not drink. The Chafetz Chayim writes that the preferred method of fulfilling the directive of the Gemora is to drink a little, and then take a short nap. (While sleeping, one cannot tell the difference between Haman and Mordechai.) It is proper to wear one’s best clothes (Shabbos appropriate attire) on Purim, including during the Se’udah.
Another commandment we have on Purim is “Shalach Manos,” literally “sending portions.” We are required to send two items of food to one person on Purim. This includes a drink and a food. The food has to be able to be eaten immediately (excluding raw meat and the like). If one would send Shalach Manos before Purim, it would have to arrive on Purim day in order for one to have discharged his obligation.
Another commandment incumbent upon us is “Matanos L’Evyonim,” gifts to the poor. As by Shalach Manos, this commandment has to be done on Purim day. This means that the money has to be distributed to the poor on Purim, and therefore, if one gives money to someone on or before Purim to distribute to the poor, they should be sure that the money will be distributed to the poor on Purim. Matanos L’Evyonim can be done with either money or food. The accepted minimum amount is the cost of one inexpensive meal (approx. US $2.00). One has to give to two poor people this amount. The Chafetz Chayim quotes the Rambam who says that it is better to give more gifts to the poor than it is to have a bigger Se’udah or give more Shalach Manos. The reason for this is that the biggest joy on Purim is gladdening the hearts of the poor.
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For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.