For Purim 5771, JInsider wanted to offer a list of traditions and customs to follow that will help connect to the holiday. We spoke with Rabbi DovBer Pinson and excerpted his recently published booklet, The Purim Reader, which is available at Amazon. Tell us what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ta’Anis Esther: The Fast of Esther, 13th of Adar (Saturday March 19th)
The day before Purim is a fast day, called the Fast of Esther. The fast of Esther commemorates the three fasts that Esther requested of the Jewish people, and that she herself fasted on the 13th day of Adar. After agreeing to go see the king uninvited, she asks that everyone fast for three days beforehand. Historically, the fast in Esther’s time lasted for three days, and those days occurred in the month of Nisan, yet, this one day fast in Adar commemorates those fasts of Nisan. The reason that the fast is not in the month of Nisan, which would be more historically correct, is that Nisan is an auspicious month, being that this is when the Jews left Egypt and the Tabernacle was first established. The reason that the fast became one day only, is because it would be too difficult for most people to fast for three days.
During the day of T’aanis Esther, there is a custom to give three half-dollar coins, or their equivalent, to charity. This symbolizes the half shekel that was given as dues in Temple times in the month of Adar. A half shekel is given, to demonstrate to us that we are but a half, incomplete on our own, and it is only when we stand in unity with others that we can be complete. Regardless of a person’s financial standing, only a half Shekel can be given. This is symbolic of that fact that everyone is equally as unique, important, and each individual person’s contribution, matters.
Our sages tell us (Megillah 13b), that the merit of the half shekel protected us against the decree of Haman, who was able to convince King Achashverosh by paying him off and inflating the King’s coffers with 10,000 silver coins. (Tosefos. Ibid. 16a.) In truth, the gift of charity is that it wards off all negativity.
Fasting is a time of internal introspection, giving us the space to focus on spiritual aspects as opposed to the physical. A nice custom that is practiced by some, is to calculate the money saved by not eating and give that equivalent to charity. The Hebrew word for fast is taanis, the same letters comprise the words ten ani/ give to the poor, teaching us that the giving of charity is integral to achieving the desired results of fasting.
Purim Night (Saturday March 19th)
After the evening prayers, on the 13th day of Adar, the Megillah is read publicly.
The blessings on the Megillah are recited by the reader of the scroll, with the listener being sure to hear every word, and bearing in mind that his or her personal obligation is fulfilled by the designated reader of the Megillah. During the blessings preceding the Megillah reading, all present should be standing. During the Megillah reading itself, one may remain seated.
In terms of obligation, with regards to the performance of the Mitzvos of Purim, women and men are equal. One of these Mitzvos are the Megillah reading. One may think that a woman would be exempt, being that it is a time-bound Mitzvah, however, as the decree of annihilation was for both men and women, and furthermore, the entire miracle came about through a woman, women are equally obligated in the listening/reading of the Megillah.
During the actual reading there are various customs and laws with regard to the listeners. There is a popular custom to create noise whenever the name of Haman appears. (only when the name of Haman appears with a title; such as, the wicked Haman, or Haman the son Hamdasa). This is practiced as a symbolic erasing of his evil name, complying with the biblical Mitzvah to wipe out the remembrance of Amalek, as Haman is a descendent of Amalek and the embodiment of the Amalek quality.
During the reading of the Megillah, the congregation listens, or follows along, quietly. There are four specific verses of redemption though, which are said aloud by the entire congregation, in unison.
After the Megillah reading, it is customary to continue the festivities with food and merriment.
Purim Day : 14th day of Adar (Sunday, March 20th)
The concept of resting from our work week on a holiday, was not established for the day of Purim. However, the prevailing custom is to take the day off, and the conventional wisdom is that on the day of Purim there will not be additional financial gain accrued by one who stays at work, and considers it ‘business as usual.’
There are four fundamental Mitzvos/observances, connected with the day of Purim.
All the laws that apply to the night reading of the Megillah apply to the day reading as well. (see paragraph: night of purim)
2. Mishlo’ach Manos
Mishlo’ach Manos can be given throughout the day of Purim. The proper observance of Mishlo’ach Manos is to prepare a gift of two or more types of prepared (or ready to eat) foods and send it to at least one person. Preferably the gifts should be distributed through a third party.
3. Matanos L’Evyonim
On the day of Purim, we should seek out at least two poor people, and give them a gift of monies, this is the mitzvah of Matanos La’evyonim.
The money does not need to be offered directly to the poor, it can be given to a representative or collector for the poor as long as it is given over to the poor on the day of Purim.
Preferably this gift should be at least equivalent in value to a basic meal. If one lives in a place where there are no needy people, or if one lives completely isolated from others, they should put the money aside until they do encounter poor people.
4. Seudas Purim
Towards the end of the day, we gather for the Seudas Purim, the festive meal of Purim, customarily extending the meal into the night. When Purim is on a Friday the meal should be eaten much earlier, so that after the meal there is still time to conclude preparing for Shabbat.
At the Purim feast there should be bread, and consequently, the washing for ‘hamotzi’. Some opinions (Rambam) require that meat be eaten at the festive meal, while others argue that it is not necessary, so long as one eats foods that bring them joy, whatever those foods might be.
Torah should be discussed at the beginning of the meal, (Ramah.Orach Chaim. 695:2), and during the day of Purim as well. (Megillah 16b)
During the meal it is customary to drink wine until one can no longer differentiate between “Blessed is Mordechai” and “Cursed is Haman.” The idea is to drink a little more than we are used to, and perhaps fall asleep, to enter into the ‘lo yada’ consciousness.
Rabbi Pinson is known internationally as one of today’s most prominent Jewish scholars and teachers, an expert in Kabbalah and Jewish philosophy. Rabbi Pinson has written many books and heads the IYYUN Center for Jewish Spirituality.