A Guide for Purim

“There is one nation scattered and separated among the nations whose customs and actions are different, and they are not worthy of your tolerance.”

Megilat Esther 3:8

Haman tries to convince Achashverosh, the King of Persia, that this different nation should not be tolerated.  Haman succeeds in winning over the heart of the king and were it not for the change of events, his plan would have been actualized.  Our sages teach us that within each of us there resides an aspect of Haman, of evil, which whispers to us that the one who is different should not be tolerated.  The Mitzvot of Purim are aimed at deconstructing these perceived differences and silencing that whisper.

Both men and women are obligated to observe four unique Mitzvot on Purim.

  1. Megilah– Hearing the reading of the Megilah enables us to re-live the story and to recount and recall its messages.  One is obligated to hear the Megilah twice; once at night and once during the day.  One must hear every word of the Megilah read from a “kosher” parchment. We will read the Megilah on Purim night, Monday, March 9 at 7:39 pm, accompanied by a late reading at 10:00 pm, and on Purim day, Tuesday, March 10; early shacharit starts at 6:30 am and we will read the Megilah at 7:00 am; the later shacharit will begin at 8:00 am and we will read the Megilah at 8:30 am; there will be a women’s-only Megilah reading at 12:00 pm
  2. Matanot L’Evyonim– Gifts to the poor remind us that our possessions are in truth not fully ours.  One has a responsibility to find two poor people and provide each, at the minimum, enough money for a meal.  In addition to this halakha, on Purim one should give to anyone who asks for a donation.  The total giving should ideally be equivalent to or surpass the amount that one spends on his/her own Purim Meal.  I will be collecting money, which will be distributed on Purim day to both the needy here in the East Bay as well as to the poor in Jerusalem.
  3. Mishloach Manot – Gifts of food to one another allow us to reach out to share our celebration of the day and to increase love and friendship with others in the community. There is a custom to send Mishloach Manot to those who one has had particularly strained relations with over the past year.  One is obligated to send two kinds of ready-to-eat foods to a fellow Jew to enhance their Purim meal.  We do not send Mishloach Manot to those who are in mourning.
  4. Seudat Purim – Celebratory Purim Meal.  From a minimalist perspective, one is obligated to have a meal with bread; however ideally the meal should be a joyous festive meal with meat (for those who eat it) and wine (for those who drink it responsibly) in an effort to help us blur distinctions that we often hold fast to.

With the exception of Megilah, which is read also at night, all of the Mitzvot should be performed during the day of Purim.

Note: In the birchat ha-mazon as well as in the shmoneh esrei, one should include the Al Hanisim insertion for Purim; if forgotten, one does not repeat the prayer.

In addition, the Fast of Esther begins Monday morning, March 9 at 6:08 am and ends at 7:39 pm  The only restriction of the fast is eating and drinking.  One may bathe, shave and enjoy live entertainment as usual.  However, as with all fasts, it should be used as an opportunity for introspection and personal growth.  Our sages have taught that only one who experiences the fast of Esther can truly celebrate on Purim.