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 the Jewish nation—this different nation—should not be tolerated. He wins over the heart of the king, and his plan nearly succeeds. Our sages teach us that within each of us there resides an aspect of Haman, of evil, which whispers to us, saying that the one who is different should not be tolerated. The mitzvot of Purim are aimed at deconstructing these differences and silencing that whisper.
Both men and women are obligated to observe four unique mitzvot on Purim.
Hearing the reading of the Megillah 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, Wednesday, March 20 at 7:20 pm, and on Purim day, Thursday, March 21 – early Shacharit starts at 6:30 am, the Megilah will be read at 7:00 am; later Shacharit begins at 8:00 a.m. and the Megilah will be read at 8:30 a.m. There will be a women’s-only Megilah reading at 12:00 p.m.
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. Rabbi Cohen will be collecting money, which will be distributed on Purim day to both needy here in the East Bay as well as to the poor in Jerusalem.
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.
This is the 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. A Seudat Purim will be held at CBI on Thursday, March 21 from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm with the participation of the band Shamati, followed by Mincha and Maariv services at 7:00 p.m.
With the exception of Megillah, which is also read 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 Wednesday morning, March 20 at 5:52 a.m. and ends at 7:49 p.m. A Fast day Mincha will be held at CBI at 6:45 p.m. that evening. 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.