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Overview of the Halachot of Purim 5776

March 15, 2016

Purim is the ultimate celebration of a nes nistar – a hidden miracle. Though God does not have an explicit role in the story, it is clear that God was very much in control “behind the scenes.” The Halachot of Purim help to ensure that our celebration has religious and spiritual purpose.
Chag Purim Sameach!

  1. Ta’anit Esther – The day before Purim is the fast of Esther. This year we observe Ta’anit Esther on Wednesday March 23(13 Adar). The fast is a minor fast, lasting from sunrise to sunset. If anyone is feeling weak or sick throughout the day or has legitimate medical reasons why fasting is not safe for them, they need not fast –since it is a minor fast we are lenient. Like all fast days, Ta’anit Esther is dedicated to prayer and penitence and should be used to help us prepare spiritually for Purim. Even those not fasting should maintain the solemnity of the day.
    Those who are able should extend their fast until the completion of Megilah reading and Ma’ariv. If this is too much of a difficulty it is okay to break the fast after 7:46pm.

 

  1. Parshat Zachor – The Shabbat preceding Purim is Shabbat Zachor, during which we fulfill our yearly obligation to read the section from the Torah describing Amalek’s war against the Children of Israel and our perpetual battle against evil and injustice. Men and women have a biblical obligation to hear the reading of Zachor.
    We will have an additional reading of Parshat Zachor at the conclusion of davening Shabbat morning.

 

  1. Megilah reading – One of the essential mitzvoth of Purim is to hear Megilat Esther at night and in the day. Men and women are equally obligated in this mitzvah. It is important to hear every word of the Megillah. If one misses a word, they may read it to themselves from a book and then catch up with the public reading (however, one must hear the majority of the Megilah from a kosher Megilah scroll). When making noise to blot out Haman’s name, it is important to not make noise at any other time.
    When answering amen to the She-hechiyanu blessing said over the Megilah, one should have in mind that the brachah covers the other mitzvot of Purim as well.

 

  1. Matanot la-Evyonim – One of the mitzvot of Purim is to distribute matanot la-evyonim – gifts to the poor – on Purim day, to ensure that they are able to properly participate in Purim celebrations. Netivot will collect funds for matanot la-evyonim to be distributed to Ahavas Yisrael.

 How much to give

The minimum that one must contribute to fulfill this mitzvah is enough to buy a meal. One may choose to gauge that based on the cost of a typical meal for you (and your family).  Another way would be based on what you are spending on the Purim Seuda (festive meal).

In making these calculations, I urge you to heed the words of the Mishnah Berurah in Orach Chayim 694:3 “It is best to increase money to the poor than to increase expenses for one’s seudah or mishloach manot to one’s friends, for there is no joy greater and more glorified than to bring joy to the hearts of the poor, orphans and widows. Thus one emulates the Shechinah (Divine presence)…” If you plan on sending mishloach manot to many friends and/or to pay money for a costume, it is important to give a comparable amount for matanot la-evyonim.

 Other forms of Tzedakah

Machatzit ha-Shekel (Half Shekel) – There is a minhag to imitate the practice in the times of the Temple of giving a half-Shekel donation to charity. This is done by offering three half-dollar coins to represent the three donations collected in the Temple. The practice is to lift the half-dollar coins provided and exchange them with a comparable amount of money (at least $1.50) and then return the coins for others to use.

Tzedakah to all who ask – The Shulchan Aruch (694:3) rules that one may not refuse to give tzedakah to anyone who asks for it on Purim. Many have the custom to carry coins with them all day in case someone asks for tzedakah.

 

  1. Mishloach Manot — Every person has an obligation to send at least one Mishloach Manot Purim gift to another Jew on Purim day. Minimally, this package must contain two types of food that are ready to be eaten. Some have the custom to hand deliver one package and send another package via a messenger.

In order to fulfill the mitzvah, you must send at least one actual package of foods. Sending through communal organizations is a beautiful way to bring joy to your friends on Purim, but does not fulfill the essential obligation. The reason is that mishloach manot must be “ish le-re’ehu” one person to another, and not through a corporation or in partnership with others.

 

  1. Seudah (Festive Meal) — The final mitzvah of Purim is to have a festive meal. The minimum requirement for the seuda is to have a meal with bread. However, it is preferable to have a festive meal with friends. Words of Torah and festive songs should be included.

The Purim seudah may be eaten all day long, though the Rema (Orach Chayim 695:2) writes that it should ideally be eaten in the afternoon after one has prayed Mincha. The Rema also cautions that though the seuda may extend into the night of the 15th of Adar, the majority of the meal should be eaten during Purim day.

 Alcohol

The Shulchan Aruch (OH 695:2) rules that a person must become besumei on Purim until they reach the point of not knowing the difference between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai.” Most authorities understand besumei to mean “get drunk on wine.” From here emerges the practice that many have to become intoxicated on Purim.

There are a few things that must be noted:

  1. The Rema on the spot says that one need not get drunk to fulfill this dictate. Rather, they should take a nap and while they are sleeping they will not know the difference.
  2. At no point does Judaism demand that we place ourselves at risk. Alcohol can be very dangerous if consumed in excess. It is crucial that one be safe at all times.
  3. There is absolutely no Halachic imperative to drink at night. The ruling applies only to the Seudah.

 

  1. Al ha-Nisim – Al ha-Nissim is recited during the Amidah and Birkat ha-Mazon. If one forgets during the Amidah, they need not repeat it.

 

  1. Aveilim/Mourners – Mourners are obligated in all the mitzvot of Purim, however the manner in which they observe them is tempered. Thus, the custom is that a mourner does not receive Mishloach Manot (though his or her family may) and a mourner should send mishloach manot to at least one Jew.
    Mourners should participate in a small, private Purim Seudah, rather than a large gathering with excessive levity.

 

 

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