Purim Customs & Laws
|Reading the "Megillah" (Book of Esther)|
|Sending Mishloach Manos Gift Baskets|
Offering charity to the poor
|Seudas Purim (Festive Purim meal)|
Purim is a holiday that commemorates the deliverance of all the Jews, who were living under the authority of the Persian Empire, from Haman''s plot to exterminate them. It is characterized by public recitation of the Book of Esther, giving mutual gifts of food and drink, giving charity to the poor, and a celebratory meal.
The events leading up to Purim were recorded in Megillas Esther (the Book of Esther), which became the last of the 24 books of "Tanach" to be canonized by the Great Assembly. The Megillah records a series of events which took place over a nine-year period during the reign of King Achashverosh. These events reveal that "coincidences" are really evidence of Divine intervention operating behind the scenes. This interpretation is developed and explained by Talmudic and other major commentaries on the Megillah.
Purim is celebrated annually on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar. In cities that were walled in the time of Joshua, including Jerusalem, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of the month.
Reading the Megillah:
The Megillah, The first religious ceremony ordained for the celebration of Purim, is read in the synagogue on the eve of the the 14th. It is a mitzvah to hear Megillas Esther read out loud twice on Purim; once at night and once during the day.
The Megillah is read with a traditional chant, differing from that used in the customary reading of the Torah. It has been also customary since the time of the Geonim (early Medieval era) to unroll the whole Megillah before reading it, in order to give it the appearance of an Eggeres(scroll).
There is a special atmosphere in the synagogue during the Megillah reading. Children and sometimes adults arrive in costumes. Women have an obligation to hear the Megillah as well because "they also were involved in that miracle."
Everyone brings noise makers which they shake whenever "Haman", is mentioned during the reading. The custom of making a noise when Haman''s name is mentioned is very ancient and widespread.
Sending Purim Mishloach Manos:
Giving Shalach Manos- Purim Gift baskets - to friends, family and neighbors is traditional.
The Migillah prescribes "the sending of portions one man to another and gifts to the poor" (9:22). Over time, this mitzvah has become one of the most prominent features of the celebration of Purim. According to the Halacha (Jewish Law), each Jew over the age of bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah must send two different, ready made foods to one friend, and two charitable donations (either money or food) to two poor people, to fulfill these two mitzvot.
The gifts to friends are called Mishloach Manot ("sending of portions"), and often include nuts, chocolates, wine or grape juice and Hamantashen.
The custom of sending Mishloach Manos gift baskets leaves its special mark on Purim. Throughout Purim, men, women, and children throng the streets, bearing plates, baskets and trays filled with choicest Purim goodies and covered and decorated with ribbons and designs. Many of these "messengers" are in disguise and this adds a special beauty to the Purim atmosphere.
Charity to the poor on Purim day:
One should remember the poor (Matanos L''evyonim) on Purim and give to those less fortunate then you are. On Purim there is an additional mitzvah to give to "any person who extends their hand".
On Purim day a festive meal called Seudas Purim is held, with wine as the prominent beverage. It is customary to make the Purim Seudah after Minchah (the afternoon prayers) and continue into the night. As on all festivals, we celebrate the Purim meal with family and friends and gather together to rejoice in the Purim spirit.
The jovial character of this feast is illustrated in the saying of the Talmud stating that one should drink on Purim until he can no longer distinguish between the phrases, Arur Haman ("Cursed is Haman") and Baruch Mordechai ("Blessed is Mordechai").
However, It is sufficient to drink a little more than is usual, and to take a nap. Thereby fulfilling the precept of the Sages - For one who sleeps does not know the difference between a curse and blessing
The miracle of Purim occurred through wine. Vashti was removed from her throne because of a wine-feast and Esther replaced her. The downfall of Haman was brought about through the wine feasting which Esther held. And through the repentance of the Jews, they expiated their sin in having drunk wine at the feast of Achashverosh
Our Sages teach that when Mashiach (the Messiah) arrives the festivals will cease to be observed, but Purim will continue. The Midrash (Mishlei 9) derives this unusual conclusion from a statement in Megillat Esther, (9:28) "the memory of Purim will never cease from among their descendants."
Purim, a relatively minor festival, will be observed forever while the basic and more significant festivals will no longer be needed.
Rav Yitzchok Hutner, of Blessed Memory, explained this extraordinarily puzzling rabbinic teaching with the following analogy:
Two individuals were given an assignment: Identify your friends in the black of night. One was supplied with a flashlight. He identified his friends by shining light in their faces. The second did not receive a flashlight. He was compelled to identify his friends by listening to their voices and the sound of their walk.
The first did a far superior job. Seeing people''s faces is far more effective than listening to their distant conversation or walk at night. But the second person developed a unique talent. He learned to train his ears and listen attentively, developing a special sensitivity, born of his concentrated listening.
When the sun rose in the morning, the first person extinguished his flashlight. What value is there to a small light in the glare of sunlight? The second individual, however, had acquired the ability to recognize people in the dark. This talent, which he developed and perfected during that long and dark night, remained with him during the next day, and the next.
When the night of exile will be banished by the rising sun of Mashiach (Messiah), when the presence of Hashem will shine in all its strength and glory, this presence will be so glaring and obvious that we will no longer require the lights provided by our holidays to perceive the guiding hand of Hashem in historical events. The festivals, with which the Jewish people feel the presence of Hashems guiding hand through great historical events, will no longer be required. The holidays will pale when exposed to the glare of the light of redemption.
However, there is one exception, Purim. That special talent acquired by the Jewish people, enabling them to recognize the hand of Hashem when it was concealed.
The Megillah records a series of seemingly unrelated events which took place over time. These events, when seen as a whole, reveal that the "coincidences" are really evidence of Divine intervention (Yad Hashem) operating behind the scenes. That will remain with us as an eternal possession even after the sun of redemption will rise. At that time all of the holidays will pale, except for Purim, "whose remembrance will never be forgotten."
Pesach is the holiday of spring, the first holiday of the first month of the year. As the plants break through the cold barren earth, as the rays of spring warm the ground and cast away the cold, the heart is stirred by feelings of redemption. Purim is the last holiday on the last month of the year.
The moment Purim departs we prepare for the new year by studying the laws of Pesach. Our Rabbis taught, "When Adar arrives we begin to increase our joy." We rejoice in the knowledge that our enemies have been subdued, that the exile has ended and Pesach is coming. It is a prelude to the great redemption which will witness the rebirth and regeneration of the Jewish people as it rejoices in the arrival of Moshiach!