Purim is the holiday which commemorates the miraculous salvation of the Jews recorded in Megillat Esther (The Book of Esther), which took place during the period of the Babylonian exile. As the Megillah tells us, King Achashveirosh had an advisor Haman who plotted to kill the Jews. His plans were foiled by the efforts of the righteous Mordechai and Esther.
Purim is celebrated on the fourteenth of Adar, the anniversary of the day the Jews were saved. Like all Jewish holidays, it begins at sundown and ends the next night. In walled cities such as Jerusalem, Purim is celebrated on the fifteenth of Adar, a day also known as Shushan Purim.
is the Hebrew word for fast day. The day before Purim is a fast day. The fast begins in the morning and ends at night. This is because on the thirteenth of Adar the Jews had to fight with their enemies.
Whenever Jews must go to war we fast and pray to G-d to help us. In memory of their fast we fast now also.
Since it is forbidden to fast on Shabbat, if Purim falls out on a Sunday we fast on the preceding Thursday.
Reading the Megillah
All Jews, men and women, are required to hear the Megillah reading twice on Purim, once at night and once by day. The reading by night cannot begin until the stars have come out. It must be read directly from a properly made scroll. You must hear every word, if you miss even one you have not fulfilled the requirement. Before the Megillah is read the reader makes three blessings, it is forbidden to speak from that point on until the reader finishes the megillah and makes the final blessing.
The last of the three blessings made before the reading is Shehecheyanu. This blessing is made when we have the opportunity to perform a mitzva for the first time in a year. When the reader makes this blessing before the morning reading it is proper for the reader and the listeners to have in mind the other mitzvot of the day, Matanot LeEvyonim, Shalach Manot, and the Purim Seudah.
It is a popular custom to make noise when the name of Haman is mentioned during the reading. It is very important for the reader to stop reading while the noise is being made and not continue until the noise ends. The people making noise should be careful that they hear every word of the Megillah and that they don't stop anyone else from hearing.
Machatzit Hashekel - The Half Shekel
It is customary to give three half-shekels to charity before Mincha
(Afternoon prayers) on the day before Purim in memory of the Machatzit Hashekel
(half shekel) which was given by every Jew in the month of Adar during the times of the Beit HaMikdash
Matanot LeEvyonim - Gifts to the Poor
Every Jew (man and woman) is required to give a minimum of two gifts to two poor people on Purim. That is the minimum requirement, it is proper to give more. It is better to increase ones gifts to the poor more than any of the other mitzvos of Purim for there is no greater and more beautiful happiness than bringing happiness to the hearts of widows, orphans and the poor.
Ideally, the gifts should be food or money which the poor can use for Purim, if they wish. The two gifts which make up the essential mitzva may not be taken from Maaser (the ten percent of ones income which a Jew is required to give to charity) but the extra gifts may be.
The Purim Seudah
means feast. We are required to make a feast during the day of Purim. While it is proper to make a festive meal by night as well, the night time meal is not required and does not fulfill the requirement for the Purim Seudah. It is customary to make the Purim Seudah after Mincha (the afternoon prayers). The bulk of the Purim Seudah must be eaten before nightfall.
It is proper to learn some Torah before beginning the meal.
Part of the mitzva of the Purim Seudah is to get drunk until we are unable to distinguish between Arur Haman
(Cursed is Haman) and Baruch Mordechai
(Blessed is Mordechai). This is in memory of the miracles of Purim which were all associated with the drinking of wine. This is a very unusual mitzva because drunkenness is usually strongly discouraged by Jewish law since it can lead to sin. The minimum (and sometimes recommended) requirement is to drink more than one is accustomed to and then go to sleep. The most important rule is to drink for the sake of fulfilling the mitzva. There are some important rules to keep in mind when fulfilling this mitzva:
- If heavy drinking will make one ill then it is better to refrain from drinking.
- Being drunk does not exempt one from any of the mitzvos. If one knows that he might come to do improper acts or that he will be negligent in fulfilling any of his requirements then he should not drink.
- It should go without saying that if one intends to drive it is absolutely forbidden to drink. By doing so one takes his life and the lives of others into his hands.
Shalach Manot - Sending Gifts
On the day of Purim all Jews are required to send at least two gifts of food to at least one other Jew. The food must be useable immediately, therefore, uncooked meat and other such food items cannot be used to fulfill the requirement. The two gifts should be two different foods, like an apple and an orange. Beverages are also acceptable.
Ideally the Shalach Manos should be sent with a messenger.
The prayer called Al HaNissim
(For the Miracles) which commemorates the salvation of the Jews is added to the Shmoneh Esrei
) and to Birchas HaMazon
(Grace after Meals). The following is a translation of this prayer:
[We thank You, G-d] for the miracles, the salvation, the mighty deeds, the rescues, the wonders, the consolations, and the battles which You performed for our forefathers in those days, at this time.
In the days of Mordechai and Esther, in Shushan, the capital, when Haman, the wicked, rose up against them and attempted to destroy, to kill, and to exterminate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women, on the same day, on the thirteenth of the twelfth month which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their possessions. But You, in Your abundant mercy, wiped out his plan and ruined his scheme and caused his plot to return upon his own head and they hanged him and his sons on the gallows.