The Background of the Four Mitzvos of Purim

In the days of Purim, the Jews emerged in salvation from the hands of their enemies. Then, “Esther wrote down the entire miracle story of Purim1)Esther 9:29” the story we still have today. She sent it to the leaders of the Jewish people, the Men of the Great Assembly, with a request2)see Megilla 7a: “Inscribe me [i.e. this story] for all generations [and establish these days].” The Gemara understands that Esther wanted the Rabbis to do two things: to canonize the Purim story as a part of the Written Torah, and to establish laws making it into an official Jewish holiday.

The Rabbis initially refused on the grounds that it is strictly forbidden to add to scripture or to add permanent mitzvos to Torah law. Ultimately, Esther pushed her agenda for the sake of heaven and forced the Rabbis to find a means by which this could be done. The Sanhedrin debated the matter hotly until finally they found the answer in the chumash itself. Parshas Beshallach hints at a future “writing” of events in the ongoing spiritual war against Amalek3)Exodus 17:14, Megillah 7a. This subtle scriptural hint was enough. More than a justification, the chumash was actually pointing to the canonization of the Megillah, and that they did.

Regarding the issue of adding on to the laws of Jewish holidays, the Malbim4)Malbim to Esther 9:31 suggests that if the holiday is established and taken on as a “vow” rather than an actual holiday, that there is no prohibition of adding to the holidays. In fact, precedent for this idea had existed since the days of Yirmiyahu HaNavi from certain minor fast days which the Jews had established. According to this, the Sanhedrin would have established the laws of Purim in the form of a vow that the Jews accepted upon themselves for all generations. Prior to this, Mordechai had sent the story of the Megillah as a letter to the whole Jewish people along with the request that they celebrate the days5)Esther 9:20-23. Only later, when Esther had the Rabbis endorse the holiday were the laws of Purim officially established.

Mordechai’s letter ask the Jews to “do this Megillah and […] celebrate these days of Purim every year as days of feasting and joy; of sending portions of food from one friend to another; and gifts to the poor”. The Gemara derives four distinct Rabbinical mitzvos that were encoded in this verse that every Jew must fulfill every Purim. These mitzvos are:

  1. The reading of Megillas Esther
  2. A festive holiday meal and drinking celebration
  3. Giving portions of food to friends
  4. Giving gifts to the poor

Let us review some of the basic laws of each of these mitzvos so that we may fulfill them in the proper spirit.

Women’s Obligation on Purim

In general, all of the laws of Purim apply equally to men and women, which is unusual for time-bound commandments such as Purim from which women are typically exempt. However, since women were involved in the miracle, and particularly since in this case a great woman was the main catalyst for the miracle, women are therefore equally obligated in these laws6)Megillah 4a.

Shushan Purim and Purim d’Prazim

The major miracle of Purim was that on the very day on which the Jews were signed over to be destroyed, the 14th of Adar, they were instead granted royal permission to attack their enemies with impunity. This is the meaning of the verse “venahapoch hu asher yishletu hayehudim heima besoneihem – Everything turned around, that the Jews themselves would dominate their enemies7)Esther 9:1.” This miracle actually occurred in two phases:

  1. First, Jews all over the Persian empire were permitted to attack their enemies wherever they might be. This happened on the 14th of Adar.
  2. Second, the Jewish residents of the capital city Shushan were given a second day to attack their enemies. This happened on the 15th of Adar.

Shushan, the capital, was a city which had been walled since the days of Joshua. The rabbis instituted Purim in such a way that all cities which had been similarly walled since the days of Joshua should celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar instead of the 14th. This is called “Shushan Purim.” By dint of tradition, Shushan Purim is celebrated exclusively in Jerusalem. There are a number of other cities in Eretz Yisrael which keep two days out of safek (for example, Hebron and Tiberias8)Though the city of Tiberius was founded in 20CE, it was built on or near much earlier urban settlements), and there are cities in chutz la’aretz which celebrate shushan Purim as well, for example Baghdad, Damascus and Prague.

All non-walled cities celebrate Purim on the 14th of Adar. This is called “Purim d’Prazim“.

In general, someone who is usually a resident of a walled city but will be in an unwalled city for Purim (or vice versa) must celebrate according to the city he finds himself in9)Megillah 19a. Our sages base this rule on the verse “and the dispersed Jews, living in the dispersed cities,” indicating that that a dispersed Jew, meaning one who is dispersed from their normal dwelling to another city for Purim, shall have the status of a one day resident of that city.

Based on this, a person who is a full time resident of Jerusalem (walled city) who is in Bnei Brak (a dispersed city) for the 14th of Adar shall celebrate Purim with them. Or conversely, a resident of Bnei Brak who is in Jerusalem for the 15th of Adar shall celebrate Purim with them.

The Mishnah10)ibid. gives one basic rule to determine whether this one-day residential status sets in or not. “If you plan on returning to your own permanent residence for Purim then you celebrate Purim based on your full time resident status. If you don’t plan to return to your permanent  residence for the Purim celebration the you shall celebrate Purim based on this one day resident status.

The Gemara qualifies this rule by saying that your plan must be to return to your permanent residence before dawn11)Rashi there. Therefore, someone from Jerusalem who is in Bnei Brak on the night of the 14th but plans to leave before dawn to return to Jerusalem would keep Purim in Jerusalem on the 15th. Someone from Bnei Brak who is in Jerusalem on the night of 15th but plans to return before dawn should celebrate Purim in Jerusalem on the 14th.

There are many commentaries on this Gemara and a wide ranging discussion with many details and principles emerges. There will be a separate essay dedicated to handling this topic in greater detail.

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Reading the Megillah

When Purim (the 14th of Adar) Falls on Motzei Shabbos

In a year12)like 5771 (March 2011) when the 14th of Adar falls out on motzei Shabbos, the order of events for havdallah and Megillah is as follows: first we daven Ma’ariv, then we read the Megillah, and finally we go home to recite havdallah. In the event that someone does not plan to be at the communal reading at shul after Ma’ariv, but has plans to hear or read the Megillah later, he should first make havdallah and then read the Megillah.

On such a year we can’t fast like we normally would on the 13th of Adar, since it is Shabbos; and to push off the fast is not possible, since then it would fall out on one of the days when we are supposed to be merry. We can’t fast on Erev Shabbos because of the rule that we only fast on Erev Shabbos when that is the “actual day” that the fast falls out on. Therefore, in honor of Shabbos we will push the fast of Esther up to the preceding Thursday. For those who live outside of cities that read on the 15th (like Jerusalem) will not be going in to Purim on the heels of a fast as they normally would.

Reading the Megillah by Night and Repeating it by Day

Every Jew must read or hear the Megillah twice on Purim, once at night and again in the daytime. This is to remember that salvation came due to their constant praying, both by night and by day. Essentially, the night reading can be fulfilled at any time during the night, and the day reading can be fulfilled any time during the day. The halacha states that the day time reading is considered more important. As mentioned above, this obligation includes both men and women.

Travelers

One who will be traveling on the 14th and the 15th of Adar and knows for sure that he won’t have the ability to read or hear the Megillah in any way (even by himself) must arrange a minyan to have the Megillah read for him on the 13th, 12th, or 11th of Adar without a blessing. Ideally he would arrange this minyan both by night and by day. If he has to choose one over the other he should choose the day which is the most important reading. If he can’t arrange a minyan on these days he should read the Megillah on his own. If none of this is possible he can arrange a minyan to join him in hearing the Megillah on Rosh Chodesh Adar without a blessing recited upon it. In the event that somehow he subsequently ends up being able to hear the Megillah on the 14th or the 15th he should do so even with the brachos.

Reading vs. Hearing the Megillah

Men and boys from the age of bar mitzvah have an inherent obligation to read the Megillah. In the event that they aren’t actually reading it for themselves they must at least hear the Megillah read for them by someone who is equally obligated in this mitzvah. The principle upon which the one hearing the Megillah read for him is fulfilling his obligation to read is called shomeyah k’oneh – “one who listens to the words is likened to the one who says the words”. This precept leads to a broader question of what exactly one must hear and to what level he must hear it to fulfill the obligation as a shomeyah. The ideal level is to hear every word clearly and at no point allow the mind to drift off to other thoughts. In the event that the mind drifts off to think about other thoughts the way to deal with that would be to repeat aloud the words that were not heard attentively. L’chatchilah that needs to be done from a Megillah that is kosher to read from for the community i.e. written on klaf according to all of the details of scriptural writings of this type. In the event that one doesn’t have such an option than provided he repeats the missed words from any printed form of the Megillah he has at least fulfilled his minimum obligation.

Women’s Obligation to Hear the Megillah

There is a discussion as to whether women have the same obligation as men to “read” the Megillah or whether they just have an obligation to “hear” the Megillah being read. There is also a discussion as to whether women have the obligation to come to the shul to hear the Megillah read in the public forum and publicize the miracle like men have. Therefore, a woman can certainly fulfill her obligation by hearing the Megillah read in the communal reading at shul. In the event that a woman doesn’t go to the main reading for the community in the shul, she nevertheless must still “hear” the Megillah. The general practice is that a man who has already fulfilled the mitzvah of Megillah rereads it for the women who didn’t hear the first reading. In this case, if there are less than 10 women present and no men who have yet to hear the Megillah each woman should make her own brachaasher kidishanu b’mitzvosav vetzivanu lishmoa Megillah”. If there are more than 10 women the custom is either that one woman makes a bracha for all of the women or it is arranged that a man who has yet to hear the Megillah is present and he makes the bracha for everyone.

Reading as a “Community”

The official format of the public reading is that it should be done with a minyan – ten or more men, from the community. There are different opinions in the poskim as to whether the minyan can be comprised of men and women to form the basic ten people. As a matter of practice we generally don’t rely on this, and make efforts to find a minyan of ten men. It is preferable to join the communal reading at the shul and thus increase the glory of the public reading even when one is sure that the community will have a minyan without him. This applies even when a person could have assembled his own minyan at a different location. However in a place where there is a daily minyan kavua the regulars should gather there to read the Megillah even at the expense of the main shul in the area having less people. This is because once a daily minyan kavua is established then it causes the Divine Presence to dwell in that place and there is pain to the Divine Presence when that minyan doesn’t meet. Even when a person was unable to join the communal reading at the official time for whatever reason, ideally he should still make efforts to assemble a minyan of people to join this private reading even when the others have already heard the Megillah. If for whatever reason he is unsuccessful at assembling a minyan he should still read or hear the Megillah read with a blessing recited beforehand.

Children Hearing the Megillah

Parents are obliged to make sure their children who are of the age of “training for mitzvos”, hear the Megillah as well. However, as sometimes youngsters don’t realize that they are being disruptive to the communal experience, it is of course the obligation of the parents to make sure their children are well behaved during the reading. In the unfortunate event that this isn’t possible it is better to leave them at home.

Noise Making During the Megillah

Due to the sensitivities of this issue different customs have evolved in the Jewish world today with regards to allowing outbursts of banging, drumming, yelling, etc., each time the name Haman is mentioned in the reading. The source for this custom is rooted in the verse that says “eradicate the memory of Amalek13)Devarim 25:17”. It is brought down that in some very old communities the children would write the name Haman on sticks and stones and scrape it off by rubbing and banging them together excessively during the reading of the Megillah. Other communities had a custom to bang their feet at the mention of Haman. This seems to be the basis for the minhag today for making loud noises, banging and the like at these points in the reading. Although the poskim say this custom should not be eradicated even though it causes difficulty, one must keep in mind that he has to attentively listen to every word of the Megillah. Therefore, practically speaking there is a need for some level of decorum to be maintained in the shul at this time. A well trained ba’al koreh will also usually reread the Haman a second time after the noise settles in order to insure that people hear it clearly and fully.

The Blessings Before and After the Reading of the Megillah

At night there are three blessings recited over the Megillah reading:

  1. asher kidishanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu al mikrah megillah”

  2. sheasah nissim l’avoseinu bayamim haheim bazman hazeh”

  3. shehechiyanu vekiyemanu vehigiyanu lazman hazeh”.

Before the daytime reading, the first two brachos are recited again. Sefardim and some others have a custom not to recite the Shehechiyanu again by day. The prevailing Ashkenazi custom is to repeat the Shehechiyanu by day as well. In these communities, the gabbai will remind the people to have in mind that the bracha of Shehechiyanu now will cover the remaining 3 mitzvos of Purim day as well. Those who don’t repeat the Shehechiyanu by day should have in mind by night that it covers the other mitzvos of the day. There is a discussion as to whether the individual should say these brachos on his own or to just listen and answer Amen to the brachos of the one actually reading for the community. The prevailing custom is that the reader makes the brachos even in a case when he has already fulfilled obligation and the listeners have not. After the completion of the Megillah reading the custom is that each person makes his own after blessing on the Megillah called “Harav es Riveinu…” In the minyan for women the prevailing custom is not to say it, although some do.

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Matanos L’evyonim (Gifts to the Poor)

Two Gifts to Two Poor People

The Gemara, quoting the verse “matanos l’evyonim – gifts to the poor explains that, minimally, a person has to give two gifts to two poor people. It says “matanos – gifts” (plural) “l’evyonim – to poor people” (plural). Since the least plural number is two, we must give at least two gifts to at least two poor people.

These gifts must be given in the form of something that is directly enjoyable to the poor person on and for the day of Purim itself. Food fits this criterion, as does money or even a cheque, provided it was expendable on that day. Something like clothing or vessels would not suffice.

Setting Priorities

Although the verse we saw above puts the festive meal before the portions to the friends and the gifts to the poor, nevertheless the poskim point out that in the Shulchan Aruch14)O.C. 774, the laws of gifts to the poor were codified right after the laws of reading the Megillah. This is to remind us that the main mitzvah of the day is to give tzedaka.

The Rambam15)Hilchos Megillah and Channukah 2:17 writes that if one has the means to do so, it is better to spend more on gifts to the poor than on his festive meal and portions to his friends. This is because the greatest form of joy comes from putting hope and joy in the hearts of the poor. There are some people who, based on this precept, are careful to actually give a greater sum of money to the poor on Purim than they spend on their own meals or on portions to their friends.

Another point mentioned in the poskim is that the changing of order may be alluding to the fact that one should try to fulfill the mitzvah of gifts to the poor immediately after the Megillah reading before the other mitzvos. This wouldn’t apply if you had the opportunity to give portions of food to a friend right then and there was no poor person around.

Who is Considered Poor with Regards to this Halacha?

The letter of the law defines a poor person as someone who does not have a sufficient income to cover his basic necessities every month even if he would sell off unnecessary possessions. Also included is someone who does have enough for his basic needs, but has been hit with unusual expenses that are well beyond his means and he can’t cover them at all. Some poskim are more particular with regards to this mitzvah and say that the word “evyon – poor person” in the verse is referring to a person who is destitute and not merely poor. The main difference between the two is that a destitute person has reached the point where he is so desperate he has no shame at all in begging for money from others.

What is the Minimum Amount One Can Give for these Gifts?

There is a discussion as to what the minimum value of the gift must be to each of the two poor people. Some say it is a nominal amount of one perutah16)Approximately 3 US cents or about 10 Israeli agorot as of this writing each. However the broad consensus of opinions agrees that the gift must be something “chashuv – important”. As a matter of custom most people give the amount of money or food that would suffice for a basic meal for the poor person17)About 20 shekels or about 5 dollars as of this writing..

Can Ma’aser Money be Utilized for this Mitzvah?

The halacha states that a person may not use ma’aser money to “pay” for any obligations that he has to give from his money. This means that ma’aser money can’t be used for gifts to the poor, for portions to the friends, for machtzis hashekel, or any other similar type obligatory giving of money. However, since we saw above that there is a minimum amount to fulfill the mitzvah it follows that any amount you are adding beyond the basic chiyyuv is no longer obligatory. That means that any additional gifts beyond the two basic ones mentioned above can be taken off of ma’aser money.

Sending These Gifts in the Mail

It is fine to send these gifts in the mail as long as you know they will get to the poor person on Purim. If you are giving the gift in advance or sending it in advance of Purim then you must make a stipulation with the poor person not to actualize the enjoyment from the gift until the day of Purim, as otherwise you wouldn’t fulfill the mitzvah.

Women and Children Fulfilling this Mitzvah

There is a discussion in the poskim as to the nature of how this mitzvah works with married couples. A woman is obligated in the laws of Purim. However, as a wife she is also bound together with her husband on the monetary level. As a result there are three common customs.

  1. The first is that a woman is considered one with her husband with regards to this halacha and her obligation is automatically fulfilled by the husband’s giving even if he only gives two gifts to two poor people at the minimum amount.
  2. The second custom is that the husband gives two additional gifts (beyond his own) to the poor, acting as his wife’s agent.
  3. The third approach is that the woman is machmir to give gifts to the poor on her own behalf.

One who has children who are chinuch-aged and living at home should also be trained to employ one of the above methods. As for a bar mitzvah boy since he has the ability to gain ownership over money given to him, therefore he should use his money or be given money to fulfill the chiyyuv of matanos l’evyonim.

Giving to a Poor Person who Keeps a Different Day of Purim

Although there are dissenting opinions, the accepted halacha is that one must only give gifts to poor people who are fulfilling their Purim on the same day as the giver.

Extra Charity on the Day of Purim

Although in general a person is allowed to investigate the legitimacy of a poor person’s situation, on the day of Purim this is not the case. Any person who puts out his hand should be given at least some small amount. This is not coming from the obligation of the mitzvah of matanos l’evyonim but rather is part of the general spirit of Purim to be more open handed and unified with the needs of others. One need not give charity to any children who ask on Purim but if he knows the child is poor he can.

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Mishloach Manos (Sending Portions of Food to Friends)

Two Portions of Two Different Foods to One Friend

The verse18)Esther 9:19 commanding us to give portions of food is written “Mishloach manos ish l’reieihu – Portions of food (plural), each man to his friend (singular).” “Portions of food” is understood to mean two portions of food and “each man to his friend” is understood to mean to one friend. One must therefore give at least two different portions of food to at least one friend to fulfill the minimum obligation of this mitzvah.

The Reason Behind this Mitzvah

There are two reasons mentioned for this mitzvah of sending portions of food.

  1. The first is that the Rabbis wanted to insure that every Jew has enough food for his festive meal on Purim.
  2. The second is to counter the claim of Haman that the Jews are infighting with one another.

Some poskim even go so far as to say that one should choose to send these portions to Jews who will be drawn closer to Torah as a result or alternatively to people or neighbors with whom we have strained relations in the hope that a sense of unity and closeness will be fostered as a result. Although it is praiseworthy to reciprocate giving mishloach manos to a person who gives to you this is not an obligation. Also there is no real place to send mishloach manos anonymously on Purim as the whole point is to foster unity amongst Jews and this is achieved by knowing who the giver and receiver are.

Sending or Hand Delivering?

There is a discussion as to whether the terminology “mishloach manos” implies that there is a requirement to send the portions via an agent. The prevailing custom is to give the portions even directly though some are careful to fulfill at least one mishloach via an agent. When using a child as an agent to deliver the gift you must verify that it was received if you are relying on this for the basic fulfillment of the mitzvah.

What Foods to Send

The halacha is that you must give two portions of food. These two portions must be different types of food. Contrary to what many people think, there is no need that the two types of food should have two different blessings. Furthermore one should send food items that are ready-to-eat and do not require further preparation. The mainstream halacha is that one may send one food and one drink or even two different drinks. There are some poskim who say you can’t use drinks. The size of the portions is not clearly delineated. From the Gemara in Megillah the indication is that the size and importance of the portions should be befitting of the sender and the recipients status. It is also important to send the two food items together not one after the next.

Women and Children

Essentially, women are obligated to send these gifts as they are obligated in all of the mitzvos of the day. If a woman sends the portions for herself, then she should only give them to another woman. The same applies to men in that they should only give the portions to another man. A married woman may send two foods to one person as a joint package with her husband. Children who are at the age of chinuch already should be instructed to give mishloach manos. They can either be part of a joint sending with their parents or alternatively be given food by their parents to fulfill this mitzvah with on their own.

On the Day of Purim

The mishloach manos should be sent and received on the day of Purim itself. This can create problems when using commercial mishloach manos services as an agent, as many of them require orders to be placed and purchased well before Purim. As a result, a person should not rely on these types of mishloach manos for his basic mitzvah. He should make sure at least one is “sent” and received on the day of Purim itself. One should also be careful to make sure that he as the sender and the receiver are observing the same day of Purim (i.e. both the 14th or both the 15th). There is no problem to give to people keeping a different day but one should not rely on it for the basic fulfillment of the mitzvah.

Giving Portions to a Mourner

It is prohibited to send or give gifts to someone in mourning. This means that one should be careful not to send mishloach manos to anyone who is in the period of mourning. However, if the mourner lives with other people in his or her home who are not in mourning the gift can be addressed to the family. A mourner himself should also perform this mitzvah but the custom is to just give one to fulfill the letter of the law and not more.

There are poskim who say that it is okay to give mishloach manos to a mourner if it is one that a person is giving out of a feeling of a need to repay a favor. For example it is permissible to give a mishloach manos to a child’s teacher who is a mourner, where the motivation to give is coming more from the sense of duty to repay the debt of gratitude then it is to “perform the mitzvah.”

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Seudas Purim

A Festive Drinking Meal

The fourth mitzvah of Purim is to make a festive drinking meal on the day of Purim itself. This festive meal is different in two ways from other festive meals throughout the Jewish holiday cycle.

  1. The first difference is that the mitzvah is only to make a meal during the day, unlike shabbos and Yom Tov when there is a mitzvah to make meals both at night and during the day as well.
  2. The second difference is that the Purim meal has to be a “seudas mishteh – a drinking meal.” Unlike Shabbos and other festivals the meal is for the sake of the enjoyment of the festival and drinking would be an expression of adding additional joy.

By Purim there is a mitzvah to drink at the meal in order to remember the fact that the Jews were saved through miracles which occurred through wine. Even though there is no official mitzvah of Purim to have a night meal it is appropriate to increase in the honor of your night meal in the spirit of the day. The day meal must be made with bread whereas the night meal need not be.

Understanding the Drinking of Purim

On normal holidays the custom is to drink at the meal in order to increase in the enjoyment of the day. On Purim, since the Jews were saved through miracles that happened around wine feasts, we must drink wine at the meal to remember those miracles. There is a discussion as to the extent of drinking necessary to fulfill this precept.

The Gemara19)Megillah 7b says that one must drink until he doesn’t know the difference between the blessing of Mordechai and the curse of Haman. In practice, there are two approaches to fulfilling this mitzvah.

  1. One approach is that there is a mitzvah to actually reach intoxication and even drunkenness to the point of not knowing the difference between “baruch Mordechai and arur Haman”.
  2. The second approach is that one should drink slightly more wine then he is accustomed to on Shabbos and Yom Tov and then go to sleep for a short time thus by default not knowing the difference between “baruch Mordechai” and “arur Haman”.

The poskim point out that even according to the first method of fulfillment, our great sages never meant that a person should drink in this way if it would mean that he would make a fool of himself or even that he would become lax in his fulfillment of the mitzvos incumbent upon him at any moment during the day. One must therefore know himself well enough to decide which way is appropriate for him.

The Rambam indicates20)Hilchos Megillah and Hannukah 2:15 that the mitzvah of drinking on Purim is only during the meal not outside that framework. Other poskim suggest that the mitzvah of drinking is not limited to the meal just that the main drinking should be done at the meal. In any event the mitzvah of making a meal on Purim is not predicated on drinking and therefore if for some reason a person just can’t drink on Purim at all he may still fulfill the mitzvah of seudas Purim.

Drinking Other Alcoholic Beverages

Another interesting difference between Purim and other holidays is that the mitzvah of Purim is really to drink wine since it is to remember the miracles. It is permissible to drink other alcoholic drinks on Purim but this should be done after drinking some wine. On Shabbos and other holidays there is no specific reason to drink wine but rather to drink what brings increased enjoyment in the day.

The Appropriate Time for the Meal

Although one may begin his seudas Purim before the time of mincha (as in fact we do when Purim falls out on erev shabbos) nevertheless, the ideal time to start the seudah is just after mincha. One should ideally wait to start drinking until after davening mincha gedolah and then start his meal. This will both allow a person ample time on the morning of Purim to daven Shacharis, hear the Megillah, fulfill the mitzvos of matanos l’evyonim and mishloach manos, learn some Torah, and daven mincha while still sober. Even if one only starts his meal later in the day he should make strong efforts to have the majority of his meal before sunset.

Special Foods at the Meal

In addition to washing on bread, there is a preference to have red meat as opposed to chicken for the day meal. Some have a custom to eat seed-like foods, pods, or beans during the night meal to remember the situation of Esther in the house of Achashverosh who could only eat these types of foods in order to avoid questions of kashrus. The Midrash says that when Haman realized the merits of the three Patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov he lost his strength to annihilate the Jews. This is the source for eating hamentaschen on Purim, “tash” means haman weakened so “Haman Tash” means Haman was weakened. This also explains why the hamentaschen are made with three corners, to represent the three Patriarchs.

Merriment on Purim

Purim Torah

One of the forms of merriment that has become embedded in Purim custom is to say “Purim Torah”. A darshan would say a “d’var Torah” that is sharp and witty but at the same time sarcastic or humorous. The purpose of this abnormal custom is to heighten our awareness of the deeper levels of spiritual closeness that we can have with Hashem through Torah but many times don’t reach specifically because we are not in a state of expanded consciousness. The Gemara relates that “when the wine goes in to a person the secrets come out21)Sanhedrin 38a”. This saying is mentioned on the heels of an interesting story. Two young men visited Rebbe Yehudah HaNassi’s house. Rebbe gave them some wine to drink and then asked them to say a drasha. After the drinking the wine, their secrets came out in the form of a quasi-prophetic elucidation. In the same vein, it is customary in many yeshivos to arrange a “Purim Shpeil” – a special skit or production with the goal of mocking and ridiculing the ways of the wicked and exposing their falseness and worthlessness.

Costumes

In addition many people have a custom to don costumes or masks on Purim. The reason for this is to remind ourselves that Hashem so-to-speak “wore a mask” in the days of Purim, and for this reason the full impact of the miracles that were happening became clear to the Jews only after the fact.

Another source for this custom is from the days leading up to the Purim. Nebuchadnezzar had erected a statue of himself and ordered the Jews to bow to it. In their hearts, the Jews ascribed no power or glory to this statue and yet externally they still gave the impression that they did. We wear masks to remind ourselves that many times our outward appearance can be hiding our true inner thoughts and feelings. On Purim, the purpose of the day is to transcend our petty, trivial, external orientation and get in touch with our deeper spiritual aspirations and the yearnings of our soul from within to be connected to Hashem.

References   [ + ]

1. Esther 9:29
2. see Megilla 7a
3. Exodus 17:14, Megillah 7a
4. Malbim to Esther 9:31
5. Esther 9:20-23
6. Megillah 4a
7. Esther 9:1
8. Though the city of Tiberius was founded in 20CE, it was built on or near much earlier urban settlements
9. Megillah 19a
10. ibid.
11. Rashi there
12. like 5771 (March 2011)
13. Devarim 25:17
14. O.C. 774
15. Hilchos Megillah and Channukah 2:17
16. Approximately 3 US cents or about 10 Israeli agorot as of this writing
17. About 20 shekels or about 5 dollars as of this writing.
18. Esther 9:19
19. Megillah 7b
20. Hilchos Megillah and Hannukah 2:15
21. Sanhedrin 38a