Part XI - A Celebration for Generations
by Rabbi Yehudah Prero
The guest contributor to this issue is R' Aryeh Winter.
The Jews outside of Shushan completed the attack on their enemies on the 13th
day of Adar. On the next day, the 14th day of Adar, they celebrated by
rejoicing, feasting, giving gifts of food to each other, and giving gifts
of money to the poor. The Jews of Shushan, who were still battling their
enemies on the 14th, held their celebration of the 15th of Adar. Mordechai
wrote down all of the events leading to the celebration and sent out this
"book" to all of the Jews in Achashverosh's empire. Mordechai said that the
days of the 14th and 15th of Adar should be celebrated annually, as the
anniversary of the day on which the Jews were freed from their enemies. The
practices of sending the gifts, feasting, and rejoicing were to be continued
as well. All of the Jews were united in their acceptance of the words of
Mordechai upon themselves and upon their children. To this day we celebrate
Purim in the same way - with the reading of the story - the Megilla,
rejoicing, feasting, sending gifts of food to each other, and with giving
gifts of money to the poor. The holiday is called Purim after the selection
process which Haman used to select the date of the Jews destruction: a
lottery (or a "Pur"), using astrological forecasting. This method was
supposed to result in the date that the Jews were most vulnerable to attack.
In fact, that was astrologically true - the Jews were most vulnerable on
the 13th of Adar. One of the miracles of Purim was that Hashem totally
reversed the astrological implications of the day so that the Jews would
instead be victorious. Because of this miracle which came about through the
lottery - the "Pur," the holiday is called Purim.
The Megilla closes by telling us that under Mordechai, who was appointed
Achashverosh's viceroy, the empire grew stronger, and that Mordechai sought
the good of his people and was concerned for the welfare of his nation. The
Jews under Mordechai had attained stature and they were secure.
As we have seen throughout the Megilla, the miracle of Purim came about
throughout banquets and feasts. Therefore, when Purim was established by our
Sages as a holiday, it was decreed that on the day of Purim, we should have a
festive feast, with all of the trappings that are normally associated with a
Shabbos feast. The Aruch HaShulchan writes that one should make as nice a
feast as one can afford. He also writes that one should start their meal with
bread (as on Shabbos) and eat meat, because the absence of these foods
detracts from the importance of the meal. The feast, called the "Se'udah," can
take place at anytime on Purim day. However, one should not start around
midday unless they have prayed Mincha, the afternoon prayer, first. One should
have the majority meal during the Purim day, and therefore should allow
themselves enough time before sunset to complete most of the "Se'udah." If one
completes the Se'udah after sunset, one would still recite "Al HaNissim," the
special prayer we insert thanking and praising Hashem for the miracles he has
performed, during the "Bentching," the Grace After the Meal.
Part of the "simcha," the happiness and celebration of Purim consists of what
the Gemora tells us - One should drink wine until "one doesn't know between
'Cursed be Haman' and 'Blessed by Mordechai.'" There are many
interpretations of what this Gemora means, and it beyond the scope of this
article to mention all of them. One of the more popular interpretations is
that one is supposed to get drunk. How drunk? The Chafetz Chayim writes until
you cannot differentiate between the good things that Hashem has done for us
- the downfall of Haman and the victory of Mordechai.
Our Sages required us to eat and drink on Purim because these acts were
integral to the miraculous plot of Purim. The intentions of our Sages, as the
Meiri writes, we not that there should be a happiness of frivolity and
emptiness, but rather a happiness of pleasure that through it one can reach
and realize a love of Hashem and recognize all the miracles Hashem performs
for us. The Chayei Adam writes that if one knows that he will not act
properly or even not say the Grace After the Meal properly, he should not
drink. The Chafetz Chayim writes that the preferred method of fulfilling the
directive of the Gemora is to drink a little, and then take a short nap.
(While sleeping, one cannot tell the difference between Haman and Mordechai.)
It is proper to wear one's best clothes (Shabbos appropriate attire) on Purim, including during the Se'udah.
Another commandment we have on Purim is "Shalach Manos," literally "sending
portions." We are required to send two items of food to one person on Purim.
This includes a drink and a food. The food has to be able to be eaten
immediately (excluding raw meat and the like). If one would send Shalach Manos
before Purim, it would have to arrive on Purim day in order for one to have
discharged his obligation.
Another commandment incumbent upon us is "Matanos L'Evyonim," gifts to the
poor. As by Shalach Manos, this commandment has to be done on Purim day. This
means that the money has to be distributed to the poor on Purim, and
therefore, if one gives money to someone on or before Purim to distribute to
the poor, they should be sure that the money will be distributed to the poor
on Purim. Matanos L'Evyonim can be done with either money or food. The
accepted minimum amount is the cost of one inexpensive meal (approx.
US $2.00). One has to give to two poor people this amount. The Chafetz Chayim
quotes the Rambam who says that it is better to give more gifts to the poor
than it is to have a bigger Se'udah or give more Shalach Manos. The reason
for this is that the biggest joy on Purim is gladdening the hearts of the