Guest Author - Lisa Pinkus
If the story of Purim was made into a major motion picture, it would captivate audiences with its suspense-filled action, twisting and turning plot, and lessons of faith and trust. It is a tale with layer after layer of if-then situations (for example, if the details of Purim had not unfolded as they did, the Jewish people would no longer exist). Basically:
• The Jews are living in Persia
• King Achashverosh needs a new queen
• Mordechai convinces his niece whom he has raised to enter the contest to become queen
• Esther becomes queen
• Mordechai hears of a plot to kill the king and saves the king
• Haman becomes one of King Achashverosh’s ministers and everyone is ordered to bow down to him
• Mordechai will not bow down to him
• Haman draws ‘lots’ to determine the day that he will kill all the Jews. He gets permission from the
king to kill the Jews
• Mordechai sends word to Esther regarding Haman’s plan
• Esther approaches the king and invites him to a feast
• Esther hosts a feast for the king and for Haman
• Prior to, the king is unable to sleep and remembers Mordechai saving his life
• He asks Haman what he should do if he wants to give honor to a man
• Haman thinks the king is talking about himself and provides an answer and king tells him to go get
• The next day, Esther holds her feast and the king is shocked and angered upon learning of Haman’s
• Haman is hung from the gallows he built for Mordechai
• The Jews were given permission to fight back against the enemies who wanted to kill them – this was
the 14th of Adar
• Purim is the most joyous day of the year – a day dictated to celebration by Esther and Mordechai
themselves – to commemorate the events that occurred in Persia
Today there are four mitzvot connected to Purim.
Reading of the Megillah. The Megillah is the Book of Esther and recounts the above tale in great detail. Fulfilling the mitzvah of hearing the Megillah requires that you hear it being read in the evening and again in the day. Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, says: “...to commemorate the miracle [that occurred] after they cried out [to G-d] day and night.” During the reading, it is imperative that there is silence (aside from the booing after hearing Haman’s name) so that you can hear every word.
Give mishloach manot (sending of portions) . We are required to give at least two gifts containing at least two different types of ready-to-eat foods. These gifts are given on the day of Purim. The tradition ensures that everyone has food to eat on Purim and also to increase the joy and love between Jews. The two different foods call for two different blessings. While not halacha (Jewish law), sending foods requiring two different blessings insures that you have fulfilled the mitzvah of sending two different foods.
Gifts to the poor, Matanot La'evyonim. This, also, must be given to two different individuals. Our sages say that we should give enough money for a meal. There are many organizations that you can donate to who will distribute this money or food on Purim on your behalf. You can also check with your rabbi to see if he or she will distribute the money on your behalf.
A seudah, a festive meal. Is there any Jewish holiday that doesn’t involve eating? Similar to Shabbat where three meals are required – a meal becomes festive when you make motzi, the bracha on bread, and you bentch, recite the blessing after the meal, at the conclusion of the meal. Many people eat a vegetarian meal to honor Esther who was vegetarian while living in the castle with King Achashverosh.