Purim observance

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I would like to observe Purim this year. Could you please briefly outline the rituals and observances of the day? With much appreciation,

Heather W.

Dear Heather,

This Saturday night and Sunday marks the holiday of Purim, whose underlying theme is immense joy and celebration. It is the celebration of our existence as a people despite attempts to destroy us, beginning with the first attempt at the “final solution” by Haman, who sought to destroy the Jewish nation by killing every last Jew, his decree being signed by King Ahasuerus.

With the miraculous turnaround of that decree, we realized that G-d remains connected to us even in the darkest of times and is protecting us from annihilation. The observances of Purim are all tailor-made to enhance our joy and celebration of our eternal continuity and loving relationship to the Al-mighty.

This idea could not be more pertinent than for us this year. With the unspeakable events which transpired on Oct. 7 and the subsequent explosion of antisemitism and calls for our annihilation, we derive strength and hope from the message of Purim. We trust that G-d will be there for us and our enemies, like those in our past, will be relegated to the dustbin of history.

There are five main observances on Purim:

1. Reading of the Megillah, or Book of Esther. The Megillah, which contains the Purim story, is heard twice on Purim, once at night and once during the day. You can find a synagogue where this is done. It is important to follow the reading, even in English, to understand the story to the best of your abilities. The story line is key to the joy and celebration. “Megillas Esther” literally means the Scroll of Esther and mystically means “revealing the hidden miracles.”

2. The prayer of “Al Hanissim,” or “For the Miracles.” This is a special prayer inserted into the daily Amidah prayer, as well as in the Bircas Hamazon, or blessing after a bread meal. It contains a short synopsis of the miracles of the day and praises G-d for His kindnesses.

3. “Mishloach manos,” sending gifts of food. Each adult man and woman sends a gift of two types of food to at least one friend on Purim day (not at night). It is common to send these gifts to numerous friends and they are often delivered wearing Purim costumes, especially by the children. This ritual is to foster greater friendship and connection within the Jewish people.

4. “Matanos l’evyonim,” gifts of money to the poor. All men and women are obligated to give two gifts of money to two different poor Jews on Purim day. This is to uplift the spirits of the poor on Purim, allowing them to experience the joy of Purim’s salvation and celebration. Many synagogues collect for local needy Jews as well as for Jews in Israel. There is also a wonderful organization, Od Yosef Chai, which distributes pledges to the poor in Israel on Purim day, which you can reach at 800-823-CHAI (2424).

5. “Seudas Purim,” the Purim meal. This is a particularly festive meal enjoyed during the day on Purim. It is enjoyed with guests when possible, with costumes and with much celebration and joy, discussing the miracles of the Purim story. (For those adults who have achieved an elevated spiritual level, they drink wine “until they can’t tell the difference between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordechai.’” This is fulfilled ideally by drinking a little, then taking a nap.)

I wish you and all the readers a joyous Purim, in which we should continue to witness miracles and merit to see our hostages returned, our enemies destroyed and peace in Israel.

Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried is dean of DATA-Dallas Area Torah Association.

Leave a Reply