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,
Last night and today mark the holiday of Purim, in which the underlying theme is immense joy and celebration. It is the celebration of our existence as a people, despite attempts to destroy us. Those attempts began with the first try 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 God 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.
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 storyline 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 the 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 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 poor Jews and for Jews in Israel. There is also a wonderful organization, Od Yosef Chai, that distributes pledges to the poor in Israel on Purim day. Contact it at 800-823-CHAI (2424).
5. Seudas Purim, the Purim meal. This is a particularly festive meal enjoyed during the Purim day. 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 peace in Israel.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is dean of Dallas Area Torah Association.
Dear Rabbi Fried,