March 2018 | Adar/Nissan 5778
Dear B’nai Shalom families, members, and friends:
With this being Chodesh Adar, the Hebrew month of Adar, our full attention turns to the joyous, festive holiday of Purim.
One could view Purim as the holiest of all holidays by way of interpretation. Since Yom Kippur (the holiest of holidays) is called Yom K’Purim—“the day like Purim.” Why is Purim called this? What makes Purim so holy? And why is Yom Kippur like Purim?
We typically think of Purim as “one big party,” and when done with that and the reading of the Megillah, the rest of the day is normal (with the exception of the mitzvot of Purim). There are none of the usual Yom Tov restrictions; the davening is normal, with the addition of “al HaNisim” to the daily Shemona Esrai (Amidah) and the birkat HaMazaon (the grace after meals); and, of course, there’s the Purim Torah reading (from the end of Parshat Beshallach).
At the end of the Megillah, (which, in the ninth chapter, refers to itself as a “letter”), we are told that Jews will remember the days of Purim and that the events of Megillah will not be forgotten (9:25-28). Why is this said twice? The answer lies in Rambam’s opinion, based on a Gemara in which Rabbi Yochanan holds that, at the time of Moshiach, all holidays but Purim will fall away. In addition, Rabbi Yochanan holds that all books of Neviim and Ketuvim will fall out except for the Megillah. He holds that the Megillah will last forever, together with the five books of the Torah.
The Raiyved disagreed with Rambam on this point. (They always disagreed, and the Raiyved was particularly vocal and pointed in his opinion putting down and disputing Rambam on this point, calling it “stupid” – “hedyot.”) Rabbi Shlomo Alkabets wrote that Rabbi Yochanan was absolutely right, that when Moshiach comes, all lessons from Navi (the Prophets) will be revealed and made clear from Torah itself and, therefore, we won’t need the Navi’s explanations and lessons.
In addition, there are three references in our Scriptures to the well-known war with Amalek. It is mentioned twice in the Torah (once in Beshallach, once in Ki Tetzeh (Parshat Zachor); and the third time, in the Megillah. Thus when it’s pointed out that in the end of the Megillah it tells us to remember twice, it is referring to the two times mentioned in the Torah.
Because Hashem held Mt. Sinai over our head when He asked us to accept the Torah, this made our acceptance of Torah involuntary. Hashem’s holding of Har Sinai over the Jews’ head took away their freedom of choice. The Jews couldn’t choose otherwise. At Purim, our compliance to Torah was voluntary. How do we know this? In the Megillah, 9:27, we are told the Jews “kiymu v’kiblu”, fulfilled, and only then accepted, the directives of the Megillah, vis-a-vis, the yoke of Torah—just as we said “na’aseh v’nishmah (“we will do and we will listen”) at the acceptance of Torah at Har Sinai. This was a second accepting of Torah but this time with our freedom of choice exercised in full.
But wait: Did Hashem really hold the mountain over our heads, and if so, why? In fact, He did not literally hold over us the mountain. Rather, our having witnessed the miracles of the 10 plagues, the splitting of the Reed Sea, the manna in the desert, and all the other miracles, signs, and wonders are what metaphorically took away our free will. We needed a chance to decide on our own, away from Yetzitat Mitzrayim (the Exodus from Egypt).
We unfold the entire Megillah when reading it in order to see and understand the entire story. If we don’t see, realize, and accept all the incidents that were connected, making it clearly the work of the Hand of G-d, then we can see that these events were not just a group of individual coincidences.
The other holidays and their lessons will be casual compared to the revelation of G-d when Moshiach comes, overshadowing the lessons of those holidays. It might not necessarily void them, but making their lessons more casual compared to that of Torah and Megillah
Purim is the only day on the calendar on which we do not recall the destruction of the Bet HaMikdash, The Holy Temple. (This includes the individual simchot, such as a Jewish wedding, where we break a glass, or the simple taking of challah when baking, or even leaving a corner of our homes undone when building, etc.). Because with Purim there are no references to the destruction of the Holy Temple, the activities on Purim that often include drinking are alright and acceptable.
It should also be pointed out that the holiday of Purim, while it be might be viewed as a “forgotten,” “unknown” Jewish holiday by non-Jews (and by many Jews as well), it should not be! Purim has the prominence of Chanukah even though that holiday is far better known. According to the Talmudic opinions cited above, one might even consider that Purim should even be put in a category above Chanukah for reasons previously mentioned.
As a review and a reminder, the following are the mitzvot which are to be fulfilled on, and around, Purim: The Shabbat before Purim is always Parshat Zachor, in which we are commanded to remember what the nation of Amalek did to B’nai Yisrael when we departed Egypt, at the end of Parshat B’Shallach in Sefer Shemot. This is a mitzvah d’Oraita, a Biblically-decreed commandment, agreed upon by all meforshim (commentators), among the four special parshiyot: Parshat Shekalim, Parshat Zachor, Parshat Parah, and Parshat HaChodesh. When we listen to the Torah reading of Parshat Zachor, we must hear every word; there can be no interruptions. There even are opinions that say this parsha must be heard within one’s own nusach, using one’s own traditions: i.e. Sephardic or Ashkenazic.
In the reading of Parshat Zachor, there is a tradition of repeating the word: “zecher” (referring to the “memory of
Amalek.”) This is because there is a disagreement about the accurate pronunciation of the word: either there is vowel
sound of a “tzayreh”: (AY) or of a “segel” (EH). Because we are unsure which is more correct, we read this portion of the
parsha both ways to be sure.
On either the 13th of Adar (or the 11th Adar if Purim comes out on a Sunday), we observe Ta’anit Esther (The Fast of
Esther), which is a one-day fast in place of the three days Esther and the Jews in the Purim story fasted. For us today, it
is a “half” fast, beginning at dawn on the day before Purim, and it ends following the reading of the Megillah.
On Purim, there are four mitzvot which we must fulfill: hearing the Megillah twice: once in the evening and once in the morning, both which are accompanied by the requisite two brachot (blessings). We must hear every word of the Megillah. There is a misconception of “drowning out” the name of Haman. This is not quite correct. We must make noise only after the name of Haman, since if we actually drown out Haman’s name, we truly will not hear every word.
Mishloach Manot: the sending of food gifts to friends/neighbors. There must be two different types of ready-to-eat food (requiring 2 different brachot) during the day on Purim day. The food gifts must be sent. (It’s not unusual to see young children jumping out of their family cars and delivering the packages by hand, so drive carefully!)
Purim Seudah (the Purim festival meal) held on Purim day, late in the afternoon. The meal includes bread, should be something of a fancy meal or celebration, and there are many opinions that hold that there should be liquor available at the gathering. There are many different opinions on this.
Matanot L’Evyonim: This is a special Purim tzedakah given on Purim day to two different poor people or organizations. The amount of money should be equal to a modest but decent Purim seudah (festival meal). There are many Jewish organizations servicing the poor that ensure that contributions made to them will be delivered on Purim day. These can be relied on.
The day after Purim is Shushan Purim, which is celebrated only in Jerusalem. For those of us currently living outside of Israel, the only real observance of Shushan Purim is our omission of the Tachanun prayer.
I hope this review will be helpful in greeting and celebrating Purim in the fullest possible way. I wish everyone a freilechen Purim.
Rabbi Dr. Yaacov Dvorin