Dear B’nai Shalom members, families, and friends:
At the time you will be reading this, we will be close to the celebration of the joyous holiday of Purim, the 14th day in the Hebrew month of Adar. Below you will find a list of the mitzvot (commandments) which we fulfill on, and in honor of the holiday. In the list below, I will point out to you the CHALLENGES we face this year because of COVID-19, with a few of the commandments and traditions of Purim. I will explain the challenges and possible solutions to those problems together with the explanation of each of the mitzvot.
1.) 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 (the Children of Israel) when we departed Egypt, at the end of Parshat B’Shallach in Sefer Shemot (the book of Exodus). This is a Mitzvah D’Oraita, (a biblically-ordained mitzvah) agreed upon by all meforshim, (commentaries) among the four special parshiyot: Parshat Shekalim, Parshat Zachor, Parshat Parah, and Parshat HaChodesh. In a normal shul setting, we must hear every word of Parshat Zachor, with no interruptions. There are even some opinions that say the reading of Parshat Zachor must be heard within one’s own nusach, one’s own pronunciation, one’s own tradition.
This mitzvah itself can be a problem this year with many shuls, B’nai Shalom included, having limited Shabbat morning services because of the COVID-19 restrictions. I remind you that, according to some sources, we can ALSO fulfill this mitzvah by hearing the Torah reading on Purim morning, “Vayavo Amalek” (from Parshat Beshallach). However, AGAIN, because of COVID-19 limitations, this can ALSO be a challenge this year.
With G-d’s help, we can HOPE that the COVID-19 threat will have subsided sufficiently by the time the actual parshah from which Parshat Zachor is taken (Kee Teitzei), which this year will be read BE”H, on August 20th, allowing us to fulfill the mitzvah AT THAT TIME from the actual reading of the weekly parshah.
2.) On either the 13th of Adar (or the 11th of Adar when Purim is on a Sunday), we commemorate Taanit Esther (the Fast of Esther), as we fast one day in place of the three days Esther and the Jews fasted in the actual Purim story. This fast day is a “half fast day,” which ends following the reading of the Megillah. There can be an exception for completing the fast for those who are weak, frail, or elder AND for the Megillah reader, depending on his strength, energy or disposition.
3.) On Purim: there are four distinct mitzvot to be fulfilled: hearing the entire Megillah twice: once in the evening and once in the morning. Both recitations of the Megillah are said with the appropriate brachot (blessings) before and after the reading. Every person over the age of majority must hear every word.
This year because of COVID-19 restrictions, we face ADDITIONAL challenges in being able to hear the full, kosher reading of the Megillah two times. Undoubtedly, many synagogues, including Chabad synagogues, will continue to provide conveniently-scheduled Megillah readings, hopefully within a COVID-19 sensitive environment. Unfortunately, hearing the Megillah over the phone, via computer, or from a recording, do not qualify as having ACTUALLY heard the full, proper reading of the Megillah.
If one is unable to get to a location where the full, kosher Megillah reading is taking place, once COULD read for him/herself the full Megillah from a kosher Megillah scroll in one’s home, with a “helper” nearby, making corrections so the proper pronunciation of each word is ensured. In these circumstances, the use of the troup, (the familiar Megillah melody), is relegated to second in importance so that all efforts and focus can be concentrated on having the words pronounced correctly.
4.) Mishloach Manot: Sending of food gifts to friends/neighbors. The food gift must be two different types of ready-to-eat food (requiring 2 different brachot) during the day on Purim day. This year, the mitzvah of Mishloach Manot is ALSO affected by COVID-19 restrictions. Suggestions concerning the best way to fulfill this mitzvah THIS YEAR focus on family members doing the exchanging of the portions themselves. Those family members who are part of a “secure family pod,” if over the age of majority, CAN exchange Mishloach Manot and thus eliminate unnecessary exchanges with friends or neighbors because of COVID-19 concerns.
5.) Matanot L’Evyonim: This is a special Purim tzedakah (charity contribution) on Purim day to two different poor people or organizations. The amount of money should be equal to a modest but decent Purim Seudah (meal). Organizations servicing the poor ensure that contributions made to them will be delivered on Purim day. Baruch Hashem, Praise Almighty G-d, that THIS mitzvah can be fulfilled — even THIS year, in its normal fashion without concerns for COVID-19 exposure.
6.) Purim Seudah (a special Purim meal) is celebrated on Purim day, typically in the late afternoon. However, THIS year, Purim comes out on a Friday, which necessitates our moving the time for the meal to EARLIER in the day so that we can STILL eat our regular Shabbas dinner with an appetite and full gusto. The meal typically includes bread, something of a fancy meal and and an atmosphere of joy and celebration.
With the coming of Purim, we are reminded that the often exhausting and mitzvah-filled holiday of Pesach is only one month away. This is also a reminder of the common theme of BOTH holidays, which we celebrate for G-d’s interventions in saving us from utter destruction from Haman and Pharaoh respectively, and our emerging from our times of peril with great appreciation and celebration which continue to be marked yearly by these two holidays.
Wishing you all a safe, joyous and festive Purim holiday,
Rabbi Dr. Yaacov Dvorin