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THE PURIM CELEBRATION

"They are to observe these as days of feasting and gladness, and for sending delicacies to one another, and giving gifts to the poor." (Esther 9:22)

There are four mitzvoth specific to the holiday of Purim:

- Reading the Megillah (Scroll of Esther) - Festivity and rejoicing (the Purim meal) - Sending food to friends (Mishloach Manot) - Giving gifts to the poor (Matanot La'evyonim)

The Book of Esther is read on Purim night, and again the next day. Every word must be clearly heard. It is read it in the synagogue, because the larger the crowd, the greater publicity is given to the miracle of the salvation of the Jews.

There is a beautiful custom before reading the Megillah in the synagogue, to contribute three half-dollar coins (or their equivalent) to charity. This symbolizes the half-shekel which every Jew used to give as dues to the Temple in Jerusalem (see Exodus 30:11-16). But why does the Torah specify a half-shekel instead of a whole? The answer is that by giving only a half, each Jew realizes that he'll never become "complete" unless he is part of the larger community. Accordingly, Jewish law states that everyone -- rich or poor -- is to give no more and no less than a half-shekel. This teaches that every Jew is equally important to our national mission.

In Shimon Apisdorf's The One Hour Purim Primer -- Everything a family needs to understand, celebrate and enjoy Purim (available from your local Jewish book store or by calling toll-free 877-758-3242). One thing that Rabbi Apisdorf wrote, really impacted me: If a family is a "twice a year to synagogue" family, then he "votes for Purim and Simchas Torah (when everyone dances around celebrating the completion and beginning of reading the Torah)." Our kids should see and be a part of the joy of being Jewish! You cannot legislate values or appreciation for Judaism. You CAN give positive Jewish experiences -- like Purim! -- and your kids will have something to love about being Jewish!

On Purim, we send two types of ready-to-eat food to at least one friend, symbolizing the spirit of kinship which can help prevent the appearance of future Hamans. Purim morning is spent visiting friends and delivering tasty treats -- Mishloach Manot. Purim is the day to reach out to embrace fellow Jews -- irrespective of any religious or social differences. After all, Haman did not discriminate amongst the Jews of his time - he wanted to kill them ALL. That's why it is particularly good to give gifts to those who you may have had an argument with, or someone new in the community who needs a new friend.

On Purim, we also give charity to at least two poor people. We reach out to each other, so that no one should miss the joy of the occasion. It is particularly meritorious to send a gift to someone you need to make up with. Just as we would never consider distancing ourselves from a good friend based on our disagreements, so too we should never consider distancing ourselves from any Jew (or group of Jews) based on our differences. The Jewish people are one unit - it isn't possibly enjoy the holiday if poor people don't have enough.

Then comes the day's grand finale -- the festive meal - where it is traditional to eat your fill and pamper your body -- because it was the Jewish bodies that Haman sought to destroy. It is also traditional to imbibe alcohol until one doesn't know the difference between "cursed is Haman" and "blessed is Mordechai." In other words, to drink to the point where you don't know good from bad.

Many people compare Halloween and Purim. Besides the masquerading in costume, they are as different as can be! What happens on Halloween? Children go from door to door, saying, "Trick or treat!" Where did that expression come from? The origin is a threat: "If you don't give us a treat, we'll give you a trick!" On Purim, instead of going around demanding presents, the children go around delivering presents! What a difference!

Sending Mishloach Manot is not only fun and easy, but a great opportunity to be creative. The minimum requirements are simple: You have to give two different types of ready-to-eat food to one person.

After that, let your creative juices flow! In Israel and Jewish neighborhoods in the Diaspora, pre-packaged Purim baskets are sold, usually containing an assortment of candy, cookies, wine, nuts and fruit. A pretty basket wrapped in cellophane holds in the goodies. You can always create homemade treats to put in instead: homemade jams, rolls, cakes, kugels - even salad dressing. Use your ingenuity. But remember, it should be fun - the amount of money or effort put in isn't the point - you should enjoy it! If you love to cook or bake, live it up. Or, maybe a funny theme will make your Mishloach manot package memorable. "It is better for a man to increase gifts to the poor than to enlarge his feast and to increase gifts (mishloach manot) to his friends. For there is no greater and more wonderful joy than to make happy the hearts of the poor, the widows, the orphans and the strangers, for he who uplifts the heart of the unfortunate is like unto the Divine Presence."

One must give a portion of tzedaka on Purim to at least two poor people. Generally, money is given, but food is also acceptable. The minimal value of each gift is two cents. The tzedaka should be distributed directly to the poor on Purim, and not go into a charity fund. In some areas, Purim is a day when paupers or those who collect for charity go around asking for donations. There is a custom to not refuse tzedaka to anyone on Purim, even if you give just a small amount.

Remember what the Rambam (Maimonides) said: It is considered "praiseworthy" to not give less to charity than the amount you have spent on your Purim meal and Mishloach Manot.

Children make especially good bearers of mishloach manot. Where it is not safe to let children go alone, they can be accompanied to the door, but it's a special treat for them to give out the presents. Since mishloach manot have to be delivered on Purim itself, it is often expedient to deliver them to shlichim (messengers) beforehand, so that they can deliver them on Purim.

HALACHAS (LAWS) OF GIVING GIFTS ON PURIM

1) Mishloach Manot is fulfilled by sending two types of ready-to-eat food to at least one friend. This mitzvah should be performed on Purim day itself.

2) There is a custom to send Mishloach Manot through a third person messenger, since the word "Mishloach" is related to the word for messenger, "Shaliach."

3) Matanot La'evyonim is fulfilled by giving money to at least two poor people on the day of Purim. The gift should at least equal the value of a fast-food meal.

4) This is not a "family" obligation, but rather each person should perform the mitzvah themselves.

5) The money needn't be given directly to a poor person, but can be given to a community representative -- as long as the money is actually distributed to the poor on Purim day.

6) Matanot La'evyonim is a special mitzvah, not to be included in the amount of money a person sets aside for charity during the rest of the year.

7) Maimonides writes that it is inappropriate to buy expensive Mishloach Manot, if this will come at the expense of larger gifts to the poor.

 

 



SHALOM FROM SPIKE & JAMIE

 


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