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Of the forty-eight men and seven women who prophesied in Israel, none added to or detracted from any of the Miswoth in the Torah. The sole exception was the Miswah of reading the Meghillah. The story of how our Holy Torah and the good therein triumphed over the forces of evil is recounted in the reading of the Meghillah, on Purim.
When the wicked Haman – the seed of Amaleq (may his name and memory be erased), sought to annihilate the Jewish people, the Jews realized that they had only one weapon, but it was a formidable one – their Torah.
Through his egotistical pride and hatred for Mordekhai the Jew, Haman gave the order in the name of King Ahashuerosh to destroy every Jew, both young and old and women and children. Throughout one hundred and twenty seven provinces from India to Ethiopia the order was received to exterminate them, on one day, on the thirteenth of Adar.
The Jewish People prayed and fasted for three days and nights in order to rectify the three types of wrongs they may have committed, by their actions, speech and thought. And in the end their prayers were answered. The evil are elevated to eminence to show how great their fall and this was the case with the wicked Haman. From being the most powerful man in the kingdom, second only to the king himself, he was hung in total disgrace – as were all his sons – on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordekhai the Jew.
The Sabbath before Purim is known as Shabbath Zakhor (Shabbath ‘Remember’) as the portion “Remember what ‘Amaleq did unto you” is read. It is important for all to hear this. It is customary, on this Shabbath as well as on Purim itself, to sing Shbahoth (songs of praise) such as “Simeni Rosh ‘Al Kol Oybai” (Place me above all my enemies).
The day before Purim is called the Fast of Esther, as we fast in memory of the three-day fast of our forefathers. The fast is broken after the Meghillah reading. When the Meghilla is read on Mosi Shabbath (Saturday night after Shabbath) and Sunday morning, the fast is held on the preceeding Thursday.
Reading the Meghillah
Both men and women are obligated to hear the Meghillah reading. One who does not have a Kasher Meghillah must hear every word read by the Hazzan. Prior to the reading, the Hazzan unfolds his Meghillah like a letter, but the congregation read theirs like one would read a Sefer Torah. This is the most common custom among Sepharadim.
The Minhagh is to stand for the Berakhoth of the Meghillah reading at night. The blessing of Sheheheyanu is recited at night but not in the morning. When reading only for women (as is commonly done when the women cannot attend the main public reading) the Meghillah is read without reciting a Berakha (blessing). In Ashkenazi communities, the Berakha of Lishmowa’ Meghilla is substituted.
It is the custom in Ashkenazi communities for the children to dress up in special costumes. In Sepharadi communities, however, this custom was either never adopted or forgotten entirely. Each community should maintain their customs in this matter.
Stamping on Haman’s name
The general noise-making at every mention of Haman’s name throughout the reading poses problems in many synagogues, as we are obligated to hear every word of the reading. It is appropriate, therefore, to limit this to banging one’s foot at the first and last mention of Haman’s name and the names of his sons.
On Purim, everyone is obligated to give two gifts to at least two poor people. This should not be confused with the giving of the Mahasith Hasheqel (half Sheqel) prior to Purim.
During the day both men and women must send Mishlowah Manoth – two types of food to one adult friend. Men should send to men and women to women. There is no need to send to all ones acquaintances. A mourner who is in his twelve months of mourning should only send to one person and others should not send to him.
Sepharadim traditionally send delicacies such as Baqlawa, Sambusak and Halwah. It is the tradition among Ashkenazim to eat “‘Oznai Haman” (lit. Haman’s ears – [Hamantaschen in Yiddish]) on Purim.
It is a Miswah to have a festive meal at which one eats and drinks well. It must be eaten during the day. If it is eaten at night, one has not fulfilled one’s obligations.
Sepharadim should eat this meal earlier than do Ashkenazim and must finish before sunset. According to several opinions, including the Rashash, the Shelah and the Hasidei Beth E-l,’a”h, the most appropriate time for the Se’uddah is in the morning after Shaharith. If a Sepharadi is eating in a home where the meal ends when it is no longer still day, he may not include the portion of ‘Al Hannisseem in the Birkath Hammazon.
It is good to eat foods containing Qitniyoth (pulses) on Purim in memory of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and ‘Azariah who, for reasons of Kashruth, ate only these in the palace of Babylon. And in memory too of Queen Esther who did the same.
When Purim falls on ‘Ereb Shabbath, those who eat the meal later in other years must ensure that the meal is finished sufficiently early to enable the Shabbath meal to be eaten with a good appetite and ensure the reading of Qabbalath Shabbath at the correct time with a minyan. There are those who start the meal close to Shabbath, pause just before the time for Qiddush, spread a tablecloth over the table, recite the Qiddush and continue the meal. This does, however, create certain problems with praying in a Minyan. The custom in the Midrash is to eat the meal early at all times.
According to the Qabbalists, however, the meal should be eaten in the morning, irrespective of what day Purim falls on.
In Yerushalayim, Purim is observed on Shushan Purim (15th of Adar). When Purim falls on Friday, Purim Meshullash (a triple Purim) is observed. On Thursday night and Friday morning (14th of Adar) the Meghilla is read as in all other places. Mattanoth LaEbyonim (gifts to the poor) are given on Friday. On Shabbath, ‘Al Hannissim is recited in the prayers. There are different customs concerning ‘Al Hannissim in Birkath Hammazon (Grace after meals) and one’s Rabbi should be consulted. Wayyabo ‘Amaleq is read on Shabbath. On Sunday, the Se’uddah is eaten and Mishlowah Manoth are distributed. Anna (the supplication prayer) is not recited during any of the three days.
The miracle of Purim is the last miracle to be mentioned in the Arba’ WeEsreem – 24 books of the Torah, Nebee-eem (prophets) & Kethubbeem (chronicles). And it is appropriate on this day, to refrain from work and to dress up in one’s Shabbath clothes.
“Like those days whereon the Jews had rest from their enemies and the month was changed unto them from sorrow to joy and from mourning into a feast day; to make them days of entertainment and joy and sending portions one to the other and gifts for the needy”. (Esther ch.9, v.22).
Taken from the writings of Hakham Ya’aqob Menashe.
Why is there more rejoicing on Purim than any other holiday? Read here.
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Click here for some mouth watering Purim recipes.
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