PURIM FAQ – Rabbi Hayim Asher Arking and Rabbi Ezra Ghodsi

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Reading the Megillah 

The Megillah embodies “pirsum hanes” publicizing the miracle of Purim, and Hallel, praise and song in honor of the holiday of Purim. Women, as well as men, are obligated to hear the Megillah, as women were also under the threat of annihilation. Furthermore, a woman, Queen Esther, played a significant role in the miracle. Children should also hear the Megillah (as long as they behave appropriately). Publicizing the miracle of Purim makes it preferable to hear the Megillah in a synagogue setting among a large crowd. Therefore, one should endeavor to go to shul and hear the Megillah there.

May I eat before hearing the Megillah? 

As with other misvot, one may not eat a k’beitsah of bread or mezonot before hearing the Megillah. According to many opinions, eating before the night reading is more stringent, and one may not eat or drink anything until they hear the Megillah unless it is very difficult for them to continue fasting from Taanit Esther. 

Do I need my own Megillah? 

To fulfill the misvah of Megillah, one must read or hear from the hazan every word.  Having a kosher Megillah is commendable, as this enables one to read along with the hazan, and not miss any words. If one does not have a kosher Megillah, he should follow along with the hazan. Alternatively, he can follow along with the hazan by reading from Humash or any other text, such as a sefer with the five megillot or an individual Megillat Esther. This reading along will enhance one’s focus and enable him to catch up on missed words if need be. If one “tuned out” and missed a few words, he can make them up by quickly reading from the text, catching up to the hazzan. If you know which words the hazzan just read, then you have fulfilled your obligation even if your mind wandered a bit. 

Concerning a Megillah, if one is touching the parchment without a kerchief he is required to wash his hands before doing so. If one has already washed his hands before prayers, his hands are considered ritually clean and he need not wash them again.  

I was late to the Megillah reading. Can I just listen from where they are up to and hear what I missed afterwards? 

The Megillah has to be read in order. Therefore, if one is only a few minutes late, he may catch up by reading from a Humash, provided that a) he starts from the beginning and catches up to the hazan, and b) more than half of the Megillah is heard from the hazan or read from a kosher Megillah. The berachot should be recited before he starts to read. 

I am unable to make it to synagogue, may I listen via Zoom? 

To fulfill one’s obligation one must hear the Megillah being read in person. If one is unable to make it to synagogue, he may read at home from a kosher Megillah. If he doesn’t know how to read correctly, he can simultaneously listen to a reading on Zoom, or even a pre-recording, as he is reading from his own kosher Megillah, to ensure he is saying the words properly. When reading the Megillah without a minyan only the berachot before the reading are recited. The beracha after the reading is only recited with a minyan. 

 

Mishloach Manot 

Mishloach manot, sending gifts, is one of the more exciting misvot of the day. Haman’s decree, to wipe out the Jews, was sold to Achashverosh on the basis that the Jews were not united. Therefore, to show our harmony, we renew and enhance friendships by sending each other gifts of love on the day of Purim. 

Who must give? 

Both men and women are obligated to give mishloach manot. A husband and wife should each perform the mitzvah as individuals, a man giving to a man, and a woman to a woman. Younger children who have reached the age of hinuch should also give.  According to some opinions, it is preferable to give at least one mishloach manot through an agent. 

When should I give? 

The obligation to give mishloach manot can only be fulfilled during the daytime. If you ordered a package before Purim to be delivered to a friend (for example by Amazon), the obligation would be fulfilled only if it arrives on Purim day.  

What should I give? 

Preferably one should give something respectable that befits the stature and honor of both the person giving the gift and the recipient. One should give at least one of their mishloach manot in a way that meets this requirement. 

To fulfill one’s obligation, one must give two different foods. Preferably one should give food that is ready to eat. Drinks are also counted as an item. However, a plain water bottle or seltzer is not counted. Teabags or even fresh ground coffee are not ready-to-eat foods. However, the giving of a hot or iced coffee, tea, or another flavored beverage does fulfill the misvah of mishloach manot. 

How many should I give? 

One fulfills his obligation by giving mishloach manot to one person. However, the more one gives the better, as you are creating or strengthening more friendships. If one has a choice between giving funds to additional needy individuals or giving a larger number of mishloach manot, it is better to give tzedakah to more destitute individuals. There is no greater happiness than making the hearts of poor people, widows, and orphans happy!

Matanot La’evyonim ― Gifts to the Destitute 

How much do I give? 

The misvah is to give tzedakah to at least two poor people. Preferably, one should give enough to buy a meal, which is approximately $10-$20. 

Who gives? 

Both men and women alike must give matanot la’evyonim. Even a beggar who receives charity must also give. A husband may give on behalf of his wife, however, each one gives to two poor people. 

To whom should I give the money? 

One fulfills the obligation of matanot la’evyonim by giving funds to those in need who struggle to pay for their basic needs. This can be done by giving the appropriate amount to trusted people or to organizations collecting on behalf of the poor that will distribute them specifically on Purim day before sundown. 

Can I send the money before Purim? 

You may send the money ahead of time, provided that the poor person receives the money on the actual day of Purim.

Purim Meal 

There are many parties throughout the story of the Megillah. In the end, they are the cause of the miraculous turnaround in the fortunes of the Jewish people. We, therefore, commemorate the miraculous repeal of the decree of genocide through a party. 

What time are we eating? 

The Purim meal or seudah must be eaten during the day of Purim. The prevalent custom is to eat most of the meal in the afternoon before sunset. One should eat bread and meat at the Purim seudah, and ideally, the seudah should be celebrated with family and friends. 

Should I get drunk? 

During the meal, one should drink more alcohol than he usually drinks. The objective is to cause us to praise Hashem both for the miracle of salvation, and for all the blessings that He bestows upon us. If drinking alcohol does not achieve this objective, one should limit drinking. It is preferable to perform the misvah by drinking wine, as opposed to other alcoholic beverages, as many parties and miracles in the Megillah revolved around meals with wine. 

May I pray Arbit when drunk? 

If one has had too much to drink, he should wait until the effect of the alcohol wears off before praying. If one prayed while under the influence of alcohol, but at that time would have been able to speak in front of a king coherently and without slurring, then he does not repeat the tefillah. If at the time of praying, one is so intoxicated that he is incapable of fluent speech, then he is obligated to repeat the prayer once he is sober.  If one misses the time for prayer as a result of being drunk, one should pray the next tefillah twice.

May I go to work on Purim? 

It is preferable not to work on Purim, and one who refrains from going to work will merit blessing. Purim is a meritorious day for strengthening the bonds of friendship, praying, Torah study, and giving tzedakah. 

On Purim, the law is that “whoever extends his hand for charity, we should give and provide.” That is to say, throughout the year we should check the credentials of someone asking for charity. However, on Purim, which is a designated day of giving, we should give to all needy individuals who stretch out their hands without asking for evidence of their need. Regarding prayers, we are again told, “whoever stretches out his hand to Hashem, He will provide.” There are many remarkable stories of salvation for those who prayed sincerely on Purim. Let us use this special day to give and to pray, and may all our tefillot be answered speedily. Amen.

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