By: Rabbi Mordechai Mishanieh
1. When do we read Parashat Zachor?
On the Shabbat before Purim, we read the section of Parashat Zachor (the final verses of Parashat Ki Tesse), to fulfill our obligation to remember Amalek’s hostilities against us. Purim celebrates our victory over Haman, a descendant of Amalek, and we therefore precede the eradication of Amalek with the reading of Zachor.
The reading of Parashat Zachor constitutes a Torah obligation, and one should therefore make every effort to hear the reading from a kosher Sefer Torah. One should have in mind to fulfill his obligation with respect to both the reading and the berachot recited by the oleh. One should also understand the meaning of the text, which describes Amalek’s assault and thereby arouses our contempt for the Amalekite nation.
The halachic authorities debate the question of whether women are obligated to hear Parashat Zachor. The Yalkut Yosef writes that women should make an effort to hear the reading, but those who cannot have upon whom to rely.
2. When do we give mahassit hashekel?
The custom in our community is to give the value of ten grams (one-third of an ounce) of silver to charity before minha on Erev Purim in commemoration of the mahassit hashekel (half-shekel tax) that was given during the time of the Bet Hamikdash. If possible, one should give three half-dollars that have the silver of the above amount. The Yalkut Yosef writes that one must begin observing this custom from age 20. According to all opinions, one who has already given mahassit hashekel for a child in previous years, should continue to do so before each Purim, until the child is able to give on his own.
3. How does one fulfill the missva of se’udat Purim – the Purim feast?
The se’uda must take place on Purim day. One may continue his se’uda into the night, but the majority of the meal should be eaten during the daytime. The custom of the Arizal, as recorded in the Kaf Hahaim, was to eat the seuda before midday.
The meal should consist of bread and meat. There is also a missva to drink more wine at the se’uda than one is normally accustomed to drinking.
4. How much charity must one give for matanot la’evyonim?
While some poskim allow fulfilling the obligation of matanot la’evyonim by giving just a perutah (the smallest coin), the accepted custom requires giving the amount of three kabessim, the amount of money needed to buy a meal, which is $3-$5to each of the two poor people. It must be given on the day of Purim, and, according to the Kabbalah, it should be given after the Megillah reading.
To ensure that the money actually goes to a poor person, it is the custom among many in our community to entrust the matanot la’evyonim to appointed rabbis that will distribute the money on Purim. Most congregation rabbis in Brooklyn and Deal offer this arrangement.
One cannot use his ma’aser (charity tithe) for matanot la’evyonim, but money given beyond the minimum requirement may count toward one’s ma’aser.
The Rambam writes that it is preferable to increase one’s matanot la’evyonim donations than to send extra mishlo’ah manot or have a lavish se’uda, since there is no greater joy than bringing happiness to the poor.
5. How does one fulfill the missva of mishlo’ah manot?
One is required to give two different types of foods, even of the same blessing – preferably an amount that constitutes a meal – to one person on Purim day. One does not fulfill the missva by sending to a child. Some poskim maintain that one must send food that a person of his social stature would serve on his own table. The foods should be cooked and ready to be served. The Kaf Hahaim records a custom to send sweets and candy. The Ben Ish Hai writes that one should send each one of the two foods on a separate tray. If one does this, be careful to give them both together. Although it is preferable to send the mishlo’ah manot with a messenger, as implied by the term “mishlo’ah,” the Kaf Hahaim and Yalkut Yosef write that one fulfills his obligation by bringing the food personally. One does not fulfill his obligation with clothing or other such gifts.
6. How does one fulfill the obligation to hear the Megillah?
One is obligated to read or hear Megillat Esther twice on Purim – once at night and once by day. The nighttime reading can be read from set hakochavim (nightfall) until alot hashahar (dawn), though the Kaf Hahaim writes that one should preferably read it before hassot (midnight as defined by halacha). The daytime reading may take place anytime from sunrise until sunset. If one did not read it before sunset, he may still read it, without a beracha, unless it is already past set hakochavim .
One should preferably refrain from eating before the Megillah reading, both at night and during the day. A light snack of fruit or vegetables is permitted if necessary.
One must hear every word read from a kosher Megillah by someone who is obligated in the missva. If one misses a word, he can make it up by reading it from a printed copy, as long as he hears the majority of words from a kosher Megillah. It is therefore highly recommended to follow along the reading with a copy of the Megillah .
It is preferable to read the Megillah in the presence of a minyan.
As for reciting the blessing after reading the Megillah beyahid there is a difference of opinions if one should recite it. In place of doubt, we refrain. So no blessing is recited after the Megillah. So too regarding all blessings when reading for women. No blessings are recited.
7. What customs are associated with Purim?
It is customary to dress up on Purim. One who does not dress up should wear Shabbat clothing.
It is customary for the congregation to recite aloud the following five verses during the Megillah reading, and for the hazan to then repeat them: “Ish Yehudi haya be’Shushan habira….”;“ balayla hahu nadeda shenat hamelech…”;“Umordechai yassa bilvush malchut….”;“Layehudim hayeta ora vesimha…”;,and the final verse of “Ki Mordechai hayehudi…..”
The Ben Ish Hai records a custom to place one’s hand on his tefillin and then kiss it when the word “vikar” is read in the verse, “Layehudim hayeta ora vesimha, vesasson, vikar” during the daytime reading.
It is also customary to stamp one’s feet upon hearing Haman’s name read. One must, however, ensure not to cause himself or others to miss any part of the reading.
8. Are women obligated in the missvot of Purim?
Women are obligated in all the missvot of Purim. They should give mishlo’ah manot by giving to other women, and men should give to men.
9. What special prayers are recited on Purim?
“Al hanissim” and “Biyme Mordechai Ve’esther” are added to the Amida and Birkat Hamazon on Purim. One who forgot to recite these texts does not repeat the Amida or Birkat Hamazon.
Tahanun is not recited on Purim.
10. Is working permitted on Purim?
One should preferably not work on Purim day. The Ben Ish Hai writes that women should not do laundry and men should not shave on Purim.
Reviewed by Rabbi Shmuel Choueka of Congregation Ohel Simha in Long Branch, NJ.