Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Purim Mitzvot

Purim is coming!

Close your eyes and listen carefully: can you hear the peals of children’s laughter? Can you smell the hamentaschen? Are you ready to laugh with (at?!) me and the others in the shpiel?  Can you feel the undeniable urge to be silly celebrating the ancient victory of our People over the Evil Haman in the far away land of Shushan?  Adults and Children of all ages are searching for and designing their Purim costumes. 

Purim is a joyous time, and such an easy way to throw yourself deeply into our Jewish traditions.  It engages the whole family, and the mitzvot (commandments) of Purim are easy to fulfill.

Often you will hear, for example, the word mitzvah translated as “a good deed” or “a blessing.” The mitzvot are indeed wonderful to perform and a blessing in our lives, but as Conservative Jews we also believe that they are our sacred duties to perform.  The word mitzvah in Hebrew means a “command.” The Jewish way of life, known as Halakhah, is based on that understanding.    Fulfilling our sacred obligations was never more fun than now.

So let’s review: What are the mitzvot of Purim

They all come from the Book of Esther, more commonly known as the megillah.

…the fourteenth… of Adar every year… the same days on which the Jews enjoyed relief from their foes and the same month which had been transformed for them from one of grief and mourning to one of festive joy.  They were to observe them as days of (a) feasting and (b) merrymaking, and as an occasion for (c) sending gifts to one another and (d) presents to the poor.
- Esther 9:22

Here we have four specific commandments (a-f).

(a)   The Purim Seudah – a Festive Meal.  Commanded to eat!  Wonderful!  Certain simchas are connected to an actual obligation to have a feast (for example, a Bris or a Wedding).  The Purim seudah should be festive and full.  As is proper, we celebrate this on Purim day (not Purim night), Thursday, March 8.
(b)  Merrymaking.  Rabbinic tradition offers Purim as a day for great mirth and frivolity.  One custom allows a bit more alcohol than you might ordinarily take, with care.  Purim, in essence, should be joyful.  Our Gala Fundraiser in the evening, and the Purim Carnival during the day will be wonderful examples.
(c)   Mishloach Manot – (sometimes called “shalah manot” or “shalah manos”)Gifts of Food. We fulfill this obligation by giving at least two different people each two different types of food.  The idea is that they should have plenty for their feast, and we should remember our friends.  Our annual Purim Basket drive allows you to sponsor baskets to your friends, families or teachers by having your name listed on a basket that is given to them at Purim.  It is a wonderful fundraiser, and part of this mitzvah.
(d)  Matanot L’evyonim:  “Gifts to the Poor” is always a mitzvah in Judaism, as our traditional generosity as a people through tzedakkah demonstrates.  But on Purim it is even more commanded to give gifts directly to alleviate poverty of individuals.  Support of Food Banks, Mazon, or direct gifts to the needy are all ways to fulfill this important Purim Mitzvah.
(e)   Reading the Megillah:  The Megillah is to be chanted at services both in the evening and in the morning, and is traditionally read from a kosher parchment similar to a Torah scroll.  The Megillah reading has become the most famous and well observed Mitzvah of Purim.
(f)   And finally, there is Ta’anit Esther: The “fast of Esther” is one of four minor fast days, so called because it does not begin on the evening before (like Yom Kippur does), but lasts only through the daylight hours.  This fast commemorates the loss of life associated with saving the Jews from Haman’s evil plot, and mirrors Queen Esther’s courageous preparation to confront the King to save our people.  This year it will take place on Wednesday, March 7th.

There you go!  Maimonides, in the 11th Century C.E. codified the 613 Mitzvot that are found in our Tanakh (Hebrew Bible).  Those are the 6 that are specific to Purim.  I look forward to sharing their observance with each and every one of you.

Chag Purim Sameach!

Rabbi Robert L. Tobin

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