Adar II 5771
by Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein
With Purim just around the corner, why don’t we take a brief look at some of the halachos of this time of the year.
Taanis Esther – Thursday, March 17 – This year, Taanis Esther is a few days before Purim. Since Purim is on Sunday, the normal date of Taanis Esther would fall out on Shabbos. Since fasting on Shabbos is not an option, we move the fast to a different day. Usually when a fast falls out on Shabbos (with the exception of Yom Kippur), we push the fast off to Sunday, because we do not like to make the remembering of tragedies earlier. However, Taanis Esther is not a commemoration of a sad event. It is a day of fasting and tefillah set up as a commemoration of Esther’s and Klal Yisroel’s tefillos that were answered by Hashem. But why do we make Taanis Esther on Thursday, and not just one day earlier on Erev Shabbos? The Tur explains that the tefillos on Taanis Esther are so powerful and important that if Chazal would have allowed people to fast and daven on Erev Shabbos, they would be so involved in their tefillos that they would forget to prepare for Shabbos. This gives us a little bit of an indication of how important tefillah is on Taanis Esther.
The halachos of Taanis Esther are the same as any of the “regular” fast days. Eating and drinking are not allowed. Some poskim permit one to brush teeth, rinse out her mouth or use mouthwash, provided she tries not to swallow anything. Pregnant or nursing women do not need to fast. If someone is fasting and is not feeling well, she should ask a shailoh, as it is very possible that she would be able to break their fast.
Shabbos Parshas Zachor – There is a mitzvah in the Torah to remember what Amaleik did to us in the Midbar (and a lo sa’aseh to not forget it). We are mikayeim this mitzvah once a year by leaining the end of Parshas Ki Teitzei as the maftir on the Shabbos before Purim. The custom is for women to attend the reading of Parshas Zachor as well, if at all possible.
Motzei Shabbos – Purim Night – In chutz la’aretz, Purim begins when Shabbos ends. One must be careful not to do anything to prepare for Purim while it is still Shabbos. If one would like to bring a book of the Megillah to shul on Shabbos for use after Shabbos, it is preferable that she learn or read from the Megillah while it is still Shabbos. Obviously, any noise makers would not be permissible to handle before Shabbos is over.
Al HaNisim – One must make sure to remember to add “Al HaNisim” in Shmoneh Esrei, beginning with Maariv. If one forgot to say it, they made add it in at the end of Shmoneh Esrei in “Elokai Nitzor,” right before “Yihyu liratzon imrei fi…” if one already took her three steps back, Shmoneh Esrei should not be repeated.
The Reading of the Megillah – There is a mitzvah on every Jew, men and women alike, to “read” the Megillah two times on Purim – once at night, and once during the day. We fulfill this mitzvah through “shomeah k’oneh” – listening to someone else read it. therefore, when listening to the Megillah, one must have in mind to fulfill this mitzvah through the leining of the baal koreh and must also follow along with the reading very carefully. It is best if one follows along inside a Chumash or Megillah to make sure that every word is heard. If a person looses focus in the middle, if she tuned out to the extent that if someone would ask her what the last word just said was, she would not be able to answer, then she is not yotzei the mitzvah. Likewise, one may not speak at all during the Megillah leining. If one missed a part of the Megillah, by either spacing out or speaking, she should read inside audibly but quietly and catch up to the baal koreh. The Rema writes that on the night of Purim, there is an “inyan” to add a little something to one’s meal in honor of Purim. One may not fulfill any of the other Purim-related mitzvos at night.
Purim Day – Purim is an extraordinarily powerful day for tefillah. Rav Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin mentions that just as we have a law on Purim, “kol haposhet yad, nosnim lo, anyone who holds a hand open to you, give to him” [see below], so too Hashem fulfills this mitzvah and all tefillos on Purim are answered, in some way or another. Among all the other mitzvos and activities of the day, it is critical that a person makes time for davening properly. In the morning, everyone is required to hear the Megillah for a second time. [When listening and answering amen to the bracha of “Shehechiyanu” the the baal koreh says before starting the Megillah, one should have in mind that the bracha is for all the unique mitzvos of Purim.]
Mishloach Manos – Every adult male and female is required to give two “manos” to one person. This is to add a sense of friendship and goodwill on Purim, to show our unity. One must give another person two types of food or drink. Contrary to popular belief, there is no need at all for the two foods to be two different brachos. They just need to be recognizable as different items. [So, for example, an apple and an orange, or a chocolate bar and a soda would be fine. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l even discusses whether two pieces of chicken, one dark meat and one white meat, would work. It is important that you give something that is actually yours. If you take food from your parents’ home, it is important to make sure you actually acquire it and make it yours before giving it to someone else. Many poskim maintain that the same is true for a married woman. It is preferable for her to actually acquire the foods from her husband before giving them to someone else. Others are lenient in this regard, when it comes to a married woman.
Matanos L’Evyonim – There are two aspects of giving tzedakah on Purim. One is that every man and woman is required to give charity to at least two needy people. The poskim say that the minimum amount for each is around $5. One may not use maser money for Matanos L’Evyonim. That is as far as the mitzvah of Matanos L’Evyonim goes. But there is an additional aspect to Purim that, as mentioned above, “kol haposhet yad, nosnim lo,” anyone who asks for charity on this day, we are supposed to give something. Purim is therefore a day that is miyuchad for giving tzedakah, and one should give what they can on this day. The Rambam writes that one should be careful to spend more money on Matanos L’Evyonim than on Mishloach Manos.
Purim Seudah – There is a mitzvah for every man and woman to have a proper seudah on Purim day. This means that someone must wash on bread and have meat. The seudah is a festive meal, enjoyed with family, in celebration of the salvation of Hashem, bayamim haheim baz’man hazeh!