What Mitzvot would Esther ask us to keep? On Ritualizing Purim
The following verses in the Megilla (Book of Esther) record how the festival was celebrated in Esther's time and in succeeding generations. List the rituals that you learn from these verses and detail how they would be observed.
Mordecai recorded these events. And he sent dispatches to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Ahasueras , near and far, charging them to observe the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar In the provinces of Persia the fighting ceased on the thirteenth of Adar and the Jews celebrated on the fourteenth. In the walled city of Shushan, where the action takes place, the fighting continued through the fourteenth and the Jews celebrated on the fifteenth of Adar. Today, Jews in the diaspora and unwalled cities in Israel celebrate Purim on the fourteenth while in Jerusalem, a walled city, they celebrate Purim on the fifteenth of Adar1, 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 feasting and merrymaking, and as an occasion for sending a package of gifts from one friend to another, and gifts to poor people. The Jews accordingly assumed as an obligation that which they had begun to practice and which Mordecai prescribed for them. (Esther 9:20-23)
... the Jews undertook and irrevocably obligated themselves and their descendants, and all who might join them, to observe these two days in the manner prescribed and at the proper time each year. Consequently, these days are recalled and observed in every generation: By every family, every province, and every city. And these days of Purim shall never cease among the Jews, and the memory of them shall never perish among their descendants. (Esther 9:27-28)
How to observe Purim according to the rabbis of the Talmud:
1. Feasting and Merrymaking Talmud Megilla 7a
Rava said: "A person is obliged to get spiced [spiced wine, vermouth] on Purim until he can no longer tell the difference between 'Cursed be Haman' and 'Blessed be Mordecai.'"
Raba and Rebbe Zera were having their Purim feast together and they became intoxicated. Raba rose and ritually slaughtered Rebbe Zera. The next day he prayed for mercy and Rebbe Zera was revived. The next year Raba invited Rebbe Zera for another Purim feast. Rebbe Zera said: "One cannot rely on miracles every year."
Rava also said: "A Purim feast that was celebrated at night does not fulfill one's obligation."
What's the reason? It is written, "Days of feasting and merrymaking." (Esther 9:22)
Your Talmud Navigator
After Rava states that one is obliged to get drunk on Purim, does the story of Raba and Rebbe Zera support this view or contradict it? Give reasons. (Note: Raba and Rava were two different rabbis.)
2. Gifts to Poor People and a Package of Portions to a Friend
Rabbi Yosef taught: How does one fulfill the obligation of "sending a package of gifts from one friend to another"? One must send two different portions to at least one friend. And "gifts to poor people"? One must give two gifts to two people.
Your Navigator Again
Looking closely at the passage from the Megilla on the previous page, what textual clue can you find for why Rav Yosef requires "two different portions" for sending gifts to a friend and "two people" to be recipients of gifts to the poor?
Why do you think that we are commanded to give gifts both to a friend and to the poor? What is the difference between the two acts?
3. Reading The Megilla
Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levy said: One is obliged to read the megilla at night and repeat it during the day.
These are six major themes being addressed by the Megilla:
1. Partying and excessive drinking
2. Gifts to friends
3. Exploitation of and salvation by women
4. Gifts to the poor
5. Remembering the event
6. Hiding and passing as someone you're not (masks, costumes, cross dressing etc…)
What programs prior to and during Purim could you create involving one or more of these themes?
How would you build the program from some of the texts that you have studied above?
How would you present what you have learned to the participants in the program?
What media would you use to seamlessly integrate the Jewish content with the actual activity?
1In the provinces of Persia the fighting ceased on the thirteenth of Adar and the Jews celebrated on the fourteenth. In the walled city of Shushan, where the action takes place, the fighting continued through the fourteenth and the Jews celebrated on the fifteenth of Adar. Today, Jews in the diaspora and unwalled cities in Israel celebrate Purim on the fourteenth while in Jerusalem, a walled city, they celebrate Purim on the fifteenth of Adar.