What is Purim?
Purim is observed on the 14th of Adar, and is the wildest, most action-packed day of the Jewish year. 2400 years ago, Haman, the Persian prime-minister, persuaded King Ahasuerus to issue a decree ordering the extermination of all the Jews. Mordechai, the leader of the Jews, rallied his people, urging them to unite in prayer and repentance. Meanwhile, his cousin Esther (Hadassah), who due to a miraculous chain of events was Ahasuerus’ queen, lobbied the king to spare her people. Ahasuerus acceded to her request, Haman was sent to the gallows, Mordechai became new prime-minister, the Jews successfully defended themselves against their enemies, and… we celebrate!
How do you Celebrate Purim?
Though it is the custom to dress up in costumes, Purim doesn’t feature holiday work restrictions. Nevertheless it is best, if one can, to take the day off from work and focus on the holiday and its mitzvot. The megillah know as in English as “The Book of Esther,” is the scroll that tells the Purim story, and is read completely each morning and evening.
When Haman’s name is mentioned in the reading, children twirl groggers and adults stamp their feet to eradicate his evil name. When Mordechai or Esther’s name is read, it is acceptable to cheer. Tell children that Purim is the only time when it’s a mitzvah to make noise! One of Purim’s primary themes is Jewish unity. Haman tried to kill us all; all were in danger together, so we celebrate together, too. Therefore, on Purim special emphasis is placed on caring for the less fortunate.
Give money or food, “matanot la’evyonim,” to at least two needy people during the daylight hours of Purim. In case one can’t find any needy people, a synagogue will likely be collecting money for this purpose. At least, place two coins in a charity box earmarked for the poor.
On Purim it is the custom to emphasize the importance of friendship and community by sending gifts of food, mishloach manot, to friends. It is preferable that the gifts are delivered via a third party. Children, in addition to sending their own gifts of food to their friends, make enthusiastic messengers.
Last but certainly not least, during the course of Purim day, gather your family, maybe invite a guest or two, and celebrate with a festive Purim meal. Traditionally, this meal begins before sundown and lasts well into the evening.
The table should be festively set with a nice tablecloth and candles and good china. There is bread or challah, and a meal featuring meat, wine, and plenty of Jewish songs, words of Torah, and joyous Purim spirit. Sing, laugh, have fun together.
When Purim falls on a Friday, out of respect for the approaching Shabbat, start the meal earlier, ideally before midday.
On Purim, it is customary to include the brief V’al Hanissim section in all the day’s prayers, as well as in the day’s Grace after Meals. This prayer describes the Purim story and thanks G-d for the “miracles, redemptions, mighty deeds, saving acts and wonders” that He wrought for our ancestors on this day many years ago.
In the morning service there is a special Torah reading (Exodus 17:8-16), describing the battle Joshua waged against Amalek – Haman’s ancestral nation – almost one thousand years before the Purim events unfolded.
On Purim, children, and some fun loving adults, traditionally dress in positive, cheerful costumes, most often masquerading as Mordechai or Esther—an allusion to G-d’s hand in the Purim miracle, which was disguised by natural events.