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My Favorite Purim Mitzvah

Friday, 11 March, 2022 - 1:38 pm

Our sages taught: “The attitudes of your heart are influenced by your behaviors.”

Actions done ritualistically - even if done mindlessly - can change you. Similar to  exercise: even if you hate going to the gym, doing so ritualistically will certainly impact your health. The same is with Mitzvot. Giving charity every day will make you more compassionate; honoring your parents will make you more appreciative to anyone that does good for you and keeping Shabbat will help integrate faith in G-d into your everyday life.

Which brings me to Purim and my favorite Purim mitzvah. On Purim we celebrate the victory of the Jews over their worst enemy Haman - the man who came closest to annihilating the Jews. The festival is mostly known for masquerading, Hamantaschen and lively parties, but nothing in Judaism is random and there are four specific mitzvot we need to observe on Purim day. The purposes of three of them are quite familiar and self explanatory.

(1) Reading the Megillah once at night and once during the day of Purim is a familiar way for Jews to recall the tremendous miracles of the time. Reading the Book of Esther as it appears in a kosher scroll is crucial to connecting us to the story in a powerfully divine way.

(2) Feasting and dining is quite familiar to Jewish celebration as we do so every Shabbat and festival, and it makes sense for our rescue from genocide to be marked with unbridled celebration.

(3) We are obligated to give charity to at least two poor people on Purim. This follows a familiar pattern of Jewish observance which places a premium on Tzedakah, and ensuring that the poor have the means to celebrate the holidays is an essential obligation each festival.

The purpose of this final mitzvah needs clarification. (4) Mishloach Manot - sending gifts of food to a friend. Not an obligation to seek out a starving homeless person and give them a sandwich. Rather an obligation to share at least two ready-to-eat foods with a fellow Jew during the day of Purim. Why is that even considered a Mitzvah - an essential obligation of every Jewish man, woman and child on Purim?

When Haman schemed to kill all the Jews described the Jews to the king as “a single nation scattered and dispersed among the nations.” Not only did their expulsion from Israel geographically separate them from each other, they were internally divided as well. Marking them for extinction would not be a liability for the kingdom since no one cared about them and they don’t care about each other as well.

Haman was wrong. In response to his decree Jews around the world rallied together in their commitment to Judaism and subsequently vanquished their enemies. Mordechai and Esther enshrined this show of unity in the Purim festival observance by obligating us to share food with fellow Jews on Purim to nurture fellowship and camaraderie. The act itself - even mindlessly - does the trick.

Purim begins on Wednesday evening, March 16 and continues through Thursday at sundown. I encourage you to participate in the Megillah readings, the feasting and charitable giving, but please remember to give two ready-to-eat foods to a fellow Jew on Thursday, March 17, because this is the surest way to ensure that our unity that saved us from Haman continues forever.


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