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The Purim Feast

Of all the mitzvos of the day of Purim, the mitzvah that perhaps occupies us the most is the mitzvah of se’udaspurim, the Purim feast. This is not to say that this is necessarily the most important mitzvah of the day.However, experience shows that it usually takes up the most attention.

It should be noted that the mitzvah of mishloachmanos is also considered part of the mitzvah of the Purim feast: Even when the Megillah is read on a different day from the feast (in a purimmeshulash year in Jerusalem), the mitzvah of mishloachmanos is always fulfilled on the same day as the se’udah.

In this article we will discuss the Purim feast: When during the day of Purim should the meal be held? Is there an obligation to eat meat during the meal, and should it begin with bread? How does the mitzvah of the feast integrate with the day’s general obligation of joy?

We will address these questions through studying the fundamental aspects of this central Purim mitzvah.

The Purim Feast at Night

The primary source for the mitzvah of eating the Purim feast is the Gemarain Megillah (7b), where Rava states: “One who eats the Purim feast at night does not fulfill his obligation.” The wording of the verse, which reads “days of feasting and joy,” implies that the feast must be held specifically in the day, and not at night.

Because the Purim feast cannot be held at night, the MagenAvraham (695:6) writes, citing the Kol Bo, that some have the custom to refrain from eating meat on Purim night, lest the night meal be mistaken for the Purim feast. This is cited by the BeisYosef in the name of Rabbeinu Asher.

However, the Darkei Moshe writes that the custom is not to be concerned about this ruling. Furthermore, the Ra’aviah (cited in the MorderchaiMegillah 787) writes that just as there is an obligation to read the Megillah at night, though the principal obligation is to read it during the day, so one must eat a meal at night, though the principal meal is eaten during the day.

The Mordechai himself disputes this assertion, yet the Bach (695) defends the position of the Ra’aviah, explaining that although the main feast must be during the day, one must nonetheless engage in some degree of feasting even at night.

The Rema (695:1) rules similarly, and the Mishnah Berurah (3) writes that one should eat something extra (at night) in honor of the time. This is likewise ruled by other poskim (see Kaf Ha-Chaim 4; Toras Ha-Moadim 11:6).

In this spirit, the EliyahuRabbah (695:5) writes (citing the Sefer Ha-Yom) that even on Purim night a person should “find in his home candles lit, the table laid, and the bed made, and he should eat and drink with great joy and a glad heart, and gladden the members of his household, and distance from them every rift and anguish.”

The Joy of Purim and the Joy of Yom Tov

The obligation to be joyful (to some degree) even on the night of Purim, raises the question of the general obligation of joy on Purim.

RavBetzalelZolti (MishnasYaavatzOrachChaim 79) writes that there is a fundamental distinction between the obligation of joy on Purim and the obligation of joy on Yom Tov.

On Yom Tov, the joy relates to the essential nature of the day. As the Rambam (Yom Tov 6:17-18) writes, “Yom Tov obligates us to be in a state of joy, and each must experience this joy as befitting to him: men with meat and wine, women with fine clothing, and so on.”

On Purim, however, the mitzvah of is not inherent to the day.Rather, the Sages enacted that we should perform a particular act of joy in holding the Purim feast, as the Rambam writes (Megillah 2:15): “There is an obligation to eat meat and to hold a fine meal… and drink wine until he becomes drunk.”

The MishnasYaavatz proves his point from the verses of the Megillahitself. Initially, it says that the Sages of the time enacted “joy, feasting, and festival” (Esther 9:19). Later, however, the verse writes, “They made them into days of feasting and joy” (9:22). The Gemara (Megillah 5b) explains that initially, the Sages thought to institute a festival day, with a full prohibition on forbidden labors. Finally, however, only the “feasting and joy” were enacted, and Purim was not made into a festival day.

However, this explanation does not explain why the order of the words in the verse changes: initially “joy and feasting and festival,” and later “days of feasting and joy.” The MishnasYaavatz explains that this is because initially, when the Sages thought to enact a full festival day, the feasting was a result of the festival joy, and it is therefore written after the joy. Finally, no festival was enacted, and therefore the feasting comes before the joy, because the joy is defined in terms of the feasting.

A Day of Joy

Yet, it appears clear that Purim is in fact an actual day of joy, even aside from the daytime feast.As the Rambam writes (6:14): “Residents of villages and townshave a mitzvah to makethe fourteenth of Adar it into a day of joy and feasting, and  residents of walled cities, have this mitzvah on the fifteenth.” Moreover, the ShulchanAruch (696:7) cites an opinion that permits an onen to eat meat and wine on Purim, “because the personal obligation of mourning cannot defer a public Torah obligation of joy on Purim.”

Clearly, this indicates that there is a true obligation of joy on Purim.

At the same time, there remains a significant difference between the obligation of joy on Purim, where the Sages enacted a specific form of joy (the Purim feast), and the parallel obligation on Yom Tov, which is a general obligation expressedin different ways for different people. Certainly, however, Purim obligates us to be joyful, which the feasting means to express.

The joy of Purim does not spread merely to the night of Purim (as noted above), but even spreads out to include both days of Purim. The verse writes that the Sages enacted “days of feasting and joy,” and one should add an element of extra joy and feasting for both days (Rema 695:2).

Joy with Meat and Wine

The Rema (695:1, citing the Tur) writes, “It is a mitzvah to augment [one’s joy at] the Purim feast.” Thus, the Bach (695) writes that although preparations for the feast might prevent a person from Torah study, a person should not be concerned about this because the mitzvah of the Purim feast defers themitzvah of Torah study.

The implication of poskim is that the joy of Purim requireseating meat specifically. Were this not the case, why should there be a custom (as noted by several poskim) to refrain from eating meat on the night of Purim, lest one think that this was the Purim feast – though it is possible that even a custom (rather than an obligation) of eating meat will be sufficient to justify this.

Moreover, the ShulchanAruch (696:7) rules explicitly that an onen (who is generally restricted from eating meat) is permitted to eat meat on Purim, as noted above. The PeriMegadim (EshelAvraham 15) derives (from the adjacent ruling of the Rema) that that there is a specific obligation to eat meat and wine on Purim.

It is preferable, wherever possible, to eat actual meat on Purim, and some authorities (including the LeketYosher p. 157 –a leading disciple of the TerumasHaDeshen) write that one does not fulfill one’s obligation with fowl. However, those who have difficulty with meat fulfill the mitzvah by eating fowl, which also has an element of joy (Beitzah 10b, and Tosafos;see YechevehDaas 6:33).

The obligation to drink wine is simple, for a feast (mishteh) implies a feast of wine, and Chazal write (Megillah 7b) explicitly that a person is obligated to drink on Purim, as ruled by the ShulchanAruch (695:2; concerning drinking alcoholic drinks other than wine, see Mikra’eiKodesh 44).

Note that the obligation to drink wine is specifically as part of the Purim feast, a point implied by the wording of the ShluchanAruch. The Rambam (Megillah 2:15) writes this explicitly: “What is the manner of this feast? That a person should eat meat and hold a fine meal … and drink wine until he becomes drunk, and fall asleep in his state of inebriation.”

We have discussed in the past the amount a person must drink and the degree of drunkenness that must be reached. According to many authorities, one should be wary of getting “stoned,” yet as is known there are different customs in this matter. Either way, a person must ensure that his drinking will not lead him to treatingmitzvos, such as benching and davening, with less than due respect.

In this spirit, the Mishnah Berurah (BiurHalachah, s.v. addeloyada, in the name of the Chayei Adam) writes: “However, somebody who knows that he will show disrespect for mitzvos, such as washing, benching, or that he won’t daven minchahor maariv, it is better that he should not get drunk, and all of his deeds should be for the sake of Heaven.”

Eating Bread in the Purim Feast

The PeriMegadim (loc. cit.) expresses doubt over whether a person must eat bread as part of his Purim meal.

Poskim dispute this halachah. According to the Maharshal (no. 48, in the name of Rav Yaakov Pollack), there is an obligation to eat bread at the Purim feast, and therefore somebody who forgets to recite al ha-nissim at the Purim feast mustbench once again. He further writes that even if a person has already eaten a meal on the morning of Purim, he must nonetheless repeat benching if he forgets al ha-nissim at the later Purim feast.

The Yaavatz (Mor U-Ketziah 695) likewise rules that a person must eat bread at the Purim feast, and this is likewise the ruling of the Shelah (Laws of Purim).

The MagenAvraham (695:9), however, disputes this opinion, and makes a number of claims. First, benching should not be any more stringent than davening. Thehalachah is that somebody who forgets al ha-nissim in davening does not repeat the prayer. If so, why should somebody who forgets al ha-nissim in benching repeatbirkas ha-mazon?

Furthermore, if a person has already eaten a meal for breakfast, he has already fulfilled his basic obligation of the Purim meal, and should not repeat benching if he forgets al ha-nissim at the later Purim feast.

Finally, and most pertinently, he observes that there is no obligation at all to eat bread at the Purim feast, “for we do not find an obligation to eat bread on Purim, and he can exempt himself with other delicacies.” Several poskim agree with this ruling (see Shevet Ha-Levi 4:54, sec. 2).

The Mishnah Berurah (12) rules that out of doubt, a person should not repeatbenching if al ha-nissim is forgotten. The Aruch Ha-Shulchan (695:7, 12) writes on the one hand that there is amitzvah of eating bread, yet on the other hand that somebody who forgets al ha-nissim does not repeat benching because the law is no more severe than forgetting al ha-nissim in davening.

There is room to add that the Rosh (Berachos Chap. 7, no. 23) writes (in the name of RabbeinuYehudah), “A person is obligated to eat bread on Yom Tov because of joy.” This presents us with a support for the opinion that obligates eating bread as part of the Purim feast.

Mishloach Manos and Eating Together

The Rambam implies that the mitzvah of mishloachmanos is an integral part of themitzvah of the Purim feast. In the context of the Purim feast, the Rambam rules (2:15): “A person is likewise obligated to send two portions of meat or two cooked foods, or two types of food to his friend.”

This likewise emerges from the passage of the Gemara that places together themitzvah of mishloachmanos with the Purim feast, mentioning for instance that Abaye bar Avin and Rabbi Chaninah bar Avin used to exchange Purim meals, thereby fulfilling the mitzvah of mishloachmanos with the Purim feast itself.

The obligation of mishloachmanos as part of the Purim feast teaches us the importance of company for a person’s joy. One should therefore be careful to eat the Purim feast together with others – family or friends – for (good) company induces joy. When a person eats on his own, he cannot reach the same level of joy (Shelah;Mishnah Berurah 695:9).

Timing of the Purim Feast

For ordinary years, it is customary to hold the Purim feast after minchah, and one should be careful that the main part of the meal should be held before sunset (the Mishnah Berurah (9) writes that it is praiseworthy to eat the feast in the morning, but this is not the common custom).

However, when Purim falls on Friday (as it does this year in Jerusalem), many authorities write that one should hold the Purim feast in the morning, before midday (chatzos). This is ruled in the minhagim of Rav Yitzchak IsaavTirna (p. 36): “When Purim falls on Friday, the Purim feast is held in the morning, and not in the afternoon after minchah.” The reasons he gives for this is the honor of Shabbos on the one hand, and the Shabbos meal (being hungry) on the other.

The Rema cites this ruling in the Darkei Moshe (695:4), and likewise in his glosses to the ShulchanAruch (2), and this is also ruled by the Mateh Moshe (Purim 1011). The Mishnah Berurah (249:13) rules similarly with regard to a different se’udas mitzvah on Shabbos eve, stating that “one should preferably bring it forwards to the morning because of the honor of Shabbos, as we find concerning the Purim feast.”

The Aruch Ha-Shulchan (249:7) likewise writes that one should eat the meal beforechatzos, and this is also the ruling given by the Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah(42:27), citingRavShlomoZalmanAuerbach zt”l.

However, somebody who doesn’t manage to eat the se’udah before chatzos can do so even later, as the Aruch Ha-Shulchan rules: “However, if one did not start before, the meal can be started even after the tenth hour, because this is a mitzvah on its day.” A similar ruling is given by the Mishnah Berurah (249:13), citing theBach.

By contrast, some (see BeisYosef 695; YadEfraim citing from Maharil 56:8) write that the Purim feast can be started in the afternoon, and continued until Shabbos enters. At this stage, Kiddush is made, and the meal is continued as the Shabbos meal. Because the common custom, both among Ashkenazim who follow the ruling of the Rema, and even among Sefardim, is to hold the meal in the morning, we will not elucidate this option.

The Arizal famously writes that the day of Purim is comparable in its greatness to Yom Kippur: Yom Kippur is Ke-Purim, like Purim. Whereas on the day of Yom Kippur we draw close to Hashem by fasting and withdrawal from engagement with the physical world, on the day of Purim we reach him with the exact opposite: engaging the world in feasting and joy.

On Yom Kippur we accept the Torah out of fear; we are afraid to eat, so to speak, lest our involvement with the physical taint the totality of our service before Hashem. On Purim we do so out of love (Shabbos 88a) – a love that can raise even our physical enjoyment to the level of Divine service.

May we all have a truly joyous Purim – all in the service of Hashem.

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