The necessity for a second letter establishing the holiday of Purim implies that the initial letter was not fully accepted. Yet it is unclear why not, or what was added in the second letter to permanently establish the celebration of Purim. The only apparent new elements in the second letter are that while the first came from Mordechai, the second primarily came from Queen Esther. Further, a comparison is made between the Jewish people’s acceptance of the fast and their acceptance of Purim.
The Ramban suggests that the Jews were still afraid and needed the authority of the queen to reassure them before feeling free to celebrate. However, there is no explicit mention of any lasting fear. The Ibn Ezra mentions three opinions about the reference to the fasts. The Rambam sees them as a hint to Ta’anis Esther. According to this view, it may be that the victory of Purim had to incorporate the vulnerability that preceded the triumph to be fully approved by the Sages in Israel marking Purim as a galus celebration. This interpretation reflects the Rav’s understanding of the nature of our celebrating of Purim. The permitting of excessive drinking reflects an intensive, but temporary and artificial, high.
Is the day of Purim to be celebrated as a holiday in its own right, or is it just the occasion for fulfilling or performing specific commandments, (namely the reading of the Book of Esther, having a festive meal during the day, interchanging gifts of food with friends, and giving special assistance to the poor)? Logically, if Purim is only the occasion for fulfilling specific commandments, then it would lose all meaning and be like any other day for Jews who do not fulfill these commandments. Finally, what would make Purim a holiday is if it were a Yom Tov, i.e. a day on which work is forbidden.
When we look in the Book of Esther, it appears at first glance that Purim was established as a Yom Tov. The Jews agreed to observe the fourteenth (or fifteenth day) of Adar because on these days the Jews rested from battling their respective enemies. The text clearly states, “And it was the month that was turned for them from agony to happiness and from mourning to a Yom Tov.” Esther 9:22. This (that Purim should be a Yom Tov) indeed was one opinion that was stated in the Talmud. Megilla 5b.
“And the Jews had light, happiness, joy, and honor” (Esther 8:7). Perhaps more interesting, and often overlooked, as we move towards the conclusion of the Purim story, is the pasuk that comes before the one quoted above: “And Mordechai exited from before the king wearing royal clothing of techeilet v’chur, a big gold ateret, a robe of butz and argaman, and the city of Shushan was jubilant and happy” (8:6). At first glance, this pasuk seems relatively normal in the context of the Jews being victorious and Mordechai proving that he was an important player in Jewish affairs as well as in town politics. But why is it important to describe the clothes that he was wearing? And why was Shushan so happy when they saw this?
Clearly there must have been something significant represented in Mordechai’s attire. There is an interesting parallel between this pasuk and one that appears at the very beginning of the Megillah. When the first party that Achashverosh throws is over, he makes a second one. The party’s decorations are cited in the story: “Hangings of chur, wool and techeilet, fastened to ropes of butz and argaman, on silver poles and marble pillars, couches made of gold and silver on the marble floor” (1:6). The Megillah uses five of the same specific and descriptive words that are found in the pasuk regarding Mordechai as well (tcheilet, v’chur, gold, butz, argaman). Additionally, the second party was only for people left in Shushan (1:5), the same city that witnessed Mordechai’s regal presentation. What does the connection between these two pesukim reveal?
The Gemara1 records a beraissa that teaches: “Kohanim engaged in their avodah, Leviim engaged in their musical accompaniment to the avodah, and Yisraelim attending the avodah, all must abandon their service to go hear the reading of the Megillah.”
The Gemara further records that the Yeshiva of Rebi relied upon this beraissa to interrupt their study of Torah in order to hear the Megillah. They reasoned, if the avodah, which is stringent, must be abandoned for Megillah reading, then it is certainly true that Torah study, which is not as stringent, should be abandoned as well2. The Shulchan Aruch3 codifies the ruling that we interrupt Torah study to go hear the Megillah and adds that all the more so one must disrupt any mitzvah one is engaged in in order to hear the Megillah.
At first glance this halacha is difficult to understand. Why does the Gemara refer to interrupting the study of Torah in order to hear the Megillah as “bitul Torah” In what manner is the study of Torah being interrupted if listening to Megilah is inherently Talmud Torah, as it is part of Tanach?
The halachic parameter of mishloach manos ish l’rey’eihu (the minimum gift we must give to fulfill our basic obligation) is set at “two gifts to one person.”1 These two gifts must be two different minim and must both be given to the same person.
The poskim raise the following question about mishloach manos: If someone gives a gift that otherwise fulfills the Halachic parameters (two different minim given at the same time to one person) but he puts the two items in the same kli, does he fulfill his obligation to give mishloach manos?
The Ben Ish Chai2 rules that in such a case you have not fulfilled your obligation, because the fact that they are in one container means that they are considered to be only one gift.
Because this year is a leap year, daylight savings time began a week and a half before Purim, bringing with it consequent issues regarding “early Shabbos” and the appropriate time for Maariv. The question of defining halachic day and night thus becomes very important.
My grandfather, Rabbi Chaim Zev Bomzer z”l, passed away three years ago right before Rosh Chodesh Adar. As a talmid in Yeshiva in the ‘50s and ‘60s, he learned under Rabbi Moshe Aharon Poleyeff z”l and was quite close to him. I found a discussion of this issue in my grandfather’s writings and the explanations and elucidations he himself heard from Rabbi Poleyeff. I would like to present them here, paraphrased by me for publication in this venue:
We find that there are several areas in Halacha that are contradictory when it comes to what is defined as day and what is defined as night. For example, there are opposing positions quoted by the Rema in Hilchos Niddah (Yoreh Deah 196:1). He writes that some say that once the community davens Maariv, even if this is before nightfall, a woman must wait to check for hefsek tahara until the next night, because now it’s already considered nighttime. But he says that others hold that she can continue to check until the actual night, even if the community started Shabbos earlier. The minhag, he says, is to be machmir l’chatchila like the first opinion.
Megilas Esther is famous for being the only sefer in Tanach with no mention of Hashem’s name. The Gemara in Chullin sees Hashem’s subtlety as central to the story of Esther. The Gemara (139a) asks, “Where does the Torah make mention of Esther?” and answers by citing the pasuk (Devarim 31:18) “v’anochi hastir astir pani bayom hahu” — and I will hide my face on that day. What is the significance of Hashem’s subtlety in story of Purim and how can we use this knowledge to be better ovdei Hashem?
Perhaps the idea of subtlety can be better understood in relation to another theme of Purim, namely, kabalas hatorah. The Gemara in Shabbos (88a) says that there was a second kabalas hatorah on Purim. The first kabalas hatorah was lacking because Hashem coerced klal yisrael to accept the Torah, while the second kabalas hatorah was performed willingly and out of love (as explained by Rashi there). The Meshech Chochma (Shemos 19:17) suggests that the coercion of the first kabbalas hatorah was not physical coercion. Rather, klal Yisrael was so overwhelmed by Hashem’s revelation that they couldn’t act out of their own free will; they could not help but accept the Torah.