Friday, February 26, 2010

Remembering Amalek and alcohol abuse

12th of Adar, 5770
1. ZAKHOR: On the Shabbat that precedes Purim, two Torah scrolls are taken from the ark; one for the regular Parasha and one for a special Maftir from Debarim 25: 'Remember what Amalek did to you".
This text describes our obligation to remember what Amalek did to us during our departure from Egypt. Amalek attacked us without a reason and without a purpose. Amalek and his ideological descendents (which are called "Zekher Amalek") can be identified by two key factors:
1. Amalek’s hatred toward us is not motivated by greed, territorial claims or revenge. It is pure disinterested hatred.
2. Amalek does not want us to surrender or to change our religion.

He just wants us to disappear.

The Torah urges us not to forget –also in the sense of forgiving- Amalek because our mere survival is at play. Our war with Amalek is an existential war. Unfortunately, it is extremely obvious to see who is (are?) playing the role of Amalek in our days.

Our Chakhamim prescribed the public reading of our first encounter with Amalek, once every year, on the Shabbat which precedes Purim – Haman being a descendant of Amalek. This Parasha has the special status of being the only Biblical text which reading is a direct Torah commandment. The other Parashiot are of rabbinical status.
Women are also obligated to attend and listen to Parashat Zakhor.

2. SEUDAT PURIM: During the day of Purim, this year Sunday February 28th, we participate in a festival meal, Seudat Purim. In this banquet we celebrate, sing songs and express our happiness and thanks to HaShem Almighty for our deliverance. At the end of this Seuda we say BIRKAT HAMAZON adding the special text AL HANISIM.

In this Seudat is customary to serve alcohol.

A few words of warning about alcohol abuse,

Purim should not be used as an excuse for drunkenness. "Our tradition is against drunkenness,"declares Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union and Purim is a day which is "especially vulnerable to alcohol abuse". NCSY, a leading orthodox Jewish organization in America ordered a "zero tolerance" policy on alcohol at their Purim events. "In these days," declares Rabbi Weinreb "when so many of our young people are prone to experimentation with dangerous substances, it behooves us to warn against the dangers of alcohol, especially on Purim."Quoting from the Mishna Berura (sec. 695) on the laws governing the Purim SEUDA, the festive meal, Rabbi Weinreb emphasized that we are not commanded to become drunk, to look foolish and to lose self-control; rather, he said, we are commanded to become joyous "in a manner that results in love of God and thankfulness for God’s miracles."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Purim: Taanit Esther

11th of Adar, 5770

Today is a fast day called: Taanit Esther. When Queen Esther was informed of Haman’s plan to eliminate the Jewish people, she decided to appeal to King Achashverosh. This desperate move was very risky, because anybody who would approach the King without being called was removed from his proximity and immediately executed and then, there was virtually nothing anyone else could have done to dissuade the King from carrying out the terrible edict.
Before Esther approached the King she asked every Jew to fast. Fasting -together with prayer- is what our Torah and Chakhamim instructed us to do in extreme difficult circumstances. At the request of Esther, every single Jew then fasted for 3 days and prayed for Esther‘s success. In remembrance of that event we do today the fast of Esther.
Usually Taanit Esther is commemorated one day before Purim, the 13thof Adar. However, when Purim -the 14th of Adar- falls on Sunday, like this year, the fast day is moved to the previous Thursday.
Taanit Esther is technically a minor fast. Pregnant or nursing women do not do the fast. Also children, elders or anyone with even a minor medical condition is exempted from the Taanit, especially this year when it is moved to Thursday.
The fast of Esther takes place from dawn until dusk. The fast ends today at 6:12 PM.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

PURIM: Sending gifts to friends and those in need

10th of Adar, 5770

During the day of Purim –Sunday February 28th- we send two presents to at least one of our friends. These presents consist of food, ideally food to be used during the Purim banquet (Seudat Purim). It is customary to include at least two different types of foods: a drink and some baked product, for example.
The intention of this Mitzvah is to promote harmony (shalom) and friendship and strengthen our unity.
In certain circumstances, Mishloach Manot could be also a very discreet way to send food to those who need it, but would feel very uncomfortable to ask or even receive charity from others.
Another special Mitzvah that we have in Purim is called: Matanot laEbionim. "Presents to needy people". Originally, these presents also consisted of food, given to those who could not afford otherwise, to celebrate and enjoy a nice Purim banquet.
The custom is to give at least two presents, or as is usually done today, its monetary equivalent to at least two poor people.
If our means are limited, our Rabbis indicated that we should be more generous in giving to the poor and needy than in spending for our own Purim banquet. They said: "There is no greater happiness than to lift up the hearts and spirits of the poor, orphans and widows".
It is appropriate to perform these two Mitzvot before starting the Purim banquet

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Some laws and customs of Megillah reading

9th of Adar, 5770

“If one reads the Megillah in a reverse order, the reading is invalid”. Literally it means that if a person reads first verse 2, then verse 1 and then verse 3 or so, he did not fulfill his obligation. Practically speaking, if a person comes late to the Synagogue and the congregation is reading , say, chapter 4, he cannot decide: “I will read now from chapter 4 till the end and when they finish, I will read from the beginning till chapter 4”. He will need to read or listen to the Megillah, from a scroll, from the beginning to the end.

Unlike Torah reading, if the reader makes a minor mistake at the reading, we do not need to correct him, as long as the general meaning is not altered. The somekh (reader's assistant) therefore, needs to be proficient in Hebrew language, so he won’t over correct the reader.

The reader (Baal Kore) reads from a scroll and the congregation follows the reading, silently. In the Mashadi Community we have a very special Minhag: The Baal Kore reads until the end of the Pasuk and then the Congregation reads aloud the last words of it. For this, the Baal Kore needs to know where to stop and the congregation needs to know how to continue. Also, there are a few Pesukim like ish yehudi or balaila hahu that following the general Sephardic custom are read first aloud by the congregation and then by the Baal Kore.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Reading Megillat Esther

Today is the 8th of Adar, 5770
During Purim we read Megillat Esther twice: the book that relates the story of Purim.

The first time at night (Saturday, February 27th) and the second time during the day (Sunday, February 28th). For exact times of readings in our community see:

Women are normallyexempted from Mitzvot triggered by time, but Purim is an exception: because 1. women were also saved from the danger and 2. a woman, Queen Esther, had a critical role in saving the Jews from a sure end.

Children, although not technically obligated to listen to the Megillah, are expected to attend Synagogue during Purim. Parents should make sure that their small children do not misbehave, perturbing the public reading of the Megillah.

There is no Halakhic objection to use a microphone when reading the Megillah in public, provided one could otherwise hear the Megillah anyway. However, for example, if somebody is listening from a different room, where he would not have heard the Megillah at all without the microphone, then for him the reading is not valid. Obviously, listening through all other wireless media (TV, radio, phone) is not valid for fulfilling the Mitzvah of Megillah.
While the Baal Kore reads the Megillah everybody should listen to him and follow, reading silently from a scroll or from a printed Megillah.