It is a mitzvah to maintain one’s health and avoid danger, as the Torah says “Only take heed and watch yourself very carefully” (Deuteronomy 4: 9), and also “Watch yourselves very carefully” (ibid, 15). Even when the fear of risking life is remote, our Sages instructed to be machmir (stringent) on avoiding danger even more than fear of violating a prohibition, because “chamira sakanta me-isura” – i.e., regulations concerning danger to life are more stringent than ritual prohibitions (Chullin 10a: Rema, YD, 116:5), and someone who endangers himself and dies will be judged for it, as written: “Only of the blood of your own lives will I demand an account” (Genesis 9: 5).
When it comes to an infectious disease, an additional chumra comes into play, for anyone who is not careful about his health is liable to endanger other people as well. Therefore, the mitzvot of Purim must be observed according to the health regulations. And be’ezrat Hashem, as a result of focusing on observing the mitzvot of the chag according to halakha, the joy will be accurate and meaningful, and out of this, in the coming years, the joy felt in large numbers of people, and the dibuk chaveirim (bonds formed in friendship) will be more focused and appreciated.
A propos, it is appropriate to continue encouraging everyone to get vaccines, both for themselves and for the common good.
It is a mitzvah from the Torah to hear Parshat Zakhor every year, and our Sages enacted it be heard before Purim, since on Purim we fulfilled the mitzvah of killing Amalek by killing Haman, his sons, and his supporters, who plotted to kill the Jews.
In the opinion of some of the eminent Rishonim, the mitzvah from the Torah is to read Parshat Zakhor from a sefer Torah itself (Tosfot, Rashba and Rosh). Therefore, it is appropriate to read Parshat Zakhor from a mihudar sefer Torah (a meticulously written Torah scroll), and the reader should try to be as particular as possible in reading it. Some poskim say that the mitzvah is to hear the parsha specifically in a minyan (Trumat Hadeshen, and others), and since this is a mitzvah from the Torah, it is customary to particular about this.
Someone who finds himself in a place where there is no minyan, if he is in a place where there is a sefer Torah, he should read from it Parshat Zakhor. If there is no sefer Torah, he should read Parshat Zakhor from a Chumash or a siddur (Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 14: 6).
And if a person finds himself in a place where there is no minyan that follows the health regulations, it is preferable for him to read from the sefer Torah without a minyan, or even read from a Chumash.
If one wishes to enhance the mitzvah, when we get to the reading of Parshat Ki Teitzei, and be’ezrat Hashem the restrictions will be over, he may ask the baal koreh (Torah reader) to have kavanah (intention) to also exempt the listeners of their obligation to fulfill the mitzvah of zechirat Amalek (remembering Amalek), and thus fulfill the mitzvah according to all shitot (methods).
Parshat Zakhor and women's obligations
According to most poskim, women are not obligated in the mitzvah of remembering Amalek, because this mitzvah is connected to the mitzvah of annihilating Amalek. Since women are not commanded to wage war, they do not need to remember what Amalek did to us (Sefer Ha-Chinukh 603). Others claim that the mitzvah to wage war applies to women as well, as they must assist the soldiers. Therefore, they too are obligated to remember Amalek.
And although our Sages established a fixed time for reading Parashat Zakhor – the Shabbat before Purim – it has no set time according to Torah law. In light of this, it is a mitzvah that is independent of time, and thus women are obligated to perform it (Minchat Chinukhad loc.).
In practice, women are exempt from hearing Parashat Zakhor, however many women wish to perform the mitzvah and hear Parashat Zakhor. A woman who finds it difficult to attend the services, but nevertheless wants to fulfill the mitzvah, should read the passage herself from a chumash, for after all, many authorities maintain that by doing so, she fulfills the Torah commandment to remember Amalek (Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 14: 7).
The Obligation to Read the Megillah
It is obligatory for every man and woman who has reached the age of mitzvot to read or hear Megillat Esther (The Book of Esther) on the night, and day of Purim.
Additionally, parents are commanded to educate their children who have reached a stage where they understand the Megillah and can hear all of it read in accordance with halakha, to hear the Megillah.
Reading the Megillah in a Minyan (10 man quorum)
Normally, it is a mitzvah to read the Megillahbe-rov am (together with many others) in order to publicize the miracle (Megillah 3a). Therefore, the members of a synagogue that usually hosts several minyanim every day swould try to assemble on Purim, and hear the Megillah with a large number of people.
This year, however, the reading should be held in smaller minyanim, in order to prevent contagion. Nevertheless, an effort should be made to hold the reading in a minyan, since some poskim (halakhic decisors) are of the opinion that a person does not fulfill his obligation when read individually (Behag), and some poskim take his opinion into consideration and say that when there is no minyan, one reads it without a bracha (Mordechai, quoting Rabbeinu Gershom and Mahari Weil). Nevertheless, in the opinion of many Rishonim, be-di’avad (ex post facto) one may read the Megillah individually with a bracha (Rosh, Ravad and many others).
And this is how the halakha was codified, that le-khatchila (a priori), it should be read in a minyan, and be-di’avad , it should be read individually with a bracha (SA and Rema 690:18; Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 15: 5, footnote 4).
The Bracha of ‘Ha-Rav Et Riveinu’ Without a Minyan
After the Megillah is read and the scroll is rolled back to the beginning, the common custom is to recite “Ha-rav et riveinu,” a bracha of praise and thanksgiving (Megillah 21a).
According to some poskim, this bracha is recited only when the Megillah is read with a minyan (Orchot Hayim quoting the Yerushalmi). And although there are those poskim who say it can be recited individually (Rashi, Maharam and Radbaz), in practice, it is customary not to say it without a minyan (Beit Yosef, and Rema 692:1).
Even when there is are ten women, the bracha “Ha-rav et riveinu,” is recited, since the purpose of ongregating is pirsum ha-nes (publicizing the miracle).
There is a safek (doubt) whether men and women together count toward a minyan re the Megilla reading. (Rema 690:18). It appears that, in practice, women can also be counted together with men, be-di’avad, since many authorities maintain that even one person may recite this bracha.
Hearing the Megillah for Corona Patients and those in Isolation
The sick and isolated, men or women, who do not know how to read the Megillah themselves, and have no one who can read it for them, but are able to read the Megillah from a kosher scroll without errors, even though they do not know how to read with taamim (cantillation), should read the Megillah with a bracha.
If they are not able, they should hear the reading of the Megillah through a loudspeaker from the street, or live over the phone but not on Zoom, for sometimes there are disconnections in its broadcast, and if one does not hear a single syllable, he has not fulfilled his obligation. Indeed, we usually rule in the opinion of those poskim who hold that one should not fulfill his obligation by hearing brachot and the reading of the Megillah using electrical devices, such as a live broadcast, over the telephone, or through a loudspeaker. However, with no other choice, one should rely on the opinion of the lenient poskim (see Peninei Halakha: Brachot 11: 9, footnote 8; Zemanim 15: 11).
Every person must send two gifts of food to a friend on Purim, in order to increase love between them. Therefore, a married couple must send two mishlo’chei manot – one from the husband, and one from the wife. Children who have reached the age at which they are obligated to observe mitzvot are obligated to send one mishlo’ach containing two manot (portions).
In the case of children who have not yet reached the age of obligatory mitzvot but have reached the age of chinuch (education), i.e., they understand the mitzvah, parents are obligated to educate them in fulfilling the mitzvah.
Every year, people have a dilemma as to how many mishlo’chim to send, as there is no prescribed limit. This year it is preferable to choose the more limited approach.
Those who bring the mishlo’ach should conduct themselves with care, and if they are not attending the meal, should remain outside the doorway and give the mishlo’ach from there, and thus avoid embarrassing the homeowners in an attempt to enter the house when the owners are being careful abou the pandemic rules.
The Purim Festive meal, the se'uda, in normal times
All of Purim, both evening and day, is intended for joy, but the culmination of joy and the main observance of its mitzvah is at the se’udot Purim (Purim meals), because this is the way to express joy – by eating a large festive meal in which the participants drink a good deal. And without eating, drinking alcohol does not lead to joy. Therefore, everyone is obligated to participate in one set meal on Purim, for feasting and joy (Esther 9:22, Megillah 7b). This meal must be held specifically during the day.
It is a mitzvah to eat the meal together with others – family members or friends – in order to enhance its joy. After all, one who eats alone cannot rejoice properly (Shlah; MB 695:9).
Family Purim Festive meals this year
Every year there is a dilemma as to whether it is better to hold the meal with many participants for then the general joy is greater, but on the other hand, attention is scattered among the many participants, without being able to express the special bond with family or friends. This year, to prevent contagion, the meals should be celebrated with family, or with a few friends, according to the health regulations.
Scheduling the se’uda when Purim is on Friday
Usually, most people hold the Purim meal in the afternoon, because in the morning they are busy reading the Megillah, sending mishlo’ach manot, and giving matanot le-evyonim, and following that, are able to partake of the meal in an celebratory manner. However, when Purim falls on a Friday, many people have the meal earlier, before noon, out of honor for Shabbat, so that they can consume the Shabbat night meal with an appetite.
One who was not able to begin the meal before the afternoon, should try to begin the meal at least three hours before shki’a (sunset). Be-di’avad, however, one may begin eating any time before shki’a. However, in such a case, one should try to limit what he eats, in order to eat the Shabbat evening meal with a hearty appetite (Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 14: 15).
The Minhag of Combining Se’udat Purim and Shabbat Evening
Some people's custom is to combine the Purim meal with the first Shabbat meal on Friday night. Some do so only be-di’avad, when they did not have time in the morning to have the Purim meal, and some do so le-chatchila.
In order to follow this custom, one prays Mincha before the se’uda, and then begins the meal with bread while it is still Purim. Then, around a half-hour before shki’a, the table is cleared of leftover food, Shabbat is accepted by lighting the Shabbat candles, placing a covering over the bread, and reciting kiddush over wine. Since one has already recited the bracha over wine during the Purim meal, one should omit the bracha ‘borei pri ha-gefen’ in kiddush. After kiddush, one continues the meal, making sure to eat a ke-beitza (size of an egg) of bread after tzeit ha-kocha’vim (stars are seen), or at least a ke-zayit (size of an olive), for the Shabbat meal.
At the end of the meal, one recites Retzei Ve-hachalitzenu in Birkat Ha-mazon, Grace after Meals, adding Al Ha-nisim in the Ha-Rachaman (“May the Merciful One”) section at the end of Birkat Ha-mazon. After the meal, one says the evening prayer, Ma’ariv (ibid. 14: 15). One may pray the Kabbalat Shabbat prayers and Ma’ariv of Shabbat night in the middle of the meal before kiddush, and this is the preferable way for those who are concerned that after the end of the meal, they will pray with less intent, kavanah.
In Jerusalem, where Purim falls on Shabbat, it is celebrated this year for three days. On Friday, the Megillah is read, and matanot le-evyonim are given as in un-walled cities. On Shabbat, Al Ha-nisim is recited in prayers and Birkat Ha-mazon, and the special Torah reading for Purim is read. On Sunday, the festive meal (se'uda) is eaten, and mishlo’ach manot are sent.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.