– In the times of the Temple, announcements were made throughout the Land of Israel on Rosh Chodesh Adar that everyone should donate a half-shekel to the Bais HaMikdash to be used to pay for the daily sacrifices. Despite the lack of Bais HaMikdash there is an ancient custom that we donate money to the poor before Purim to perpetuate this practice. This custom is independent of the Rabbinic Mitzvah of giving charity on Purim. To properly fulfill this custom one should give three half-coins. (This is done because the Torah says the word “Terumah/ Donation” three times in the section that deals with this Mitzvah.) Since most people do not have three half coins of their own many shuls leave three half coins out for people to acquire (not borrow). By placing an equivalent amount of money in the basket one acquires the three coins and then gives those three coins to charity to fulfill their obligation. There are varying customs as to whom is included in this Mitzvah. Many have the custom that every member of the family should give (or should be given for).
– There is a Mitzvah to hear the Megillah read both in the evening and in the morning. It is an obligation for both men and women. Like all Mitzvos, there is an obligation on the parents to teach their children in fulfilling the Mitzvah. The appropriate age is subjective. When a child can sit through the entire Megillah reading (silently) they are ready to go hear the Megillah. Before this age it is better to keep the child at home so that they will not prevent the parent/s from fulfilling their obligation. It is forbidden to speak during the reading of the Megillah. If one spoke they have still fulfilled their obligation.
– To fulfill one’s obligation, one must pay attention to every word of the Megillah. Paying attention means that if someone were to ask them what was just read they could answer. If one has less concentration than that it is questionable if they fulfilled their obligation. If one did not hear or pay attention they can catch up by reading the missed words from the text in front of them (even though it is not a Megillah) and catching up to the reader.
– One of the Mitzvos of Purim is to give gifts to the poor. To fulfill this Mitzvah, every adult must give a meal or the monetary value of a meal to two poor individuals. The Mitzvah is to specifically do this during Purim day.
Practically speaking, one has what to rely upon to give as little as $5 for each poor individual for a total of ten dollars. Although the Mitzvah can only be fulfilled during the day, if one would like they could place their money in the Ahavas Yisroel basket in the shul on Purim night (the money will be distributed on Purim day on your behalf). One can give both gifts to the poor to Ahavas Yisroel and from a Halachic standpoint we can assume that the money you gave was divided between two poor individuals.
Even after fulfilling one’s obligation, the Shulchan Aruch teaches us that on Purim we should strive to give money to any poor person who asks for help.
– There is a Mitzvah to have a festive meal on Purim. While there is a Mitzvah to have a festive meal on many holidays, the festive meal is usually meant to facilitate the joy of the holiday but on Purim the festive meal is an end on to itself. The reason for this is that on Purim festive meals played a major role in the Purim story – according to the Medrashim the Jewish People sinned by attending the festive meal that Achashveirosh threw and we rectify this by having a festive meal that is a Mitzvah and the meal that Esther made for Achashveirosh and Haman where she revealed her identity and turned the tables on Haman.
The meal should take place during the day. It may extend into the evening.
– There is a debate among the commentators whether or not a person should become intoxicated on Purim. Many commentators suggest that a person should drink a little more than usual and if possible, take a little nap after drinking and in doing so, one fulfills the custom of drinking on Purim.
While there is what to rely upon to drink more than that, it is certainly forbidden to endanger one’s life in any way possible. If you plan on drinking please make sure you have a designated driver. In addition, while studies have shown that modelling healthy drinking is more beneficial for children than no modelling at all, it is extremely frightening and unsettling for a child to see their parent out of control. If you do decide to drink, please do so responsibly.
– There are many reason given as to the rational behind this custom. The simplest explanation is to commemorate the fact that the Purim story revolved around drinking. From the Jew’s participation at Achashveirosh’s festive meal to the drinking of Haman on the day Esther accused him of trying to kill her, wine plays a central role in the story.