Laws of Purim

There is a Mitzvah to increase one’s joy during the month of Adar. It is a time when great things happened to the Jewish People and so it is seen as an opportune time for success. The commentators discuss a number of ways to increase happiness. One possible way to do so, based on both Jewish sources as well as psychological research, is to be more grateful. Gratitude generates a happier state of mind. 

There are four special Torah portions that are read immediately preceding and during the month of Adar; Parshas Shekalim (February 22, 2020), Parshas Zachor (March 7, 2020), Parshas Parah (March 14, 2020), and Parshas Hachodesh (March 21, 2020).

One should make an extra effort to hear those portions being read at shul, however it is only Parshas Zachor which one has an absolute Biblical obligation to hear. If one misses hearing Parshas Zachor one should try to find a place where they are reading the section later in the day. Many shuls have a second reading of Zachor for anyone who missed.

If this is not possible, one should make sure to be in shul for the reading of the Torah on Purim day and have in mind to fulfill one’s obligation through the reading of that passage.

*If you are ill, please do not attend shul. Please call me to discuss alternative options.*

It is a matter of debate whether this is a Mitzvah that women are commanded to fulfill. It is advisable that women do make every effort to hear the Torah reading on Parshas Zachor.

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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).

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The day before Purim is Taanis Esther/ the Fast of Esther – March, 9, 2020. The fast begins at 6:14 AM AM and concludes at 7:48 PM. One can brush their teeth with toothpaste but no water. On Tisha B’av bathing/ showering is forbidden and on other fasts it is discouraged. However, on Taanis Esther one can bathe/ shower.

One who is pregnant or nursing should not fast. One who has a severe headache can break their fast.

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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 their obligation every word of the Megillah must be heard. Tomorrow we will discuss what to do if one misses a word.

 

One needs to pay attention to every word of the Megillah to fulfill their obligation. 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.

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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. (This is because I, acting as your your agent to deliver the money, do not take possession of the money until the daytime.) 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.

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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 onto 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. 

 

*If drinking any amount could cause any form of complication, one is forbidden to drink alcohol.*

 

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 reasons behind the custom of drinking. 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.

 

The Sefas Emes suggests that we drink to demonstrate our lack of worth. An intoxicated individual cannot be taken seriously. Similarly, the Jewish People did not have any merit to be saved on Purim and it was only through G-d’s kindness that we were saved. Drinking, he suggests, is to remind us not to take ourselves too seriously and to recognize how dependant we are on G-d’s mercy.  

 

Laws of Chanukkah

The Menorah that is used on Chanukkah should have branches that are of equal height and they should be arranged in a straight row. Like all mitzvos, there is significance in making the mitzvah beautiful. One should therefore endeavor to have a beautiful Menorah. If no Menorah is available one can still fulfill the mitzvah of lighting Chanukkah candles by placing candles/ cups of oil in a row.

It is ideal to use oil for lighting the Menorah. One can fulfill the mitzvah using candles. One cannot fulfill the mitzvah using an electric Menorah. If one is using oil there is an argument about using previously used wicks. Some prefer to use new wicks every night as it is more respectful while others maintain that a used wick actually burns better and is therefore preferable. Used wicks should not be disposed of in the regular fashion that one disposes waste. Because it was used for a mitzvah they should be disposed of with care. One can either burn the wicks or put them in a bag and then place the bag in the trash.

The prevalent custom outside of Israel is to light the Menorah indoors. The Menorah should be lit by the window that can be seen by the most people possible (this is not always the most convenient window). When lighting at one’s window one should light on the right side of the window (right side from the perspective of the one lighting the Menorah). However, if there is more than one person lighting the Menorah then it is best to place a space between each Menorah so that those outside can see clearly which night of Chanukkah is being celebrated.

One should light by their window even if they live in a high rise apartment. The assumption is that people from the street or people in other tall buildings will see the Menorah. When staying at a hotel on Chanukkah one’s lighting options become limited. To light at the window would be pointless because [most] hotels have blacked out windows.  To light inside near the doorway, which is the next best place, is usually very difficult as most hotel rooms open up to a narrow hallway with a bathroom on one side (can’t light there) and a closet on the other (safety hazard to light there). The best place to put the Menorah is in the area where the hall opens into the main room on the right side. If that is not feasible then lighting the Menorah anywhere in the room is fine.

If one is traveling on Chanukkah but some members of the family stay at home, one technically fulfills their obligation by having those at home light. The widespread custom is that even in such a scenario one lights wherever they are staying. However, one must light before the members of one’s home are lighting. If one lights afterward one does not say the regular blessing on lighting.

As mentioned earlier, a husband and wife are one unit and only one Menorah is lit for both. That being the case, if one of the spouses will be arriving at a later time in the evening, there are two options. 1) The spouse can wait up for the other and light together. 2) The spouse who is at home can light at the appropriate time, thus fulfilling the obligation of both spouses. (In such a case, the spouse who is not at home should attempt, if possible, to hear someone else make the blessings over their own lighting.)

The appropriate time to light the Menorah is a matter of dispute. Some state that is should be lit at sunset, others argue that it should be lit at nightfall, and others suggest that a compromise be made and the candles should be lit in between, approximately 25 minutes after sunset. The prevalent custom outside of Israel is to light at nightfall.The latest time to light the Menorah is at dawn. One may say a Bracha when lighting as long as it not yet  dawn. If one missed a night of lighting, one can light the next night with a Bracha.

The lights of the Menorah must burn for at least a half hour after nightfall. This is especially important to keep in mind on Friday afternoon when one lights the candles before candle lighting. Thus for example, in Baltimore this Friday, Shabbos candle lighting time is 4:31 PM and nightfall is 5:34 PM, so one’s candles should be able to last for a little over an hour and a half (from before 4:31 until 6:04 PM). Even after the candles have burned for a half hour one should not extinguish them. However, if one is in a situation where there is a concern for a possible fire etc. they are allowed to extinguish the lights after 30 minutes.

Laws of Pesach – Digest #2

Probably the hardest area in the kitchen to kasher properly is the sink. The way to kasher the sink: One cannot kasher their sink unless it is made of stainless steel. 1) Do not use hot water in the sink for 24 hours prior to kashering. 2) Clean sink thoroughly. 3) Boil water. 3) Pour boiling water directly on every surface of one’s sink. Allowing the water to flow from one side of the sink to another does not suffice.

Refrigerator: All shelves and surfaces should be cleaned thoroughly. If it is difficult to clean shelve (due to ridges etc.) or it is an area which food touches directly (like a vegetable/fruit drawer) then one must line that area. Otherwise, no lining is necessary.

Any chameitz food that needs refrigeration should ideally be finished before Pesach. If that is not practical, one must place the food in a specific area and cover it in a way that is not so easy to access the food.

One should clean the entire stove top area thoroughly. The way to kasher the burners is as follows:

Electric – The burners should be lit until they glow red.

Gas – Turn stove top on for five minutes. The grates should be placed inside the oven with the oven at a high heat for forty minutes. The burner pans should be kashered, either in the same fashion as the grates/ by covering them with foil/ or the same way you kasher the sink.

Corning – Put the stove on the maximum setting for ten minutes.

In the stove tops listed above, one should either lightly blow-torch the area between the burners or the area must be covered (foil is a safe cover to use).

Glass top – One should put the burners on high and pour hot water over the other areas. Even after kashering, if one has a glass top stove, one should not place any food or pots in between the burners over Pesach.

Whether one can properly kasher microwaves and dishwashers for Pesach are a matter of much debate. I would therefore highly discourage doing so. There are those who rule leniently in this matter and therefore if someone feels like they need to have their microwave or dishwasher, please follow up with me via email/ call for the details as to how to do so.

Kashering ovens for Pesach –

In a regular oven one must clean all surfaces (including thermostat, window, corners, door edges, etc.). One should use a caustic cleaner such as Easy-Off to remove spots that are difficult to remove. If one uses Easy-Off twice and the spot still does not come off one need not worry about it. After cleaning the oven and racks thoroughly one should set the oven to its highest setting for 40 minutes. The broiler pan cannot be kashered but should still be cleaned thoroughly or removed.

In a self clean oven one must remove all visible food and set oven for self-clean with racks inside.

As with all kashering the oven may not be used for 24 hours prior to kashering.