Image: Photo of Purim mishloach manot basket. Photo by Yoninah via Wikimedia.

There are four mitzvot [commandments] for the feast of Purim.

  1. Read the Megillah: Read or hear the story. Going to a Purim spiel is better than nothing at all, but ideally Jewish adults will read or hear the megillah itself. It’s short, and public readings are a matchless experience – check with local synagogues for times. Even if you don’t understand the Hebrew, make noise when everyone else does at the name of the villain Haman (ha-MAHN.) A good megillah reading is pure performance art.
    1. Attend to listen live if you possibly can. If you have no better options, though, there is a lively Megillah reading on You Tube from Congregation Har Tzeon-Agudat AchimCongregation Har Tzeon-Agudat Achim, a Modern Orthodox congregation in Maryland.
    2. Don’t read Hebrew? Follow along with an English translation. You can even do it on your smartphone or tablet – search your app store for “Megillat Esther” or for a regular Tanakh. Be sure to get a Jewish translation – Christian Bible translations are from a different text.
  2. Seudat Purim [Eat a festive meal]: Get together with your community, or some friends, and celebrate the survival of the Jewish People.
    1. Most synagogues have a festive meal of some kind.
    2. We can also fulfill the mitzvah by inviting friends over for a shared meal.
    3. Traditionally the meal includes meat and wine. Your mileage may vary, but the food should be a treat of some kind.
  3. Matanot L’Evyonim [Gifts to the Poor]: Money, food, drink or even clothing are all appropriate gifts. We are talking about actual presents. We can fulfill this mitzvah by giving money, clean clothes, or good food to individuals.
    1. This does NOT mean clean out our closets for a trip to Goodwill. If you don’t want it, it is not a true present!
    2. Since one of the customs of Purim is drinking, for one day do not worry about what a poor person is going to do with cash, or heaven forbid give the “gift” with a lecture.
    3. A gift to the local food bank is indeed a “gift to the poor” and much better than nothing but it is more in the spirit of the holiday if we perform this mitzvah personally if possible.
  4. Mishloach Manot [Gifts to Friends]: We send prepared food or drink to friends to enhance their festive meal. The food should not require further preparation, and there should be at least two portions. A gift of clothing or money does not fulfill the mitzvah. Normally it is better to do a mitzvah in person than to send it by messenger but since the Book of Esther mentions “sending” gifts, on this holiday the custom is to send by messenger.

For a more complete discussion of these mitzvot I recommend the article Purim and Its Mitzvot on the Orthodox Union website.