Image: Photo of Purim mishloach manot basket. Photo by Yoninah via Wikimedia.
There are four mitzvot [commandments] for the feast of Purim.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Seudat Purim [Eat a festive meal]: Get together with your community, or some friends, and celebrate the survival of the Jewish People.
- Most synagogues have a festive meal of some kind.
- We can also fulfill the mitzvah by inviting friends over for a shared meal.
- Traditionally the meal includes meat and wine. Your mileage may vary, but the food should be a treat of some kind.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.