Preparing for Purim

Purim is one of those holidays that have people asking many questions. People are baffled by the different mitzvos of the day, and how they fit into our overall approach to serving Hashem. As we have a few days until Purim, we will discuss hachanah (preparation) for this special day.

Harav Dessler writes (Volume 5, p. 191) that the preparation a person does for a mitzvah is the level at which a person values that particular mitzvah. He explains beautifully that this is the idea behind hiddur mitzvah (beautifying the mitzvah). The beautifying of the mitzvah (i.e., a nice esrog, setting up oil/candles for the menorah) is done through the preparations we make for the mitzvah.

When trying to understand a unique day in the Jewish calendar, a good place for one to begin is to examine the mitzvos of that day. The mitzvos of Purim are all-encompassing. The Maharal teaches us that there are three significant types of relationship in every Jew’s life: between man and G-d, between man and man (all interpersonal relationships) and between man and himself. The mitzvos of Purim cover all three.

Firstly, we have the mitzvah of reading the Megillah, bein adam laMakom (between man and G-d), which we usually perform through an agent, the baal kriah, in shul. The preparation for this is rather straightforward: learn the Megillah before Purim. Our shul sent out an email a few days ago, the 10-day warning, mentioning that anyone who learns a chapter a day will finish the Megillah by Purim. One who has reviewed the Megillah before Purim will find it easier to stay focused, and have a more meaningful Megillah reading.

The second mitzvah, matanos la’evyonim, giving charity to the poor on Purim day, is usually performed before Purim day, when we give money to an agent to give out on Purim. However, the charity of Purim does not end there. The Shulchan Aruch writes that we are obligated to give to all who extend their hands to ask on Purim, without doing the same background checks we might normally do. In Providence, we do not have the same opportunity to perform this as others have in bigger cities. However, we do have a few people coming around collecting for different causes on Purim day. The preparation for this also is rather straightforward: to visit the bank this week.

Mishloach manos, sending packages, food items to our friends, is a mitzvah of Purim that unfortunately causes much stress. People ask, “What am I supposed to do? I don’t want to insult anyone, but I can’t make mishloach manos for the whole town!” How do we deal with our monetary and time constraints while still performing this mitzvah properly?

It should be clear that one of the main reasons attributed to this mitzvah is to be “marbeh rei’us” — to strengthen friendships, create bonds, show you care about someone. It would seem that the closest of friends would not necessarily need such a reminder. People with whom we may have had issues throughout the year (or more recently) — they are the ones who should be receiving our mishloach manos. What a powerful statement could be made through that kind of gift! Although many do send to their close group of friends, we should not forget to have this in mind as well when making our list for mishloach manos: “Whom could I make feel good?” “With whom can I make amends by means of this mishloach manos?” “Is there a person who is lonely whose spirits I can lift?”

So for those of us giving, let us think about how to maximize the potential of this mitzvah. It is amazing what can be expressed through delivering to certain people who were not expecting to see you. For those receiving, let us not be insulted when we do not receive from the person we were so sure was our friend. Let us instead take that as a sign that the person is secure in our relationship with him/her.

Lastly, we prepare for the mitzvah of the seudah by preparing the food and seeing who needs a place. However, the preparations do not end there. Many commentaries explain the idea of drinking on Purim (“chayav inish liv’sumei”) as one of seeking clarity. Through the wine and the lack of clarity should come a certain level of clarity and feelings of closeness. “When wine comes in, secrets come out.” When the “secrets” we have hidden inside are positive, coming from a place of holiness, but are not always brought out throughout the year due to certain inhibitions — that is where the mitzvah of drinking applies. We drink and bring out those secrets hidden in a deep place. For one who drinks and says inappropriate things, or hurts others because he is “looser,” drinking would not be recommended.

So how do we prepare? We work on ourselves the next few days, preparing to be in a spiritual state of mind that will last until Purim, a state that we feel good about and that will bring us joy on Purim. If you have not been learning enough, take on a project for the next few days (learn the Megillah, or set out to learn a chapter in Mishnah). Then, before the seudah, think about what the next project will be. At the seudah, the wine will serve to overcome your daas (cognitive ability) that is telling you it will be too hard and it is not practical. Rather, tell everyone you see at the seudah: “I’m going to start learning more. I’m going to finish project X by Pesach, or by Shavuos.” Make sure to tell your spouse, also, and that you want reminders.

One Purim, a young man came to me very sincerely, saying he needed to start learning mussar. I told him I would learn with him. After Purim, I did not hear from him. Although his desire was coming from a place of kedushah on Purim, it had come without proper hachanah.

If you are someone who is not happy about your attendance at minyan recently, pick a daily minyan over the next few days that you will attend, and go until Purim. Your seudah will be a different experience! You will go into the seudah on a high; you will go in b’simchah, with joy.

Ki ein lavo el sha’ar haMelech bilvush sak” — Mordechai could not go to the gate of the king in his sackcloth. We, too, cannot go to the gate of Hashem in sackcloth, in a state of depression. We need to come before Hashem with simchah. May we all be zocheh to come into Purim on a high, in a state of simchah, and experience true simchas Purim.


Rabbi Dovid Schwartz is Rav of Congregation Shaarei Tefilla in Providence, Rhode Island