The Biblical holiday of Purim, which falls out on March 1st of this year, is observed by fulfilling four specific commandments (mitzvot). These actions are reminders of the importance of people uniting in both recognizing that God is always present even when He is unseen (as God’s name never appears in the Purim story) and that people must love and care for each other.
“The Book of Esther describes the overturning of the evil decree to murder all the Jewish people in ancient Persia and their miraculous survival of the decree,” explained Goldie Sternbuch, Director of Overseas Relations for Meir Panim, a charity organization in Israel.
“Every day, Meir Panim seeks to overturn the difficult decree that so many Israelis face – poverty – by providing food and other social welfare programs.”
Today in the Holy Land, there are 1.7 million people who live in poverty with 2 out of every 5 children going to bed hungry. Meir Panim strives every day to bring food and joy to as many of these people as possible, and on Purim, a particularly festive day, the organization increases its activities to align with the holiday’s commandments.
Here’s a look at the fulfillment of those commandments:
Commandment 1 – Listening to a public reading of the Book of Esther
The Book of Esther must be read from a properly written scroll. Every word must be heard. When the name “Haman” is read, everyone bangs and makes noise as if trying to blot out his name. Haman was the initiator of the “Final Solution” decree against the Jews of ancient Persia.
Commandment 2 – Delivering food packages to friends and those in need
Needy Israelis are often unable to give to others as they lack the resources to feed their own families. In order to assist people to fulfill this commandment and become givers themselves, Meir Panim distributes to its patrons two food gift packages. One of them is meant to be given to a friend, and the other is meant to be kept for enjoying the day’s festivities.
Commandment 3 – Giving charity
Although we are obligated all year round, to give 10% of our earnings to charity, the Talmud states that “all who extend a hand (on Purim) are given (charity).” Moreover, the Book of Esther also states that gifts should be given to the poor on this day.
“That they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.” (Esther 9:22)
Commandment 4 – Having a festive meal
Friends and family members gather, usually dressed in costumes, for an elaborate meal which often includes entertainment. The meal is meant to be a joyous celebration of the miracles that God does for His children. Meir Panim sponsors special Purim meals and fun activities for both children and adults to ensure that everyone is able to fully enjoy the holiday.
Although the Purim story happened more than two thousand years ago, we are commanded to remember the miracle that God did back then and continues to do for us every day. Thousands in Israel are grateful for the miracles that Meir Panim does for them by providing food, prepaid shopping cards and social activities for young and old.
“Purim is known as the holiday of ‘giving,’” explained Sternbuch. “We give food and charity to those in need. Perhaps most importantly, Meir Panim strives to give joy to those marginalized people who may not have many reasons to celebrate. When we do that, everyone benefits.”
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This article was written in coordination with Meir Panim.