Yom Tov – Purim

Question:  Hi, We learn in Purim that you are supposed to give Matanot La’evyonim. Well what if I send a letter with money in it to my friend in Israel for him to give out.  I live in America. Do I still fulfill my obligation of Matanot Laevyonim if it comes too late or too early?  Same thing with Mishloach Manot.  If I send a package to my friend in Israel. And it get there a little to early or a little to late and he gets it (not on Purim day) Do I still fulfill the mitzvah?

Answer:  There are four mitzvot on Purim:  Hearing the Megillah, having a Se’udat Purim (Purim meal), Mishloah Manot (sending food gifts to at least two friends), and Matanot L’evyonim, giving gifts (tzedakah) to the poor.

If you send Matanot L’evyonim by mail and appoint the recipient to make a donation on your behalf, it should be made on Purim day; if you send Mishloah Manot by mail, the recipient should open it on Purim day.  Each of the mitzvot must be done on the day of Purim itself.  It is clearly best to give a couple Mishloah Manot packages and a little tzedakah yourself, on Purim, to make sure that you have fulfilled the mitzvah.

Question:  Why is Purim one of the only holidays that will be observed when the Messiah comes?

Answer:  The source for your question is Midrash Mishe (proverbs), in which we find the following Midrash:

“[Wisdom] has prepared the feast, mixed the wine, and also set the table” (Proverbs 9:2).  “She has prepared the feast, mixed the wine” – Rabbi Abahu said, ‘This is Queen Esther, for when the great disaster came upon Israel in the days of Mordechai, what did she do?  She prepared a feast for Ahashverosh and the wicked Haman, and got them drunk on too much wine, so the wicked Haman would think that she was giving him honor.  He didn’t know that she was spreading a trap for him, because by getting him drunk she saved her people forever!’  “She also set the table” – she set a table in this world, and also in the Age to Come.  Every festival is destined to be cancelled in the Age to Come, but Purim will not be cancelled, as it is written, “These days of Purim will never be set aside” (Esther 9:28).  Rabbi Elazar said, “Yom Kippur will also never be cancelled, as it is written, “[Yom Kippur] will be an eternal law for you.” (Leviticus 16:34) ‘

On the face of it, the reason that Purim (and Yom Kippur) will be observed in the Messianic era is that the Biblical verses proscribing their observance state that they are eternal holidays.  Unfortunately, the Midrash does not give any more explanation than that, so it is up to us to guess!  In other versions of this Midrash, Purim and Chanukah will be observed in the Messianic era, and the Torah and the book of Esther will be the only sacred Scripture.

Rabbi Michael Strassfield, in his book, The Jewish Holidays, gives the best hint at the deeper answer to your question.  He writes concerning adloyada (the mitzvah to get drunk on Purim, until you lose the ability to distinguish between Mordechai and Haman):  “It is a Messianic/mystical moment when there is no difference between Haman and Mordechai, good and evil, for both are found in the Holy One who ‘created light and darkness, made peace and created evil’ (Isaiah 45:7).”
Therefore, Purim is the ultimate Messianic holiday when good and evil cease to be distinguishable as separate events, but rather become recognized together as a part of God’s divine presence.

Question:  In Megillat Esther Mordecai states that he is not going to bow down to a prince of the Persian Empire (haman) because as a Jew, he (Mordecai) is forbidden to bow down to human beings. He further explains that ALL Jews are  forbidden to bow down to human beings, that they are permitted to bow only to Hashem.This claim unleashes the fury of haman against all the Jewish people. In view of the fact that exemplary God fearing persons such as the Patriarchs are frequently bowing down to human beings ( even to human beings of dubious moral character, eg, Jacob bowing down to Esau in Parashat Vayishlakh), what is the basis of  Mordecai’s claim? Is it really the case that a religious Jew cannot bow respectfully to a human being–to a king for example or to a Japanese person who bows and anticipates a bow in return? What mishna or gomorrah supports Mordecai’s claim? Since it is this one claim about Jewish law that puts the lives of every Jew in the Persian Empire in jeapordy since it is this one claim that puts the life of every Jew in the Persian Empire in jeopardy, I wonder if the claim can really be supported (I have never been told that I, as a Jew,  cannot bow to another human being, except, by implication, in this pasuk from Megillat Esther.)

Answer:  Your sense that bowing down to a human being to show respect is permitted is right on the money.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with bowing before a King, a head of state, or to a person to whom bowing is equivalent to a handshake.  Mordechai, however, does not feel it would be appropriate to bow to Hamen, and the Talmud/Midrashim need to come up with a justification for his refusal.  The justification from Sanhedrin 61b is that Haman made a claim of divinity, so bowing down to him would be equivalent to bowing down to a false god.  Midrash Pirke Rabbi Eliezer (ch. 50) adds that Haman pinned an idol to his clothing, so while bowing down to him one would also be bowing down to an idol.  However, Sanhedrin 61b also says in the name of Raba that bowing down to a leader like Haman who set himself up as a divinity was not altogether forbidden, since he was worshipped through fear, rather than by a voluntary action.

So, in the end, this aspect of the story of the Megillah has no practical consequences in Halacha as far as bowing down before another person as a sign of respect.

Question:  What was Haman’s mother’s name? Is there any other information on his family?

Answer:  Haman’s mother’s name is never given in the Megillah.  The only thing we know about his family from the Megillah is that he is the son of Hammedatha and a descendant of the family/people of Agag.  Agag was a descendant of Amalek, a king who waged a particularly vile form of guerilla warfare against the Israelites.   Subsequently, God commands the Israelites to destroy Amalek and his people completely.  Since Agag is a descendant of Amelek, they apparently failed.  Saul was commanded by God to completely wipe out Agag and his people, but he, too, apparently failed.

QUESTION:  I just finished reading Esther and have a question regarding Purim. It seems that all Jewish Holidays were prescribed by Moses, except Purim. By what authority was Mordecai able to prescribe a new one? Thank you for your time and expertise.

ANSWER:  The Talmud, Megillah 7a, has a discussion on your question. The conclusion is that Esther 9:27, “the Jews undertook and irrevocably obligated themselves and their descendants, and all who might join them, to observe these two days in the manner prescribed and at the proper time each year,” shows that the authority to create a new holiday belongs to “the Jews,” meaning when the entire Jewish community takes upon itself the obligation to celebrate a new Festival, “what was established below was accepted above” (Megillah 7a).