Seudas Purim: A Revealing Feast, by Moishy Rothman

We typically associate Purim with the other Yomim Tovim. The day has its own Mitzvos, customs, and rites like all the others. Yet if one looks at the Mitzvos of the day a bit closer, one sees how the nature of the day comes from a completely different source.

Take, for example, Seudas Purim. At first glance, this is like any other feast for Yom Tov. However, there are some differences. On a usual Yom Tov, the meal is eaten as the festival enters. The meal may or may not[1] consist of bread, but must occur. Yet the Seuda of Purim has some qualifications which force us to reanalyze this comparison. Firstly, the Gemara Megillah (7b) says that one can’t fulfill his obligation of the meal at night. Secondly, we find that this meal is one of the three days on which one who is fasting all year must eat.[2] Thirdly, though contested in the realm of Halacha, there is value of Chayav Inish Li’ivisumi, intoxication until one can’t see the difference between a Haman and a Mordechai. What do these Halachos tell us about the nature of the Seuda and our approach to Purim in general?

The Mishnas Ya’avitz has the following He’ara on the nature Purim which sheds light on our questions. When discussing the issue of Issur Melacha on Purim, the Megillah (see 5b) presents Purim initially as “Simcha, Mishteh, Yom Tov” (including Issur Melacha in the words “Yom Tov”) but concludes that there is only “Mishteh and Simcha” (leaving out Issur Melacha). Rav Dzolti points out that the Megillah’s concluding presentation of the order of names for Purim, Simcha then Mishteh, indicates the inner nature of the day. Initially, Purim was to be a holiday like any other Yom Tov, thus containing a proper Issur Melacha– highlighted by the first word “simcha”- like any other Simchas Yom Tov. However, the actual Chag was accepted by the people without a formalized Issur Melacha and the day took on a new form. Its focus became the Mishteh giving forth the Simcha.

The nature of Purim as a day of Mishteh and not intrinsic Kedushas HaYom is really found in Rashi’s comments to Meseches Megillah. Defining the word “Simchas Purim,” Rashi (on 5a) tells us that it’s “Ma’achal U’Mishteh” -the Seudah. It can be suggested that this explains Rashi’s emphasis in the beginning of the Mesechta (2a) of the dual nature of the day: being both “Simchas Purim” and “Mikra Megillah.” Though one can see this as an example of the general atmosphere of Simcha like any other Yom Tov, one can argue that the Purim is directly connected to its Mishteh. This understanding of the nature of ״Yom Tov of Purim״ however begs a further question: what did Chazal accomplish by having a Yom Tov through the meal.

To understand this further, we must define what the Mi’chiyav of this special Seuda is? Amongst the Rishonim, it seems to be a dispute. One approach understands that the Chiyuv is likened to that of any of the other Seudos Yom Tov. The Ran (for 6b) explains that the Chiyuv comes from the Passuk that prohibits fasting. Thus, any meal would suffice like that of a Yom Tov meal, and those additive requirements like “Livisumi” become a separate Rabbinic obligation. The Ran understands the Chiyuv to be not “eating a meal” but rather “avoid fasting” on this day. A similar approach, quoted in the Beis Yosef Siman 695 in the name of the Orchos Chaim, assumes that the meal is merely modified Seudas Yom Tov. Thus, if one eats the meal at night with torches one fulfills his obligation of the Seuda since the only reason we require the meal during the day was to have a meal “Bi’derech Simcha” something lacking when eating in the dark. However, once light is present, the Seuda reverts back to a regular Seudas Yom Tom, eaten as night. Similarly, Rav Hai Gaon is quoted saying that if one makes a Neder not to eat on Purim day, he can still eat at night and fulfill his obligation[3]! These opinions see the meal of Purim to be a manifestation of the Yom Tov. Thus, unique qualifications of the Purim meal like eating in the daytime and intoxication are downplayed, displaying a similarity between this feast to other Seudos Yom Tov.

However, there is another approach in understanding the Mitzvas Seuda on Purim. The meal is a manifestation of and a means to actualize Pirsumi Nisa. The Meiri (Pesachim 68b) explains that one of the days a person must have a meal as an expression of “Chatzi La’chem” is Purim. He explains that since there is a need of Pirsum Ha’Nes, a meal must be made to create such an awareness.[4]

One finds this relationship between the miracle of Purim and meal in the Mitzvos Hayom themselves. If tries to find a paradigmatic phrase of Purim, he will find are two words which encapsulate the experience: Nizkarim Vi’Na’asim. The Yerushalmi defines Vi’Na’asim to be the action of Purim, namely the meal, and Nizkarim to refer to reading the Megillah. The parallelism seems to indicates that the same way there is Pirsum found in the Megillah reading so too it’s found in the meal. Following the footsteps of the Yerushalmi, Tosefos (4a) uses this comparison to determine which of the two Megillah readings is the main one, explaining that the main reading should be during the daytime, in tandem with the meal.

This association doesn’t just go one-directional, from the meal to the Megillah, but also from the Megillah to the meal. The Ramban explains that the Rabbis took the Pesukim discussing Michiy’as Amalek (7a) and established the “Yom Tov U’Mishteh of Purim.” The Ran questions the source of the Ramban, arguing that the jump from Amalek to the creation of a Mishteh is too far and must be limited to the Chiyuv of reading the Megillah. It seems that the Ramban would respond to this attack that there is a correlation between the meal of Purim and Megillah– the connection of A’Siyah and Zechira.

What unfolds is a new understanding of the “Yom Tov” of Purim. The goal of Purim[5] and all its Mitzvos Ha’Yom is to expose and express to its followers the critical lesson gleaned from the Purim story. Making a Yom Tov isn’t enough. Purim’s Chag-status must be created through its Mitzvos HaYom. The Simcha is not a reaction to a Yom Tov, rather it’s means to elicit and create a feeling which will lead to an understanding and further internalization of the lessons of Pirsumi Nisa. Thus, there is no Issur Melacha and a meal linked with the Mitzvos HaYom of Purim in the day.

This idea furthers our understanding of the value of “Ad Dilo Yada” as well. Even if there are those who don’t practically follow this ruling,[6] the Gemara is telling us how the meal should ideally be realized. It is told over[7] that intoxication helps one internalize the lessons of Purim. As the Gemara tells us “Nichnas Yayin, Yotza Sod,” wine has an ability to open one’s mind and loosen him up, lowering his intellectual capacities and opening his emotional world up to what Purim is telling him. Pirusm Ha’Nes indicates all that the good and bad, even though the intellect can’t comprehend it, are both from Ha-Shem: His’Batlus before an awareness of Gi’loiy Shechina[8]. On Purim, during the meal, one is demanded to gain an deeper understanding of life, clearing all doubts for that moment, nullifying all definitions of “good” and “bad” revealing Yichud Ha-Shem, an unwavering truth that all comes from Him[9].

Moishy Rothman is an undergraduate student at Yeshiva College.

[1] See Tosefos Sukka 27a.

[2] See Pesachim 68b

[3] see Darkei Moshe Siman 695.

[4] . One finds this idea as well in the Rosh (1:6) as well.

[5] See Rambam in his introduction to the Minyan Ha’Mitzvos who uses this concept to explain who the Rabbis were able to create a new Chag called Purim in spite of issues of Ba’al Tosif.

[6] See Meiri, Ba’al Hamaor, Rabbinu Ephriam, Rama.

[7] See Pachad Yitzchok

[8] see The Lubavitcher Rebbe Purim Mamar 1, 5717.

[9] On this point, see Tosefos Ha’Rosh 16b on the definition of how the Megillah is compared to “Amita Shel Torah.”

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