Torah Readings for Wednesday, March 4, 2015 (13th of Adar)
Fast of Esther - Shacharit (Morning Service)32:11-14; 34:1-10 Shemot (Exodus)
This is the standard reading for minor fast days. During the year, this material is part of the weekly portion called Ki Tissa. The reading from chapter 32, which is the first of the three aliyot, relates to the Sin of the Golden Calf - specifically the plea of Moses that the Lord not destroy the Israelites. “Turn from Your blazing anger, and renounce the plan to punish Your people…And the Lord renounced the punishment he planned to bring upon His people.” The readings from chapter 34, which comprise the other two aliyot, describe the creation of the second set of stone tablets which replace the first set - the ones Moses shattered against the Golden Calf. The reading actually ends with a statement by the Lord renewing the Covenant, “He said, ‘I hereby make a covenant.…’” This is an appropriate reading for a fast day. It concerns itself with the worst sin of the Israelites - the episode of the Golden Calf. The first reading shows that God does hear us when we repent and is willing to “avert the evil decree.” The second two readings are a reminder that from something bad - the Golden Calf - something good - the renewal of the Covenant and the second set of tablets - can come.
Fast of Esther - Mincha (Afternoon Service)32:11-14; 34:1-10 Shemot (Exodus)
These are the same readings and reasons as the morning service.
Fast of Esther - Mincha (Afternoon Service)
The reading is from the Second Isaiah, the Isaiah of the Exile. In moving, poetic terms, the prophet offers a vision of forgiveness for the truly penitent. First the penitent person must accept that the Lord is calling the shots, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord.” And then the penitent person must change behavior, “Keep ye justice, and do righteousness…Happy is the man that does this…that keepeth the Sabbath from profaning it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil.”
The Fast of Esther normally falls on the 13th of Adar and is observed in memory of the fast mentioned in the Megillah Esther. Their fast was a three day fast. Ours is only a one-day affair. This fast also reminds us of a theme that runs throughout Judaism - the bitter and the sweet or darkness always gives way to light. The Fast of the 13th gives way to the Feast of the 14th. In other words, we should not be too disheartened by moments of defeat because, with the help of God, they are merely the prelude to an even greater joy.
There are exceptions when it comes to observing the fast. According to Rabbi Shraga Simmons, “If the 13th falls on Shabbat, we don’t fast that day, due to the honor Shabbat. The fast is not even held on Friday, since this would adversely affect Shabbat preparations. Rather, we observe the fast on Thursday, the 11th of Adar.”
Torah Readings for Purim, Wednesay Night, March 4, 2015
This reading fulfills the first half of the rule that “Each person, man and woman alike is obligated to hear the reading of the Megillah at night and during the day.” This is the “central observance” of Purim. While laws pertaining to the holiday may be found in the Talmudic Tractate known as “Megillah,” the simplest compendium of the rules is in Chapter 141 of the Kitzur Shulchon Oruch, copies of which are available in very readable English translation.
Torah Readings for Thursday, March 5, 2015 (14th of Adar)
Purim - Shacharit (Morning Service)17:8-16 Shemot (Exodus)
The Torah portion describes the battle between that Amalekites and the Israelites that took place in the Wilderness after the Exodus. According to tradition, Haman is a descendant of the Amalekites, specifically Agag, who was an Amalekite King. The reading is one verse short of the standard ten usually required, so the last verse is repeated.
The Megillah is read after the Torah has been returned to the ark and half-kaddish has been chanted. This reading fulfills the second half of the rule that “Each person, man and woman alike is obligated to hear the reading of the Megillah at night and during the day.”
PurimPurim is celebrated on the 14th of Adar. In preparation, here are a few customs and ceremonies related to the holiday. The emphasis is on the word few. This is not intended to be a complete compendium of the customs, ceremonies or the reasons for the observances. I will leave that to the professionals in the community. The rules concerning Purim cover nine pages in Volume II of the Kitzur Shulchon Oruch (a code of Jewish ritual law). The material is found in two chapters called respectively, “The Reading of the Magillah” and “Sending Presents of Food, Giving Gifts to the Poor, and the Purim Feast.” These chapter headings should give you an idea as to the thrust of the holiday observances.
The Half-ShekelWe always remember the poor at Purim. It became a custom to give three half-shekels or in our case three half-dollars to the poor so that they could enjoy the holiday as well.
Shalach Monos (Yiddish)Purim is a time for giving gifts. Traditionally the gifts consist of two consumable items that do not require further preparation. These may include hamantaschen, other kinds of cookies, cakes or candy as well as grape juice or wine. In some communities the making and delivery of Shalach Monos baskets has become a Sisterhood fundraising activity. At any rate, these treats are delivered by a third party. Frequently children get to play the part of gift deliverers.
Reading the MegillahEverybody, regardless of sex, is to hear the reading both in the evening and again in the morning. There are numerous rules about the proper way the reading is to take place. Interestingly, the name of G-d does not appear in the Megillah.
Eating and DrinkingPurim is a holiday of great joy. Traditionally a festive meal, including meat, is to be consumed during the day of Purim.
Two Scrolls - Two Women - Two OutcomesTwo of the five scrolls are named for women - The Scroll of Esther and The Scroll of Ruth. Ruth tells the story of a convert who chooses to move to Eretz Israel, who observes the commandments including caring for the widow, gleaning and chalitzah. Her merit is such that she becomes the Matriarch for the House of David which includes David, Solomon and ultimately the Moshiach. Esther tells the story of a Jewess who marries a non-Jew. Yes, she does it as part of the Divine Plan and yes she does save her people. Of course she does this by using the skills of the courtesan and the harem girl. Furthermore, according to tradition, her son is King Darius of Persia and Darius is no Jewish ruler; he adopted the customs of his father. In other words, the line of the born Jew - Esther - disappears from view. The line of the Jew by choice - Ruth - is with us to this day. In the 21st century, questions have been raised about the on-going viability of the American Jewish community. According to some, it would behoove us to look at the lives of these two great women for a clue as to what action steps need to be taken. First, they would say, we must tap into the zeal of the Jews by choice, embracing them, educating them in the ways of our people while acknowledging their worth and contributions At the same time, we must reach out and hold on to those who feel themselves to be at the outer rim of house of Israel. We must provide them the education that goes with being an Ashish Chayil in the truest sense of the word. We must draw them back so that Darius will join David as Jews ensuring the future of our people.
Copyright; March, 2015; Mitchell A. Levin