The festive spirit of the holiday of Purim is in the air!
On the Shabbos preceding Purim, an additional Torah scroll is removed from the ark. For the Maftir Aliyah, we read the portion where G-d instructs us to blot out the remembrance of the hateful and disgraceful nation of Amalek.
This important reading is recited on the Shabbos before Purim in order to link the remembrance of Amalek to the Holiday of Purim when we celebrate the downfall of Haman, a descendant of Amalek. It is a Torah obligation for all to hear this Torah reading, which is called Parshas Zachor.
The Haftorah that we read is taken from the Book of Samuel where G-d called for the complete elimination of the nation of Amalek.
Samuel the Prophet instructed King Shaul to kill all the Amelakites and their animals. King Shaul, however, had pity on Agag, the king of Amalek, and held him captive. Also he did not kill all their animals, for he wished to use them as sacrifices to G-d. When Shmuel returned to Shaul and realized that the animals and Agag were kept alive, he reprimanded Shaul, and as a result, Shaul lost the monarchy.
Years later in the Purim story, Haman, who was a descendant of Agag and is therefore called ‘Haman the Agagai,’ became incensed and infuriated because Mordechai the Sage would not bow to him. As a result, Haman wished to destroy the entire Jewish nation.
Mordechai and King Shaul both came from the tribe of Benyamin, and Esther, in fact, was a direct descendant of Shaul.
Mordechai’s defiance of Haman caused Haman and his sons to be hanged along with many Amalekites who were killed in the war that the Jews fought for their survival. In a certain sense, Mordechai and Esther’s efforts served to compensate for King Shaul’s omission.
The mitzvos of Purim are:
The Megilla of Esther is read from a scroll Wednesday night March 16th and then again on Thursday March 17st. All are obligated to hear the reading of the Megilla.
On Purim day we have three additional Mitzvos to perform. 1) To send Shalach Manos – varieties of food to one another. 2) Matanos L’evyonim – to give monetary gifts to the poor. 3) To have a festive holiday meal, in which one traditionally drinks some wine in the spirit of the festive holiday.
These Mitzvos serve to strengthen our care, friendship and unity with our fellow brethren.
The Megilla in describing the beginning of Haman’s downfall, tells us that Haman was instructed by King Achashvarosh to lead Mordechai on a horse through the streets while Mordechai was dressed in royal garments. He had to call out, “This is what is done to the person to whom which the king wished to honor.”
Right after this event the Megilla states, Haman came home in a state of mourning with his head soiled. The Talmud fills us in with details. When Haman’s parade passed his home, his daughter was on the roof. She looked down and figured that Mordechai must be the one leading the horse and her father was on the horse. She took a chamber pot, and threw its contents upon the person leading the horse. When he looked up to see who threw it at him, she realized that it was her father Haman. She was so distressed that she jumped off the roof and killed herself. Thus he was in a state of mourning, was soiled, and smelled awful.
My uncle Rabbi Moshe Saks o.b.m. pointed out that when Haman came to Mordechai for him to change into royal clothing Haman must have donned Mordechai’s Rabbinic clothing so that he would not be recognized and people would think that he was really Mordechai. Thus his daughter saw someone who was wearing “a Rabbinical hat” and assumed it was Mordechai.
Because Haman dressed as Mordechai, the Jews who were at the parade were not sure who was leading who. However a stanza in the Purim song, “Shoshanas Yaacov”, gives us a clue as to how they figured out who was who. “When they all saw ‘Techailes Mordechai’ – that the one riding on the horse had strands of Tzitzis which has Techailes – blue dyed strings hanging out from underneath the royal clothing – the Jews recognized that indeed Mordechai was on the horse and their salvation was at hand!”