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Purim starts Monday night, February 25th, 2002 with the fast of Taanit Esther. Shushan Purim starts the next evening, for those of you living in "walled cities."

The Days of Purim Purim can either fall on the 14th of Adar or the 15th of Adar, depending upon where you live. The reason for this is because the Jews of Shushan originally observed the festival on a different day than the Jews who lived elsewhere. In the other provinces the Jews waged war on the 13th and observed the 14th as a day of festivity and rejoicing. The Jews of Shushan waged war during the 13th and 14th of the month and observed the 15th as a day of festivity and rejoicing.

Therefore, Purim celebrated on the 14th of Adar is called Purim of the Open Cities while Purim on the 15th of Adar is called Purim of the Walled Cities. In these days, the only city that has the status of Shushan and therefore celebrates Purim on the 15th is Jerusalem. In a number of other places, the scroll of Esther is also read on the 15th of Adar due to doubt. In those communities, the essential observance of Purim is fixed for the 14th of Adar (since this is when everyone reads the Megillah) and though the reading of the Megillah is repeated on the 15th, the blessing which precedes the Megillah reading is not recited.

The Observance of the Day. There are four mitzvot which are obligatory on Purim: the reading of Megillat Esther, festivity and rejoicing, Shalach Manot (sending gifts), and Matanot L'Evyonim (gifts to the poor). Explanations follow:

Reading of Megillat Esther
One is required to read the Megillah both by day and night. One may read the Megillah all night until dawn, and from sunrise until sunset. If one has read the Megillah before sunrise but after dawn, one has fulfilled the obligation to read the Megillah.Both men and women are obligated to hear the Megillah.

Feasting and Rejoicing
It is a mitzvah to have a sumptuous meal on Purim, including meat dishes and wine. This feast must be held during the day. When Purim is in on Erev Shabbos -- as it was in Jerusalem in 5758 -- one must begin one's meal early in the afternoon before Mincha in order that one can finish early enough so as to have a good appetite for the Shabbos meal. The miracle of Purim came through wine. Vashti's downfall and Haman's downfall came through a wine feast! There is also a custom of drinking until intoxication as our Sages tell us, "A person is obligated to drink on Purim til he no longer knows the difference between cursed is Haman and blessed is Modechai." If one fears that he or she may be harmed by excessive drinking of wine or come to levity thereby or even forget the required brachot one is required to make, drinking excessively is not required.

Matanot L'Evyonim (Gifts for the Poor)
One is required to give at least two gifts to two poor people on Purim, in other words, one gift to each. Even a poor person who subsists on charity is required to perform this mitzvah. This obligation can be fulfilled through food or drink or even clothing. The gift should be sufficient to buy bread. The gifts to the poor are given during the day, usually after the reading of the Megillah.

Shalach Manot (Gifts to One Another)
One must give a gift which consists of two portions to another person. Both men and women are included in this mitzvah. The food must consist of something edible or drinkable without further cooking or preparation. One may send meat, fish. cooked pastry, wine and other beverages. These gifts should be sent to as many people as one chooses but they should be sufficient to convey regard for the recipient. If at all possible, these gifts should be sent by messengers, rather than delivered personally because the Megillah uses the word mishloach (sending) for these gifts.

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