The Four Mitzvot of Purim

Read, eat, and give!


Celebrated on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar, the holiday of Purim celebrates the miracle of the Israelites being saved from their enemies in the Book of Esther. There are four major mitzvot, or commandments, associated with the often raucous holiday. Do you know what they are?

The first and foremost mitzvah is the reading of the megillah (literally "scroll" or "volume"), also known as the Book of Esther. Jews read, or, in most cases, listen to someone reading, the megillah twice -- once at night and once during the day. In order to fulfill the mitzvah, one must hear every word of the reading, which usually means complete silence, aside from the noisemaking that goes on at every mention of the name of Haman, the villain of the Purim story. 

  • Needed for the reading: The Book of Esther, noisemakers (groggers)

The next and probably most well-known mitzvah is mishloach manot or shalach manot, which means the sending of gifts. For most people, this involves a basket, bag, or other receptacle filled with at least two different types of ready-to-eat foods. The reason for having two different types of foods is that there is a requirement to make two different blessings or brachot. Many people will pick a theme and plan their mishloach manot around that theme, like filling a basket with biscuits, tea, and jam for an "afternoon tea" theme. Many people also make sure to fill their mishloach manot with hamantaschen

  • Needed for mishloach manot: A theme, food, decorations, a list of recipients 

The Purim seudah, or meal, is a favorite among celebrants. The obligation for a celebratory meal on Purim day means that one needs to be able to ritually wash (netilat yadayim) their hands in order to eat bread and then recite the Birkat HaMazon blessing after the meal. Tied up in the Purim meal is the command to drink "up to the point where they cannot tell the difference between 'Blessed is Mordechai' and "Cursed is Haman'" (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 7a and Shulchan Aruch). This means to drink to the point of inebriation, which usually means one drink more than one would need to become sleepy. Above all, the mitzvah to drink is important, but so is drinking responsibly and safely. 

  • Needed for the Purim seudah: Festive food, bread, alcohol, friends and family

One of the lesser known mitzvot of Purim is matanot la'evyonim, which means giving gifts to the poor. Although giving to the poor is a huge mitzvah throughout the year, the command to give on Purim is in addition to the regular mitzvah of tzedakah, or charity. To properly fulfill the mitzvah of giving gifts to the poor, one must give to two poor individuals. The sages said that this means giving enough money to each person to provide an entire meal or to give the equivalent in food. You can donate on Purim day or ahead of time to fulfill this commandment. 

  • Needed for matanot la'evyonim: Two poor individuals, enough money or food for a meal

Other popular observances of Purim that are not necessarily commandments are to dress up in costumes, such as Esther or Mordechai, which falls for many in line with the command to be unable to tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman. There are Purim parades in many communities, and the Purim shpiel has also become a popular way to celebrate.