Tonight is your daughter’s eagerly anticipated return from a year of study abroad. You’ve prepared her favorite meal, spending hours in the kitchen to make sure all of the dishes will be perfect. You’ve even set the table with the finest silver, dressed in your best clothes, invited friends and relatives, decorated the house with pictures of your daughter and hung welcoming banners, all to make sure the atmosphere conveys your enthusiasm for her presence.
The hour arrives, there’s a knock at the door, you rush to the door to open it… and there she stands in a dirty sweatshirt, munching on a hot dog, relish spilling on to her fingers. “Hey,” she says, with a shrug, perhaps even a small burp. “What’s up?”
The “Homecoming” is Shabbos. The meal is our Friday night dinner, complete with fine food, beautiful clothes, honored guests and a beautiful home. The callous girl with the hot dog relish – that could be us, on any given Shabbos, if we were to make the mistake of sitting down to a big meal on Friday afternoon, before the start of Shabbos. Therefore, our Sages have taught us that in order to make sure we honor Shabbos properly, we should refrain from eating large meals on Friday afternoon (Pesachim 99b).
The idea is simple: Make sure that we will enjoy the Shabbos dinner, by waiting to eat until Shabbos is here.
There is one problem, though. This year, Purim occurs on a Friday, and Purim brings with it a Mitzvah of eating a Purim Seudah (feast). How can we eat our Purim feast, and still retain our hunger for the Shabbos meal that night? Must we sacrifice Purim for Shabbos, or Shabbos for Purim?
Two Acceptable Solutions
There are two halachic approaches to this dilemma:
1. Begin the Purim Seudah on Purim morning, before midday.
Midday is calculated as the midpoint between sunrise and sunset; this year, in Allentown, midday on Purim will be 1:09 PM (EDT). If one starts the Purim Seudah before midday, that still allows enough time to eat the meal, celebrate Purim, and then spend several hours building up an appetite for Shabbos. This approach is recommended by the Rama, Rabbi Moshe Isserles, the Ashkenazi author in the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 695:2).
It is true that in a normal year we eat our Purim Seudah in the afternoon, but that’s a matter of convenience, in order to save the morning for delivering Mishloach Manot (Mishneh Berurah 695:8). There is no halachic reason to wait for the afternoon. Some authorities actually praise the practice of having the Seudah in the morning every year (cited in Mishneh Berurah 695:9).
The only real problem with this solution is the issue of practicality. People who go to work on Friday may not be able to enjoy a true Purim Seudah in the cubicle; in its ideal form, the Seudah involves a dressed-up family seated around a fully appointed table, singing Purim songs and talking about the holiday – not a quick deli sandwich scarfed down in front of a computer screen in between conference calls.
This practical problem leads to the proposal of a second solution:
2. The pores mappah solution.
Under “pores mappah,” an idea put forth talmudically (Pesachim 100a), one may begin his meal shortly before Candle Lighting time (which is 6:57 PM in Allentown this year).
At or before the time for candle lighting, one lights Shabbos candles, covers all bread, cake and/or cookies, recites Kiddush, and continues the meal as the Shabbos dinner. After the meal one davens Kabbalas Shabbos and Maariv. The term “pores mappah” means “spread a cloth,” referring to covering the food while reciting Kiddush.
This method reduces the disgrace to Shabbos, since one eats the Shabbos meal with a decent appetite. On the other hand, the Purim meal is a nice meal, with everyone home from work, dressed nicely and according the feast the honor it deserves.
This method does suffer from a few problems, though:
(A) Drinking: We are taught that as part of celebrating the ultimate joy of having our lives saved on Purim, we are supposed to imbibe alcohol at the Purim Seudah and reach the state in which we cannot tell the difference between “Cursed is Haman” and “Blessed is Mordechai” (Megilah 7b). Authorities differ on how much to drink, but it is clear that one who is not medically unable to drink, and who has a designated driver, should drink some alcohol - preferably enough that he feels lightheaded (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 695:2).
In a normal year, one may enjoy his Seudah, drink a little, and then sleep off the effects of the alcohol. Having a midday meal works for this issue, too. But if one drinks at a pores mappah meal, will he be able to coherently and respectfully daven Kabbalas Shabbos and Maariv afterward, not to mention have an appropriate Shabbos dinner?
Further, many people – myself included – have embraced the practice of drinking minimally at the Purim Seudah and then fulfilling the state of intoxication by taking a nap after the meal. This is an approach sanctioned by the Rama (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 695:2). However, if one uses the pores mappah method then he doesn’t have any after-Seudah time to nap; by the time the Seudah is over, Purim is over as well.
(B) A second problem is that the way the pores mapah solution is presented in the Gemara and in the Code of Jewish Law (Orach Chaim 271:4), it does not seem to be an ideal, recommended, l’Chatchilah practice. It sounds more like something to be done when one has no other choice.
(C) A third problem arises in negotiating the specifics of the pores mappah meal itself. Does one include Al haNissim when reciting Birkat haMazon after the meal? Should one perhaps recite Birkat haMazon after the first part of the meal, and then act as though the second half is entirely a new meal? Does one cover only bread and cake during Kiddush, or other items as well? We do have practical guidelines for navigating these issues – but there are great debates involved, with big names on all sides.
The Communal Seudah
Although the pores mappah solution is intriguing, the communal Seudah at Congregation Sons of Israel will follow the first approach, that recommended by the Rama, by beginning before midday. We are bolstered by the views cited earlier, who believe that the Seudah should be a morning meal every year. Further, this will allow those who drink at their Seudah to fulfill the Mitzvos of both Shabbos and Purim properly.
We will enjoy a great meal of spaghetti and meatballs (and garlic bread!), starting at Noon, after which I will gladly go home and take a nap for as long as Amram, Meira, Rena and Aharon will permit. Join us for the meal, and let’s celebrate Purim together!
And an important addendum
I must stress something which I wish were obvious to all: People should not give alcohol to minors to drink on Purim. It is not necessary for their fulfillment of any Mitzvah, and it is a foolish and dangerous practice.
I would also add that it would be better for adults not to drink on Purim with young children present, as even that may be misunderstood by those children.
The finest joy is joy which centers around a Mitzvah, and this is the essence of Purim - 4 Mitzvot (Megilah, Sending Gifts of Food, Giving to the Poor and having a Feast) which are about experiencing joy and spreading joy.
For more on this theme see Shaarei Teshuvah of Rav Chaim Margaliyot, Orach Chaim 697:2.