Holding the Purim Feast at Night
The holiday of Purim is different than all other holidays we celebrate in that whereas regarding other holidays the Mitzvah of partaking of a joyous holiday meal applies during the day and night, regarding the holiday of Purim, there is only a Mitzvah to hold a feast during the day, not at night. Nevertheless, several Rishonim write that there is a Mitzvah to have a meal on the night of Purim as well as we find by all other holidays. This is indeed the opinion of the Geonim. Halachically speaking, however, the primary Purim feast must be held specifically during the day. If one holds his Purim feast only at night, one has not fulfilled one’s obligation, as the verse states, “Days of feasting and merriment,” which teaches us that the feast must be held during the day. When the meal is held during the day, it should be held in a well-lit area amid much joy and speaking words of Torah. One should indeed be glad with what Hashem has provided him, that he has separated us from those who have gone astray, and that He has given us His true and eternal Torah which provides us with good and just laws to follow in order to allow us entry into the World to Come.
The Proper Time for the Purim Feast
The proper time to hold the Purim feast every year is during the day, as we have mentioned. The Poskim point out that one should preferably not hold the Purim feast close to sunset, i.e., close to the end of Purim, for then, the primary joy would not be experienced during the day of Purim at all. Therefore, they write that one should try to begin the Purim feast as early as possible. There are several other reasons for this as well.
Many have the custom to pray Mincha Gedola, i.e., praying Mincha at an early hour, and to begin their Purim feast immediately thereafter. Those who are truly meticulous about their Mitzvah observance hold their Purim feast in the morning before the time for Mincha prayers arrives. This is indeed the opinion of several Poskim, including the saintly Shelah, who write that one should hold one’s Purim meal early in the day; the earlier one holds the feast, the more praiseworthy he is.
This was indeed the custom of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l who would partake of his Purim feast immediately following Shacharit prayers as he would on Shabbat day, in accordance with the opinion of the saintly Shelah. Nevertheless, according to the letter of the law, it is permissible to begin this feast later in the day as is the prevalent custom. Some say that it is even preferable to have the meal in the afternoon.
What Should Be Eaten?
One should preferably eat bread during the Purim feast, as we do on Shabbat and Yom Tov. One should have as festive and beautiful a feast as possible. One should drink wine and eat red meat within this feast, for meat and wine bring about joy.
Women are likewise obligate to partake in the Purim feast. Nevertheless, they should only drink a small amount of wine.
It is a fine custom to eat legumes during the Purim feast, such as rice, chickpeas, and the like. This custom is quoted by the Bet Yosef (Chapter 695) in the name of the Orchot Chaim who writes that it is customary to eat legumes on Purim night in commemoration of the legumes Daniel and his friends ate in the king’s palace. Similarly, Queen Esther ate legumes in Achashverosh’s palace, for she could not consume the other foods there because they were not kosher (see Megillah 13a). The Rama quotes this custom in his glosses on the Shulchan Aruch, as does Maran zt”l in his Chazon Ovadia.
We remember that in the home of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l, his wife, Rabbanit Margalit a”h, would prepare Sambusak (fried dough) filled with ground chickpeas for the Purim feast and the family would point out that they were eating this to commemorate the legumes that Queen Esther ate in the palace.