by R. Gil Student
I. Premature Breakfast
On Purim morning, are we allowed to eat breakfast? The answer is not so much a matter of food but of priorities. On Purim, we observe a number of commandments. Among them are reading the megillah, giving charity to the poor, sending gifts of food to a friend and eating a festive meal.
The Torah forbids eating on blood (Lev. 19:26), which the Talmud explains has multiple meanings. Among them is not eating before you pray for your life (Berakhos 10b). While commentaries debate whether this prohibition is biblical or rabbinic, either way it prevents us from eating before morning prayers any day of the week.
However, on Purim we face an additional concern. Whenever we have a mitzvah to do, we have to do it as soon as possible. For this reason, we are not allowed to eat until we do the mitzvah. For example, Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 652:2) says that on Sukkos, you may not eat before shaking a lulav. Similarly, we are not allowed to eat on the night before Pesach prior to checking for chametz (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 431:2).
From one perspective, this serves as a sensible safeguard to prevent people from getting distracted. Since eating is forbidden, we are forced to fulfill the mitzvah in a reasonable time. However, another perspective sees this as a matter of priorities. We love God and His commandments m so much that we set aside our bodily needs temporarily in order to fulfill His will, as represented in both biblical and rabbinic commandments (see Rav Elchanan Wasserman, Kovetz Shi’urim, vol. 2, Kuntres Divrei Soferim 1:22).
I’m reminded of the Seinfeld episode “The Opposite” (5:22). Elaine goes to a movie theater to meet her boyfriend but is immediately told by the manager that her boyfriend had been hit by a car and taken to the hospital. She goes in to buy Jujyfruits candy and only then rushes to the hospital. Her boyfriend realizes that she stopped to buy candy and breaks up with her due to the offense. If we really care about someone or something, we don’t take a break to eat before attending to them.
II. Purim Breakfast
Rav Moshe Sternbuch (Mo’adim U-Zemanim, vol. 2 no. 186) suggests that this should also apply to the commandments to give money to the poor and gifts to your friends. This would mean that after the Purim morning prayers, including reading the megillah, you still may not eat until you give money to the poor and gifts to a friend. Similarly, Rav Binyamin Yehoshua Zilber (Responsa Az Nidberu 6:65) follows Rav Sternbuch in forbidding eating before fulfilling the commandments of the day. Rav Dr. Avraham Sofer (Nishmas Avraham, Orach Chaim 692:1) writes that Rav Yehoshua Neuwirth was unsure whether you may eat before fulfilling the obligation to give to the poor.
Rav Eliezer Waldenburg (Tzitz Eliezer 15:32:15) quotes Rav Ovadiah Yosef as disagreeing. He says that eating on Purim is also a mitzvah of the day. Therefore, you may eat before fulfilling the other Purim commandments. Rav Yosef also points out that the feast is mentioned before the poor and gifts in the verse: “That they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor” (Esther 9:22).
Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky (Kovetz Halakhos, Purim 14:1) suggests that the reason people seem to act leniently on this issue is the rule that if someone agrees to remind us to fulfill the mitzvah, we may eat before fulfilling it. Since poor people come to our doors all day and friends arrive to deliver gifts, they will serve as reminder and we may eat early.
We find two opinions whether we may eat on Purim before fulfilling the other commandments of the day. Regardless of which we follow, we should remember to focus on fulfilling the commandments with joy and alacrity.