The Kittel At The Seder

1. There is a custom for men to wear a kittel (white robe) at the Seder. There are two primary reasons for this custom: A) The kittel resembles the ministering angels, who are clothed in pure white. According to this reason, the kittel symbolizes angel-like freedom from sin and it would generate feelings of happiness. (See Hilchos Pesach Rav Shimon Eider and Netai Gavriel Pesach 2 chapter 64)  B) The kittel resembles shrouds. Since at the Seder we conduct ourselves like free men and royalty, we are afraid that a person may tend to become haughty. Therefore, the kittel reminds him of the day of his death. (Taz 472:3)
2. The custom of Sefardim and Chabad Chassidim is not to wear a kittel at the Seder. (See Haggadah Shel Pesach Chabad and Netai Gavriel ibid.)
3. The custom is not to enter the bathroom while wearing a kittel, since it is considered a garment set aside for prayer (on Yom Kippur), entering the bathroom with the kittel is not an honorable act. Therefore, if one needs the bathroom during the Seder he should remove the kittel before entering the bathroom. (Beer Heitiv 21:3)
4. Many, including Square Chassidim, do not wear a kittel during the first year of marriage, or shana rishonah. (See Maharam Shick O.C. 28, Katzeh Hamateh on Mateh Efraim 619:11 and Netai Gavriel Pesach page 318) This is also the view of Harav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a. (Sefer Yismach Lev Nisuin)
5. Others maintain that it is preferred to wear the kittel during the shana rishonah. Vizhnitz, Nadvorna, Sanzer, and Munkatch Chassidim wear the kittel during the shana rishonah. (See Netai Gavriel ibid.) This is also the view of Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l and Harav Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg zt”l. (Haggadah Shel Pesach Harav Shlomo Zalman and Yismach Lev)
6. Above we cited two reasons to wear the Kittel (1. To symbolize angel-like freedom from sin. 2. To remind us of death so that one will not become haughty) There is a great debate amongst the authorities whether a mourner wears a kittel. The Taz (472:3) favors the second rationale for wearing a kittel (so that one will not become haughty) and therefore he writes that a mourner should wear a kittel. This is also the view of the Baal Hatania (472:4), Harav Yaakov Emden zt”l (Siddur), Harav Yekutiel Halbestam zt”l (Divrei Yetziv 208) and Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (Haggadah).
7. However, the Magen Avraham maintains that according to both explanations of a kittel’s significance, a mourner at the Seder should not wear one. Certainly, if wearing the kittel symbolizes angel-like freedom from sin, it would generate simcha and is inappropriate for a mourner. But even if the kittel is meant to induce humilty, it is unnecessary for a mourner to wear it since he is already saddened. This is also the view of the Bach. Harav David Feinstein shlit”a (Haggadah Kol Dodi) writes, “Magen Avraham’s reasoning is sound, and his ruling is therefore definitive; especially since the Gra, according to the Haggada of Rabbi Yechiel Heller, holds that the rationale for wearing a kittel is that we resemble the ministering angels.” The Mishnah Berurah writes that the custom is not to wear the kittel, however, those that choose to wear one should not be rebuked. For normative Halacha, a rav should be consulted.
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Preparations For The Seder

  1. The poskim stress the importance of starting the Seder as soon as possible upon returning home from Shul after nightfall. (It should not begin before nightfall, however.) The reason that we wish to begin the Seder promptly is in order that the children should still be awake and in order to eat the Afikomen in the proper time. Indeed, it is a mitzvah to run home from Shul in order to quickly begin the Seder, even though normally one may not run on Shabbos and Yom Tov. (see Netai Gavriel Pesach 2:60)
  2. It is for this reason that the Seder table (including the wine, Kiddush cups, Matzah, Marror, Charoses etc.) should be prepared before Yom Tov in order to facilitate commencing the Seder immediately upon returning home from Shul after nightfall. (S.A. 472:1) (In a later halacha we will iy”h discuss when to assemble and bring the Ka’arah to the table)
  3. When feasible, all the preparations should be done by adult Jews and not by non-Jews or Jewish minors. (see M.B. end of 477) It should be noted that the Chasam Sofer would set the table himself before leaving to Shul. (Minhagei Chasam Sofer 10:11) Indeed, many tzadikim would perform the preparations themselves and not rely on others to perform the mitzvah. (See Netai Gavriel Pesach 2 page 274)
  4. The Mishnah Berurah (472:6) writes, “Although during the entire year it is best to minimize use at the table of elegant vessels (i.e. exquisite silver) in order to recall the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, on the Seder nights it is a mitzvah to set the table with the finest vessels, in the manner of free men and royalty.”
  5. As a sign of our freedom, when a person dines on many of the items on this night he is required to eat and drink in a reclining position (heseiba), in the manner of free men and royalty. The preferred position for reclining is that while seated near the table, he leans to the left, with a pillow or cushion to support his head. (M.B. 472:7) Therefore, pillows and cushions should be prepared by each seat before Yom Tov. (see Haggadah Shel Pesach Minchas Chein page 61) It is preferred that the pillow be prepared by someone other than the master of the house. (Haggadah Shel Pesach Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l Hebrew)
  6. The cups used for Kiddush should be rinsed prior to use. (See M.B. 271:44) The Chaya Adam (130:1) writes that that the rinsing of the cups, as the other preparations, should be done before Yom Tov. However, others write that the cups should be washed immediately prior to Kiddush. (Mateh Moshe 615 and Tashbetz Maamer Chametz)
  7. The Shulchan Aruch (472:15) writes that one should distribute candies and nuts to the children before the Seder in order to keep them awake. In the Rav Chaim Kanievsky Haggada is states that Rav Chaim would distribute the candies and nuts in adherence to the view of the Shulchan Aruch. However, many do not adhere to this Halacha. (For a justification of the common practice see Minhag Yisroel Torah)

Using A Check For Matanos L’Evyonim

1. The mitzvah of Matanos L’Evyonim on Purim is to give at least one gift to two different poor people on Purim day. (S.A. 694:1)
2. There is a great discussion amongst the poskim as to the proper amount to give to each poor person. The Ritva writes that even a perutah (i.e., a minuscule amount of money) may be given to each of the two poor people in order to fulfill this mitzvah. However, others maintain that practically one should give enough money with which the poor person can purchase for himself a decent meal. (see Yismach Yisroel page 121 and Halichos Olam vol. 1 page 233) I have heard from Rabbanim that the amount of money that a poor person would need to purchase a bagel, coffee, and some other small side dish or two slices of pizza and a can of soda, definitely suffices for the minimum amount required to be given to each of the two poor people. For practical halacha, a rav should be consulted.
3. The poskim maintain that giving a check to a poor person fulfills the mitzvah of Matanos L’evyonim. (Rivevos Efraim 5:455:2 and Halichos Shlomo Purim page 342)
4. Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l explains that one can use a check even if the bank is not open on Purim. (Halichos Shlomo ibid.) This is also the view of Harav Yisroel Belsky zt”l (Piskei Harav Belsky page 124)
5. Harav Belsky zt”l (Piskei Harav Belsky ibid.) explains that the custom is not to give a post-dated check for the mitzvah of Matanos L’Evyonim. He then adds that some poskim opine that one should not give a check if he does not have sufficient funds to cover the check. However, if one will accrue the funds by the time the poor person cashes the check then it is permitted.

Mishloach Manos (Assorted Halachos)

  1. There is a mitzvah to give Mishloach Manos, two foods to one person, on Purim day. (S.A. 695:4)
  2. There are two reasons found in the poskim for this Mitzvah. A) To ensure that everyone, especially the poor, will have sufficient food for the Purim meal. (Terumas Hadeshen 111) B) To increase love and friendship between Jews, thereby dismissing Haman’s accusations that there is strife and dissention among Jews. This is an ideal opportunity to repair broken relationships by sending packages to people with whom one has ill feelings. (Manos Halevi cited by Chasam Sofer O.C. 196)
  3. The Ksav Sofer (141) explains that there is a difference of halacha between these two reasons, and that is if one can fulfill the mitvah by giving Mishloach Manos anonymously. According to the first reason one would still fulfill the mitzvah since in this case the receiver will have food for the Purim meal. However, according to the second reason one who sends mishloach manos anonymously does not fulfill the mitzvah since no friendship or goodwill is generated between him and the recipient. It is  preferred to fulfill the mitzvah according to both reasons.
  4. Mishloach Manos should be given during the day of purim and not at night. (M.B. 695:22)
  5. The Mishloach Manos are given on Purim day. If one sends them in the mail before Purim and it arrives on Purim day it would seem that one fulfills his obligation since the package was received on Purim. This is indeed the view of many poskim (see Beer Heitiv 695:7, Shraga Hameir 4:31, Az Nidberu 6:80). However the Aruch Hashulchan (695:17) maintains one does not fulfill his obligation if it was shipped before Purim, even if it arrives on Purim day. All agree that if the Mishloach Manos will arrive before or after Purim day that one has not fulfilled his obligation.
  6. One doesn’t fulfill the obligation with anything that’s non-food, such as clothing or dishes. (Trumas Hadeshen 111, M.B. 695:20, Yalkut Yosef 5:321,323. See also Tzitz Eliezer 9:33)
  7. In order to fulfill the mitzvah of Mishloach Manos one needs to send to foods to one person. However it is not necessary for the items to require two different blessings. For example, one may send two different cakes or two fruits.
  8. Indeed, according to many poskim one can fulfill the mitzvah by sending two cuts of meat as long as they taste different (beef hotdog and hamburger, white and dark meat of the chicken). (See Mikraei Kodesh 38, Halichos Shlomo page 336, Tzitz Eliezer 14:65, 15:31, Yalkut Yosef Kitzur S.A. page 773, Avnei Yashfei 4:83 and Yismach Yisrael page 95) It is therefore clear that two different brachos are not required.
  9. [It is important to note that the aforementioned poskim were only lenient if the two foods have a different taste. However, one cannot fulfill the mitzvah by sending two items of the same food, two hotdogs etc.]
  10. The poskim debate whether one can fulfill the mitzvah by sending spices which are not eaten on their own, such as sugar, pepper, etc. (Yismach Yisrael page 99). For normative halacha, a rav should be consulted.
  11. The poskim discuss whether one can fulfill his obligation by sending food to someone who for medical reasons cannot eat the food, such as sugary foods to a diabetic. According to Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l one can fulfill his mitzvah with these foods. It seems, however, that Harav Yehoshua Neubert zt”l and ybc”l Harav Yitzchak Zilberstein shlit”a maintain that one does not fulfill his obligation since this food does not bring the diabetic simcha as he cannot eat it. (See Halichos Shlomo 19:11 and Nishmas Abraham page 324) Similarly, Harav Efraim Greenblatt zt”l (Shu”t Rivevos Efraim 6:387) writes that one cannot fulfill his obligation by sending meat to a vegetarian, since it will not bring him joy.
  12. A drink is considered a food item as well, therefore, one may send one drink item and one food item for the mishloach manos. One can even send two different drinks. However, it appears that the custom is to send at least one food item and not two drinks. (M.B. 695:20 and Yismach Yisroel page 95. See Yalkut Yosef Kitzur S.A. page 773 who writes that it is preferred to send two foods to fulfill the mitzvah and not to fulfill the mitzvah through drinks. However, the common custom is to be lenient and to fufill the mitzvah with at least one drink, such as a bottle of wine and cake.)
  13. Men and women are personally obligated in this mitzvah (Rama 695:4). Married women are obligated in their own right and are not exempted by their husband’s mishloach manos (M.B. 25). It is sufficient, however, for husband and wife to send mishloach manos together, as if it is coming from both of them – and the recipient recognizing that it is coming from both. Accordingly, the amount sent should be double the minimum amount of mishloach manos (Yismach Yisroel page 87).
  14. Women should send the Mishloach Manos to other women and men to men. Families may send to other families. (Netai Gavriel 60:11)
  15. The Mishnah Berurah cites the view of the Aruch Lner who suggests that one must send the Mishloach Manos through a shliach, messenger in order to fulfill the mitzvah. Harav Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg zt”l (Tzitz Eliezer 9:33) writes that most commentaries disagree with this assumption and they maintain that one need not send it through a shliach, rather, one may deliver it by himself. In addition, he explains that the Aruch Lner himself concludes that it is unnecessary to send it through a shliach. Harav Yisroel Belsky zt”l (Piskei Harav Belsky page 122) is cited as ruling that although the majority of poskim maintain that one may deliver Mishloach Manos himself, nonetheless, one should send at least one set of Mishloach Manos with a messenger to accommodate all opinions.

Machatzis Hashekel

  1. The practice before Purim is to donate half of the monetary unit of one’s time and place (e.g., half a dollar, half a pound, etc.) in memory of the half-shekel that was donated in Adar to purchase animals for the communal sacrifices. The custom is to give three times this half unit (e.g., $1.50) because parshas Ki Sisa uses the word “terumah” (donation) three times. (Rama 694:1)
  2. The money is donated to charity (Shaarei Teshuva 694:2). Some specifically send it to the poor of Israel. (Yosef Ometz 1089) Harav Yitzchak Yosef shlit”a writes that one should give the money to Yeshivos that are teaching young Torah scholars. (Yalkut Yosef Kitzur Shulchan Aruch page 770)
  3. The common practice is for the shul/tzedaka pushka to supply three half dollars. Each person gives $1.50 to the tzedaka in exchange for the 3 half dollars. He then lifts up the three half dollars in order to acquire them. And finally he donates the three half dollars in order to perform the mitzvah of Machatzis Hashekel. Harav Yaakov Kametzky zt”l (Emes L’Yaakov page 160) is cited as saying that one should give a little more than $1.50 in exchange for the 3 half dollars. Since we don’t like to make exact change from tzedaka.
  4. The poskim offer three opinions as to when one should perform the Machatzis Hashekel. A) The Rama writes that one performs the Machatzis Hashekel before Mincha on Taanis Esther. B) Harav Yaakov Emden zt”l and the Chasam Sofer maintained that it should be performed following Mincha on Taanis Esther. (See Netai Gavriel Purim Chapter 26 and Yismach Yisrael page 28 for view of Harav Elyashiv zt”l) C) While others perform it on Purim morning (Magen Avraham 694:2). It seems the common custom is to follow the first opinion of the Rama. (Mishnah Berurah 694:4, Kaf Hachaim 694:25, Yismach Yisrael page 28 view of Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a)
  5. If one did not perform the Machatzis Hashekel before Purim he should perform it as soon as possible during the month of Adar. According to Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a b’dieved one should perform Machatzis Hashekel even after Adar (oral ruling cited in Yismach Yisrael page 28). Similarly, the Sefer Avnei Yashfei (1:133) writes that b’dieved if one forgot to perform the Machatzis Hashekel he can do so for 12 months after Purim (until the following Nissan).
  6. One may not use Maaser money for the Machatzis Hashekel. If one chooses to give more than the required amount ($1.50), the excess may be given from Maaser money. (Yosef Ometz 1088)
  7. The Rama writes that one is only obligated to give Machatzis Hashekel once one reaches the age of twenty. The Mishnah Berurah cites the view of the Tosafos Yom Tov that one is actually obligated once he reaches the age of thirteen. The Mishnah Berurah then explains that the common custom is for the father to give Machatzis Hashekel for his children even those below the age of thirteen and even for those in utero. He adds that once his father gives on the minor’s behalf, he is obligated to continue doing so.
  8. There is a debate amongst the poskim whether women are obligated to perform Machatzis Hashekel. The common practice is that the husband performs Machatzis Hashekel for the women in his family. (Magen Avraham 694:3, Netai Gavriel 27, Halichos Shlomo Purim 18:9 and Shevet Halevi 7:183)

Taanis Esther

  1. In the days of Mordechai and Esther, the Jews gathered together on the thirteenth of Adar to defend themselves against their enemies. They needed to ask mercy from G-d to assist them. When the Jews went to war, they would fast so that G-d would aid them, as Moshe did when we went to war against Amalek. Because of this, we can assume that at the time of Mordechai and Esther, they fasted on the thirteenth of Adar. This day has been accepted by the Jewish people as a communal fast called Taanis Esther, a reminder that G-d watches us and hears each person’s prayers in his time of trouble when he fasts and sincerely returns to G-d, just as He did for our ancestors in those days.
  2. Pregnant and nursing do not fast if they are feeling weak. The Mishnah Berurah (686:4) cites a debate amongst the poskim whether a pregnant or nursing woman must fast in the event that she feels fine. He concludes (Shaar Hatzion 10) that each person should follow the custom of his area. The opinion of the Aruch Hashulchan (686:4), Kaf Hachaim (686:21) and Divrei Yetziv (O.C. 2:291) and Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (oral ruling cited by Harav Nevenzhal shlit”a B’Yitzchak Yikareh) is to be lenient and all pregnant and nursing women need not fast. For normative halacha a rav should be consulted. All agree that a women who gave birth in the last month does not fast even if she feels great (Mishnah Berurah ibid.).
  3. In the event that a nursing or pregnant woman is not fasting, the poskim debate whether she must make up the fast on a different day. For normative halacha, a rav must be consulted.
  4. The Rama (686:2) rules that a Choleh Shein Bo Sakana (bedridden) or someone with an eye ache who is in great pain may eat on Taanis Esther but should make up the fast on another day. The Kaf Hachaim (686:22) adds that anyone who has to eat on the doctor’s orders doesn’t have to make it up afterwards. Before one decides to break his fast he should first consult with a rav.
  5. The fast of Taanis Esther begins at dawn. Even though the fast begins from dawn, sometimes the prohibition against eating begins from the previous evening. For example, if, before the arrival of dawn, a person decides not to eat any more until the fast begins, he is seen as having accepted the fast upon himself, and it is now forbidden for him to eat. Therefore, if a person goes to bed in anticipation of the fast and then rises before dawn, it is forbidden for him to eat, for he diverted his thoughts from eating. If one wishes to wake up before dawn (5:47) and eat or drink, he should stipulate before going to sleep that he intends to wake up early to eat or drink and that the fast should not begin until dawn. The Shulchan Aruch (564) rules that if one did not make this stipulation he may not eat or drink. However, according the Rama he may still drink, even without making a stipulation.
  6. One need not train his children to fast, even at the age of twelve for boys or eleven for girls. Once they have reached the age of chinuch they shouldn’t eat lavish meals, but rather only what is necessary. Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l and ybc”l Harav Neventzhal shlit”a write that although many boys have the custom to fast three fasts before they become bar-mitzvah, this custom has no source. (Mishnah Berurah 550:5, Halichos Shlomo vol. 3 page 398-399 and B’Yitzchak Yikare on Mishnah Berurah)
  7. The Mishnah Berurah (567:11) maintains that only if one is in pain may one rinse one’s mouth on a public fast day (such as Taanis Esther) and in such a case one should bend one’s head downward so one doesn’t swallow any water.
  8. If one has bad breath and it causes him discomfort or embarrassment, he may use mouthwash on Taanis Esther. He may also brush his teeth with toothpaste but not with water. (Beer Moshe 8:94, Minchas Yitzchak 4:109)
  9. If one needs to take medicine on Taanis Esther he may take them without water. If he cannot swallow the pills without a little water, he may swallow a very small amount of water (just enough to get the pills down). (Opinion of Rav Debreczin zt”l cited in Nitev Gavriel Bein Hatzomos page 54)